UNC football storylines: Is it time yet?

UNC coach Larry Fedora approached the start of last season saying “it’s time,” but might he have been a year too early?
UNC coach Larry Fedora approached the start of last season saying “it’s time,” but might he have been a year too early? Robert Willett - rwillett@newsobserver.com

The ACC’s annual football media days – formally called the 2015 ACC Football Kickoff – starts next Monday in Pinehurst. You know the drill:

Reporters will ask questions about how much different things will be for teams this season and coaches and players will talk about how much different things will be this season. We’ll hear about how the arrival of that team’s new coach has been the best thing ever, and about how on this team that player who was pretty good last season is ready to be an All-American this season. And so on and so on.

Amid all the clutter and cliches, though, there are some story lines worth following. Leading into the start of ACC media days, I’ll be counting down North Carolina’s most interesting story lines approaching the start of the preseason.

Today: Has the Tar Heels’ time arrived?

At this very same event last year UNC coach Larry Fedora sat in a cold ballroom at the Grandover Resort in Greensboro – note, kind people putting this event together in Pinehurst: please don’t overdo the AC – and proclaimed that it was “time” for the Tar Heels.

Time for them to make a move in the Coastal Division. Time for them to emerge.

Here’s Fedora’s full “it’s time” sound bite: “It’s time. We need to get it done. There are pieces of the puzzle that are in place. Would I like them to be more experienced? Yes. But if we can make the ball bounce a couple times our way, then it could happen.”

Saying that “it could happen” was Fedora’s way of saying that, yes, if a few things went the Tar Heels way, they could have won the Coastal Division. But we know what did happen: The defense was awful – one of the worst in school history – and the team started 2-4 on its way to a 6-7 finish.

So as it turned out, it wasn’t UNC’s time. But is it time now?

The Tar Heels aren’t likely to receive too much preseason attention, which isn’t a surprise given what happened last season. Even though 10 of 11 starters return on offense, and even though most of the defense is back, and even though Fedora hired Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator, UNC will enter the season without the burden of great expectations – at least those that are external.

But there are some reasons to think that maybe this can be UNC’s time. Or, at least, that Fedora would have been better off saying “it’s time” now than he was a year ago. For one thing, this is a more mature, experienced team. When Fedora last year said “it’s time” he also said that he was preparing to coach the youngest team he’d ever encountered in his college coaching career.

The Tar Heels were especially reliant a year ago on sophomores and juniors. Now those players are juniors and seniors. They’re older and, presumably, improved. And offensively, at least, they’re one year further along in Fedora’s up-tempo spread. The offensive line, which struggled most of last season, returns intact and has to be better, right? And there’s no way the defense can be as bad. Right?

So maybe the time Fedora spoke of a year ago has now arrived. Maybe this is UNC’s time. Georgia Tech will likely enter the season as the favorite in the Coastal Division but there is no dominant team. There are some good ones, but it doesn’t seem like any great ones. UNC has just about everybody back from a forgettable season, but could it be that Fedora’s “it’s time” proclamation was one year too early?