Friday, August 27, 2010

Projecting UNC: We're seeing a 7-5 year

North Carolina athletics director Dick Baddour said Thursday there is now a “two-pronged” investigation, but the two have a central theme – UNC football players apparently acted in ways they knew or should have known were wrong.

There’s no way Carolina players should have taken a trip to the West Coast for a workout camp. Had they checked with the school’s compliance office, they would have found that wasn’t allowed under NCAA rules.

What the school announced Thursday was even more serious. Any elementary school kid knows you can’t turn in homework that’s not your own. If a player turned in a paper they didn’t write, they should get a failing grade for the class and be suspended from the team for a season. There’s really no middle ground here.

All this sets up a season like no other at UNC. Carolina has its best team since 1997 but faces a schedule that’s as unforgiving as an NCAA investigator. A 7-5 season is a real possibility, especially if multiple starters are sitting out games – or even the season. Carolina’s starting defense is astonishing but the depth beyond that is unproven, and there will be few easy Saturdays this fall.

Here’s our projection for 2010:

Sept. 4, vs. LSU: Winnable? Sure. Carolina will play hard and want to put on a good show. But the Tar Heels could be absent too many starters to beat LSU, even if the Tigers are no longer an elite SEC program.

Sept. 18, Ga. Tech: This game is tough for UNC even at full strength. Carolina never got a handle on the Yellow Jackets offense last year – look for Tech to prevail again.

Sept. 25, at Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were 9-4 last year but had heavy losses, with only 12 starters back. Look for a frustrated Carolina to win.

Oct. 2, East Carolina: ECU’ new offense will be fun, but the Pirates don’t have the weapons to win in Chapel Hill this time. The Heels get this one.

Oct. 9, Clemson: Ah, it’s Family Day in Chapel Hill, and the Tigers arrive for the first time since 2002. It’s always fun to see so much orange in Orange County – but it also serves as a reminder of how expansion has changed the league. Clemson and UNC haven’t played since 2006, and this time, look for Carolina to win.

Not looking forward to Oct. 16
Oct. 16, at Virginia: Even Thomas Jefferson is picking against the Wahoos this time, as this long streak has to end. Carolina finally gets a victory in Charlottesville.

Oct. 23, at Miami: Miami QB Jacory Harris has racked up preseason plaudits, but remember, he threw 17 interceptions last season. UNC’s defense is a pick-hungry lot, but if Harris can play under control, Miami should win. The Canes were 9-4 last year and are steadily improving under Randy Shannon.

Oct. 30, William and Mary: An easy win for UNC, even though the Tribe won 11 games last season.

Nov. 6, at Florida State:
Last year’s loss to FSU was a crusher for the Heels, but they have a chance if they are full strength. Still, you have to believe the Seminoles will be on the rise at this point in the season as they adapt to Jimbo Fisher in his first year as head coach. By the way, this is the Seminoles’ Homecoming game.

Nov. 13, Va. Tech:
Carolina’s win in Blacksburg last season was impressive, especially with 181 yards on the ground, and Tech returns only four starters on a defense. So there’s reason for optimism for UNC fans. Still, it’s hard to imagine Carolina beating the Hokies two years in a row.
Tech’s offense will be formidable – this game goes to maroon and gold.

Nov. 20, N.C. State: Tom O’Brien finally loses to light blue. But if Carolina has five losses at this point and then falls to State for the fourth straight season, you can write this off as one of the most disappointing seasons in Tar Heel history.

Nov. 27, Duke:  Carolina has won 19 of 20 against Duke, which makes it hard to remember when the Blue Devils used to win the Victory Bell. Nowadays, this quaint tradition between the schools seems difficult to remember. Once again, the Heels will be ringing it at game's end.

Ten area high school football games to consider attending, with predictions

Here are 10 football games that are within driving distance in the Triangle area tonight. In bold is the predicted winner. Most games are at 7:30 p.m. Check with local officials as some games start at 7.
My record last week was 7-3.

