North Carolina v Florida State

Source: Don Juan Moore / Getty

by Sharon Thorsland

 

College football is finally here, and it’s the season opener for North Carolina. The Tar Heels take on Florida A&M on Saturday, kick-off is set for 8:15 at Kenan Stadium. After a disappointing 6-7 campaign in 2021, the Heels are looking to get back on track and once again compete for an ACC title. The Rattlers, meanwhile, are coming off an impressive 9-3 season and a second place finish in the SWAC.

 

The UNC offense will have a decidedly new look this season. Quarterback Sam Howell is gone to the NFL along with running back Ty Chandler, and Chandler’s replacement British Brooks is out for the season with a lower body injury. But the cupboard is not bare – dynamic receiver Josh Downs is back, and junior running back DJ Jones is ready to step in for Chandler. And taking over at quarterback is Drake Maye. The younger brother of UNC hoops legend Luke Maye beat out Jacoby Criswell for the starting job, although Criswell will no doubt get some snaps Saturday as well. They’ll face a FAMU defense nicknamed “The Dark Cloud,” which features one of the best defensive players in the country in Isaiah Land. The linebacker led the FCS with 19 sacks last season and was named National Defensive Player of the Year. The Rattler secondary is anchored by outstanding defensive back BJ Bohler, who will likely be matched up with Downs, and the defensive line is deep and experienced.

 

The UNC defense has a new coordinator in Gene Chizik, who is back for his second stint with the Tar Heels. Let’s hope he can improve a unit that gave up 418 yards and 32 points per game last season. The front line features a pair of 300-pounders, and the secondary has plenty of talent, starting with cornerbacks Tony Grimes and Storm Duck (who also happens to have one of the best names in college football). They’ll face a FAMU team that also has a new quarterback in Vanderbilt grad transfer Jeremy Moussa. He’s got an outstanding receiver Xavier Smith, who is an NFL target, but the Rattlers like to run the ball first. They’ve got a stable of running backs led by seniors Terrell Jennings and Jaylen McCloud, and they’ll no doubt challenge a UNC defense that struggled to stop the run last season and couldn’t get off the field on third down, allowing teams to convert at a 42 percent clip.