ESPN names biggest variable for UNC football in 2023 season

The North Carolina Tar Heels were a tale of two teams last season, starting off 9-1 on the year before losing four straight including the Holiday Bowl to Oregon.

But going into 2023, the Tar Heels are in ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 ranking and that’s in large part to quarterback Drake Maye. The Tar Heels checked in at No. 21 in the rankings but very well could find themselves on the outside looking in for the top 25 when it’s released in the preseason.

UNC isn’t lacking talent on the offensive side of the football despite losing Josh Downs and Antoine Green. It’s the defensive side that is the concern and ESPN agrees.

Bill Connelly of ESPN wrote on the biggest variables for each team in the Top 25, and for the Tar Heels it’s the defensive side of the ball that will be the difference maker:

Biggest variable: Defense, as always. In Mack Brown’s four years back in coaching, his UNC Tar Heels have averaged an SP+ ranking of 16.3 on offense … and 85.5 on defense. In Gene Chizik’s first year as defensive coordinator, they were 105th in defensive SP+, allowing 32.6 points per game in losses. Now he’s got a secondary to rebuild. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo left for Wisconsin (he was replaced by Chip Lindsey), and while quarterback Drake Maye would likely thrive in any offense, it’s hard to imagine double-digit wins without solid defensive improvement.

Connelly has the Tar Heels ceiling at 10-2 and the floor at 6-6 which means they should be in a bowl game again. But it certainly feels like 10-2 is a stretch, especially with a tough schedule next year.

If UNC can improve on defense and surprise early on, this team has a chance to be really good.

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Story originally appeared on Tarheels Wire

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