Apex at Durham Riverside

Broughton at Garner

Clayton at Fuquay Varina

East Chapel Hill at Cardinal Gibbons

East Wake at Wake Forest Rolesville

Enloe at Athens Drive

Green Hope at Leesville Road

Holly Springs at Wakefield

Northern Nash at Cary

Southern Durham at Middle Creek

Check the scores in our Sports Roundup on the left navigation bar.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Projecting Wake Forest: Even Grobe can't save the Deacs this year

Coach Jim Grobe put Wake Forest football on the map. While these are no longer the days of people painting “Wake zero” on I-40 signs, the Deacons record this year might not show it. Grobe gets the best out of his players but this year’s team is not as good as last year’s team which went just 5-7.

Without four-year starting QB Riley Skinner and without three excellent offensive linemen who graduated, the Deacons will struggle to score enough points to overcome an average-at-best defense which is thought to be soft up the middle. On offense, Cary’s Josh Adams will have a lot of chances to carry the ball as the Deacs focus more on the ground game and less on the passing game. A lot will rely on him.

Wake will be in a lot of games and can reach five wins but, again, the Deacs aren’t as good as last year’s team that won five. It will be a frustrating season but then again expectations are low. Only Virginia and possibly Maryland can rival the Deacons as the worst team in the conference this year. While all six of the home games are winnable, I’m picking Wake to win only two of them and to win only one on the road.

The Deacs hit a temporary bump in the road this year and finish at 3-9.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown:

Sept. 2, Presbyterian: Against the Demon Deacons, Presbyterian doesn’t have a prayer.

Sept. 11, Duke: Wake has a couple of extra days to prepare for the Blue Devils and this should be a close one. But Wake is on the way down and Duke is on the way up. Devils by a field goal.

Sept. 18, at Stanford: Stanford is still fuming about losing a 14-point lead to Wake last year and about a controversial clipping call that negated a chance to take the lead. Stanford won’t let this one slip away at home. Stanford.

Sept. 25, at Florida State: Florida State is perhaps the best team in the ACC and Wake could be the worst or next to worst to Virginia. Easy win for the Seminoles.

Oct. 2, Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech should be beatable this year but they are still a bit better than Wake, even on the road. While the Deacons very well could win, the edge goes to Georgia Tech.

Oct. 9, Navy: We’ll see a lot of a good Navy team as the Midshipmen play three ACC teams and ECU. Wake Forest lost a heartbreaker in Annapolis last year and will want revenge. Both teams play the option so they each get a lot of practice against it. By now, the Deacs are adjusting to life without Skinner. Wake Forest gets a break or two and upsets Navy at home for the second victory of the season.

Oct. 16, at Virginia Tech: Again, the argument could be made that the Hokies are perhaps the best team in the ACC. Easy win for Virginia Tech.

Oct. 30, at Maryland: The Terrapins aren’t very good but they are at home and they should have enough to eek by Wake Forest. Terrapins by less than a touchdown.

Nov. 6, Boston College: Wake Forest really should have beaten BC in Chestnut Hill last year but fell in overtime. The Deacons are still stinging from this loss. Will Wake Forest let this one slip away at home? Sorry, but yes. It’s a good game but BC pulls it out again.

Nov. 13, at N.C. State: The Wolfpack better win this one or there might be another coaching search in Raleigh at the end of the season. State wins going away.

Nov. 20, Clemson: Clemson is only average this year and if the season has gone south for them, they could be demoralized and the Deacs could win in their last home game. As in other games, the Deacons will hang in there but come up short. Tigers hold on.

Nov. 27, at Vanderbilt: Vanderbilt’s program has had a lot of turmoil and is coming off a very poor season. Wake Forest should spill out a lot of built up frustration and whip the Commodores.

That makes the season prediction 3-9.

If Wake finds someone to take Skinner’s place adequately and the Deacs’ offensive line matures quickly, Wake Forest could match last year’s disappointing 5-7 record. That record wouldn’t be disappointing this year.

While I have a lot of faith in Grobe, I don’t have a lot of faith in his horses, who ride into the sunset with a 3-9 record.

UNC honor code clear on penalties for plagiarism

The University of North Carolina’s honor code is quite clear on penalties for academic plagiarism, which could have direct implications on how the investigation into Butch Davis’ program plays out.

UNC leaders confirmed Thursday night, in a press conference that was stunning for people who have followed the program, that they are looking into “academic improprieties” with the football team. Coach Butch Davis confirmed that a former tutor who had worked with his high-school aged son is the woman involved.

