Football practice starts at North Carolina on Thursday with an unusual amount of excitement.
Season tickets are sold out, with a record allotment of 36,250 gobbled up by fans eager for coach Butch Davisí second season.
Despite a 4-8 record in 2007, many in the media are predicting big things for the Tar Heels. In the ACC Coastal Division, only defending conference champ Virginia Tech was picked higher than North Carolina in the preseason media poll.
Here's why people are so high on the Tar Heels:
- North Carolina has excellent talent at the skill positions on offense. Independence High grad Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster combine for perhaps the best group of wide receivers in the ACC. Greg Little is a gifted sophomore tailback, and T.J. Yates broke the school single-season passing record last season as a freshman.
- A secondary anchored by accomplished safeties Deunta Williams and Trimane Goddard gives the team a strong last line of defense.
- Other teams in the Coastal Division are expected to struggle.
Williams discounts that last reason, saying the ACC is better than its critics suggest.
"You can't go into a game in the ACC and think this is going to be a quiet game, that we're going to win this game no matter what happens,' he said.
North Carolina has its share of problems going into camp. Yates is coming off shoulder surgery. The linebackers are suspect again. Place-kicker Connor Barth, who set the school career record for field goals, must be replaced. And there's no guarantee how the defense will react under new coordinator Everett Withers, who's a Charlotte native.
But the mere fact that people are excited about Tar Heel football is a fun development in this state. At least there is hope for the program, and that's not something you could always say during the Carl Torbush and John Bunting regimes. -- Ken Tysiac