CHARLOTTE — The way North Carolina sees it, America didn’t care about the Tar Heels last year, and no one is giving them any respect this preseason.
Ryan Switzer knows how to fix that.
“We have a great opportunity against Georgia on Sept. 3 to make a name for ourselves and beat a big-time program in front of a big-time audience,” Switzer, a wideout and record-setting returner, said at Thursday’s ACC Kickoff.
At one point last season, North Carolina won 11 straight games while playing in one of the country’s toughest conferences.
The Tar Heels nearly upset No. 1 Clemson in the ACC title game, but a close loss wasn’t enough to keep Larry Fedora’s team in the national consciousness; some major preseason magazines have left UNC completely out of their summer Top 25 lists.
Georgia, on the other hand, does not suffer from lack of exposure.
“Everybody knows the tradition of their team,” Fedora said. “All they do is win at least 10 games a year. In the recruiting rankings they’re in the top 10 every single year. They’ve got great players in every single position, whether it’s Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, whoever they have in their stable, I promise you they’re going to have a dang good running back.”
Switzer, the receiver, was well aware that Mark Richt is out and Kirby Smart is in for the Bulldogs. He called Georgia “physical” and “defensive-minded.”
The Heels have been studying Smart’s coverages and situational playcalling at Alabama, and the team has watched footage of the Georgia spring game.
“They don’t know who the quarterback is going to be, but we know it’s going to be a good one,” Fedora said. “Kirby Smart is a helluva football coach. He’s put together a great staff. They have the support that they need to be successful.”
There’s plenty of uncertainty on North Carolina’s end. They know Smart’s hiring means last year’s Georgia film is mostly irrelevant.
But that’s something the Heels will need to get used to, as Carolina plays seven teams with first-year coaches this season.
“Kirby came from Alabama, so they’re gonna run Alabama’s defense,” Fedora said. “John Chaney came from Pitt, so they’re gonna run what they were running at Pitt. And Beamer came from Virginia Tech for the special teams. Well, yeah, you study all that, but they’re still going to tweak all those things to the talent they have. There’s so much unknown, you just don’t know.”
Fedora’s squad returns 13 of its 22 starters from last season, including five All-ACC players on offense.
Quarterback Marquise Williams is gone, but junior Mitch Trubisky proved he can throw the ball with a 17-for-20, 312-yard, two-touchdown performance vs. Delaware last season.
The Georgia Dome will be Trubisky’s first moment in the spotlight.
“It’s excitement of playing a game of that magnitude, because the guys don’t look at it as, ‘What does this do for our program?'” Fedora said. “They dream when they’re kids — and they’re playing in the backyard — they dream of playing in games like this. You want to play against great talent and in great atmospheres. They’re excited about it. This is what they dream of doing.”