First year head coach Larry Fedora and his North Carolina Tar Heels will come into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium tomorrow afternoon with a 1-1 record. They opened the season with a 62-0 win over Elon and lost in week two to Wake Forest 27-28 on the road. The Tar-Heels were predicted to finish in first place in the Coastal Division of the ACC by college football guru Phil Steele. The ACC’s preseason media poll had the Heels in third place behind Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Prior to last week’s loss to Wake Forest, Carolina was sitting right outside of the top 25 and receiving a lot of votes. Louisville is currently a 3-point favorite. Considering the Cards are the home team, the spread is practically a push.
So far in 2012, Carolina is averaging 44.5 points and 476 yards per game. Junior quarterback Bryn Renner leads the Carolina offense and is in his second year as a starter. In two games this season, Renner has thrown for 507 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions. He has completed 61.5% of his passes thus far. Renner isn’t a flawless quarterback, but he usually gets plenty of time in the pocket thanks to his offensive line. He’s not a big time playmaker, but definitely a savvy game manager. When coming out of high school, ESPN ranked Renner as the 6th best quarterback prospect in the country. Sophomore tailback Gio Bernard is main guy to watch out for tomorrow. Bernard is an elusive play-maker on offense and on special teams as well. Bernard missed week two for UNC with a minor knee injury, but is expected to make his return on Saturday. In just a quarter and a half of action in Carolina’s season opener, Bernard scored the first three touchdowns of the game – one on a 59-yard run, one on a 6-yard reception and the other on a 70-yard punt return. The three touchdowns matched his career high, and the 59-yard scoring run was the second-longest of his career. In 2011, as a redshirt freshman, Bernard rushed for 1,253 yards and 13 touchdowns. Many preseason media publications tabbed him as the top running back in the ACC. Senior Erik Highsmith is the top receiver on the roster for Carolina. He hasn’t produced big numbers this season, but Highsmigh is a first team All ACC receiver. Sophomore tight end Eric Ebron is a guy to keep an eye on as well, as he’s become a top target for Bryn Renner. You won’t see the Carolina offensive line with any highlights, but the first unit for the Tar Heels on the o-line may be their strongest position.
The Carolina defense is giving up an average of 14 points per game and are 6th in the country in tackles for loss. The Tar-Heel defense has forced two fumbles and recorded three interceptions on the year. These numbers could be misleading, due to UNC’s season opening 62-0 win over Elon. Linebacker Kevin Reddick is the leader of the Heels defense. He finished second on the team in tackles last season and is averaging 7 solo tackles per game in 2012. Defensive End Sylvester Williams is a sack specialist and is projected to be taken in this year’s NFL draft. Williams finished the 2011 season with 54 tackles, 7.0 tackles for losses, and 2.5 sacks. He’s already matched his sack total in two games this season. Sophomore cornerback Tim Scott played in all 13 games and made eight starts as a true freshman. He currently leads the Heels with two interceptions on the year. North Carolina’s defense will easily be the biggest test for Louisville’s offense.
The 3-point spread is pretty accurate, in my opinion, as I think this is going to be a very close game. This will be a great early season test for Charlie Strong and the program. Carolina might not win a ton of games this season and won’t be playing in the post-season due to the NCAA’s recent sanctions, but with that said, UNC has as much talent as any team on Louisville’s schedule this season. They are also very well coached. Teddy Bridgewater is the biggest difference maker in my opinion. If the Cardinal offensive line can get Teddy the protection that he needs, Louisville’s passing game should continue to shine. It’ll be a close one, but Louisville’s efficiency in the red zone will be a big difference maker. Cards win 31-24.