The Seminoles hit the road once again, this time to face the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
With the season fast approaching, and College Football rolling full-steam ahead with current scheduling and formatting, fans are eager to hit the stands and cheer on their favorite team. 2021 is a year of much anticipation after the Coronavirus pandemic crippled schedules and limited capacity in stadiums. The Florida State Seminoles were one such program affected by the 2020 season. Several games were cancelled, rivalries were sidelined, and a new coaching staff was stalled in their ability to effectively recruit and implement their scheme.
Drama ensued, injuries took course, and opt-outs effectively hindered what amounts to a legitimate Year 0 in the Norvell era. Think of 2020 as a glorified practice run. Going 3-6 (out of 11 games), the year showed the mountain set before this staff and program in their CLIMB back to the top. Still, there were highlights and gradual improvement over the course of the season, and legitimate offseason hype as the ‘Noles are seemingly back-on-track.
The offseason is still in-effect across College Football, but with the recruiting dead period now over, a season in 2020 to evaluate personnel and conditions within the program, and a vision now to sell to the team, the fans, and recruits, it is fair to say that 2021 is Mike Norvell’s Year 1.
The training wheels are off, and for the Seminole faithful, it’s now time to preview our upcoming season’s opponents.
Game Six: North Carolina
Head Coach: Mack Brown (Head Coach record of 259-132-1 in Collegiate Football)
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
2020 Record: 8-4
History vs Florida State: The Seminoles and Tar Heels have a history that spans less than four decades, with the first matchup between these two ACC powers taking place in 1983 (a blowout 28-3 victory for the ‘Noles). After joining the ACC in Football in 1992, the Seminoles played the Tar Heels annually, winning 12 of their 13 matchups. With Conference expansion, the programs found themselves playing less frequently. Since 2004, the ‘Noles and Heels have only played on four occasions, splitting the series 2-2. Bobby Bowden’s final season as Head Coach was a 30-27 victory in Chapel Hill. Jimbo Fisher, as Head Coach, lost both times against the Tar Heels in Tallahassee. This past season (2020), Mike Norvell stunned the college football world and earned his first signature win as Head Coach against the fifth ranked Tar Heels. The Seminoles pulled an upset in Tallahassee, winning 31-28.
Tar Heel Storylines to Follow:
Regarding the college football landscape at large, North Carolina has been one of the most intriguing storylines to follow in recent years. The return of a legend, Mack Brown has taken this Coastal program to heights they haven’t experienced since, well… the Mack Brown era. With eighteen returning starters, including the entirety of the offensive line & majority of the defensive line, North Carolina is poised to make a run at the division title.
Their schedule lines-up well to secure the division title as well. From the Atlantic, North Carolina faces NC State at the end of the regular season (a annual recurring rivalry) and Florida State mid-season. This, of course, means they miss drawing Clemson from the Atlantic. While they also play Wake Forest from the Atlantic division, the 2021 game will not count towards the final ACC divisional rankings (non-conference game). They also get Miami at home (following the FSU game). The Tar Heels play on the road versus Virginia Tech (always a difficult pull) to open the season, however with offseason woes already on display in Blacksburg, the Hokies might have several cracks to contend with before even opening the season.
With the returning talent in Chapel Hill, and the reality that this will be Sam Howell’s final season at quarterback, the expectations for the Tar Heels are now, or never, with regards to winning the Coastal division.
We all love to hate him, but if we’re keeping it real: we all wish Sam Howell had picked Florida State over his home state’s flagship program. Totaling 3,586 yards, 30 touchdowns, and a 68.1% pass completion percentage, Sam Howell is one of the few in the entirety of the ACC with realistic odds of winning the Heisman Trophy. Howell’s supporting cast includes the return of the entire offensive line, as well as veteran receivers Beau Corrales (senior) and Emery Simmons (junior). With 10-1 odds to win the Heisman according to bet365, Howell will need to command leadership of his offense early on the road against Virginia Tech. While there are some unproven weapons on offense, Sam Howell should be in good shape off sheer talent and the remaining returning production to lead the Tar Heels against most of their Coastal competition. If they win the Coastal, Sam Howell should be considered a dark horse candidate to win the trophy.
Replacing the Production at Running Back
Michael Carter and Javonte Williams ran all over Miami in 2020. Good times!
At any rate, both talented running backs had outstanding career seasons at North Carolina in 2020. Both combined for 2,385 yards and 28 touchdowns rushing (not including 50 catches for 572 yards and 5 touchdowns passing). With that level of production at running back taking their talents to the NFL, North Carolina has a massive challenge entering 2021: how to achieve similar levels of production in 2021.
Ty Chandler (grad transfer) is one intriguing name to keep an eye on in 2021. Transferring from Tennessee, Ty brings with him 25 starts (45 career games) 3,245 all-purpose yards, 17 career touchdowns, and averaged 4.9 yards per carry in his career.
Caleb Hood (freshman) is a new face on the team, but brings with him some bullish tendencies at a whooping 230 pounds. Will the young talent stand out amongst some of the other returning production?
Can D.J. Jones (sophomore) make a name for himself in fall camp? Can he avoid injuries? If so, this might be one possibility Carolina entertains at running back as well.
It will ultimately be on Mack Brown & his staff to identify the ideal makeup at running back this fall. They might lean on more veteran talent against Virginia Tech to start, but by games two, three, and four you should expect the identity of the run game to look dramatically different as they look to keep pressure off of Howell.
The ‘Noles will play the Carolina Tar Heels in Chapel Hill this season on October 9th, 2021. Game time and television broadcast still TBD.
Also check out our other previews for:
FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame
FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Jacksonville State
FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Wake Forest
FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Louisville
FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Syracuse
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