CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — At the end of spring practice, after North Carolina had completed all its practices and played its spring game, head coach Larry Fedora made a major announcement. He told the assembled media gathered in the shadows of Kenan Stadium that he was naming Mitch Trubisky his starting quarterback.
Or, as one local columnist put it, “Yeah, and water is wet.”
While Georgia fans sit on pins and needles to see how their quarterback competition unfolds before the Bulldogs’ opener against North Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game, the Tar Heels have essentially known who their starter was going to be all along. Well, for all practical purposes.
Technically, Trubisky beat out sophomore Caleb Henderson and redshirt freshman Nathan Elliott in the so-called competition. But nobody honestly expected anything other than Trubisky would take over.
“I thought Mitch did a good job this spring and didn’t just assume he was going to be the starter,” Fedora told reporters back in late April. “He worked extremely hard and earned it. We always want to have competition at every position. Mitch is the quarterback with the most experience returning, but he worked hard this spring, competed every day and deserves to be the starter.”
Up on Tobacco Road, there are some who believed Trubisky could have or should have been the starting quarterback before now. Instead, he served as backup last season to starter Marquise Williams.
And to Williams’ credit, it’s not like the Tar Heels weren’t getting it done with him in there. North Carolina led the ACC in scoring last season at 40.7 points per game and averaged 486.9 yards per game.
How much of that had to do with Williams’ signal-calling prowess and athletic play-making ability, we will find out this season. The general narrative has been that the 6-foot-3, 220-pound Trubisky is more of a true passer than Williams while also bringing some modest play-making ability with his legs.
There’s a pretty good sample size from which to judge. A junior from Mentor, Ohio, Trubisky has played a good bit the past two seasons. Last season, he completed 40 of 47 passes — that’s an 85.1 percent rate, folks — for 555 yards and six touchdowns and no interceptions. He has also rushed for 101 yards and scored three touchdowns on 16 carries.
He also played in 10 games as a freshman, throwing for 459 yards and four touchdowns with four interceptions, also as a backup. In two seasons, his totals are 65.6 percent passing for 1,014 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
And everybody is excited about what the offense might look like with him as the full-time starter. Trubisky is chief among them.
“I did OK coming off the bench, but I think it’s time to take it to the next level,” Trubisky said. “I know my teammates are excited. It’s just time to see what I can do in a full game and in a full season. It’s about staying healthy, taking care of my teammates and getting better every day. I’m truly excited for this season. I’m pumped.”
The Tar Heels don’t expect the offense to miss a beat. And really, it shouldn’t. All the primary yards and points producers are back, including tailback Elijah Hood, who rushed for 1,463 yards and 17 touchdowns as a sophomore last season. They also bring back four of their top receivers and all but one lineman.
“I feel like it’s going to be the same as last year, very explosive, very fast,” said wide receiver Bug Howard, a rising senior from Rochelle, Ga., and the No. 4 in receiving yards. “We lost a couple of guys, Marquise and (offensive guard) Landon (Turner) and (receiver) Quinshad (Davis). Everybody coming back should have game experience, though, so it should be pretty good. We might be more explosive. Everybody knows the system so we should be able to play faster.
“We know what we’ve got and it’s going to be fun.”
Such is the type of attitude and confidence the Bulldogs’ defense will encounter on Sept. 3 in the Georgia Dome. But it will represent a lot of firsts for Trubisky. He has never started a game, and certainly never has started a nationally-televised game against a ranked foe on the road and in a domed stadium.
And so on.
Trubisky insists he won’t be overwhelmed by the situation.
“I feel like my job is going to be easy; just get the ball to the play-makers,” he said. “I don’t have to do anything flashy, anything special. Just get it to our great wide receivers and backs. It’s just going to be my job getting them the ball, and hopefully the offense will be explosive doing that.”
As for facing the Bulldogs specifically, Trubisky wasn’t interested in discussing specifics.
“We’ve got a lot of time to talk about this one,” he said. “Our motto is we only talk about the next game. That’s the next game on the schedule and it’s OK to talk about it. I know I’m pumped; the whole team is pumped.”