Athletics director Dick Baddour wouldn’t say how many players are involved or give a timetable on when the school will make a decision on their eligibility. Baddour said the school is still early in the process of gathering information.

But here’s where this gets tricky. Say the tutor wrote a paper and the player turned it in for a grade. Under Carolina’s Honor Code, the penalties could include “participation on or in … athletic teams (including intramural teams) as a member, coach or manager.”

Also, there’s the question of whether a player is now eligible. That’s where the Honor Code, called “The Instrument” in academic parlance, has real teeth. Here’s the critical part:

2. Academic Dishonesty.

a. For an initial instance of academic dishonesty,
...i. The usual sanction for grade-related misconduct shall be a failing grade in the course, an aspect or component of the course, or on the assignment as recommended by the instructor, and suspension for one full academic semester or until specified conditions are met
...ii. The minimum sanction for grade-related misconduct shall be a failing grade in the course, component or aspect of the course, or on the assignment as recommended by the instructor; probation for at least one full academic semester; an additional educational assignment or other requirements as appropriate; and a written warning that further academic misconduct will lead to more serious sanctions.

b. For a second or subsequent instance of academic dishonesty, the minimum sanction shall be suspension for at least two full academic semesters.

In other words, say UNC discovers Linebacker Larry turned in a false paper in the spring of 2010. That could mean he now gets a failing grade in that class, and might not be eligible for competition this fall. So Carolina is not only trying to figure who did (and didn’t) cavort with agents, it also has to sort through an academic mess to double-check eligibility.

Baddour, who began his career in compliance at UNC, insisted Carolina has excellent training for its tutors, and they are given explicit instructions on what they can and can not do for athletes. He said that at the end of each year, tutors are asked “point blank” if they ran into any problems. Athletes, too, are told what is allowed under university rules.

But anyone who graduated from elementary schools knows the basics – if you turn it in at school, it has to be your work.

The academic scandal has two significant implications.

First, Carolina began practicing on Monday with the team it thinks it will field against LSU.

So that’s why, as InsideCarolina.com reported, some starters were on the scout team.

Second, it’s possible the grade allegations could knock multiple players off the team for the season.

Davis said all the right things Thursday night, and Baddour spoke out strongly in favor of his coach.

“I believe in the leadership of this football program,” Baddour said. “When we hired Butch Davis, we believed he was the right fit for the University of North Carolina. And I continue to believe that. He has my support.”

Still, there’s no disputing Thursday was a stunning, and bleak, day for the UNC football program.

UNC self-reports academic violations involving football team

North Carolina’s strange football preseason took another unexpected turn Thursday afternoon when InsideCarolina reported the school has self-reported academic infractions involving the team to the NCAA.

Carolina coach Butch Davis was scheduled to meet with reporters at around 3:20 p.m., after the afternoon practice, but that session was cancelled. The school will hold a news conference with Davis, athletics director Dick Baddour and chancellor Holden Thorp at 7:30 p.m. Thursday night.

NCAA investigators have been on the Chapel Hill campus twice to interview UNC players.

This is one time to side with the NFL players

There are two fundamental realities when it comes to understanding the NFL. The first is the league itself – that is, the owners and league headquarters – are driven by money. The second is the players are quite aware of how tenuous their time in the NFL can be.

Those two points are critical to remember when it comes to assessing an 18-game season, which commissioner Roger Goodell advocated Wednesday. That could happen as early as the 2012 season.

There are four preseason games and 16 games now, which is a ridiculous balance. Fans are forced to pay full price for two home preseason games, which mean so little that starters barely play. Coaches don’t need eight weeks of preseason to figure out who their ninth offensive lineman will be. Two preseason games, maximum, is enough.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Projecting Duke: Devils improving each year under Cutcliffe

Duke is looking pretty good in football these days under Coach David Cutcliffe. The Devils got four wins two years ago and five wins last season. The big question: can Duke improve to six wins this year?

Well, they would have in the days of weak non-conference opponents but I foresee the Devils managing only five wins. While that only matches last season, in reality, it would be an even bigger achievement – considering the schedule and the loss of All-ACC quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.

If Duke could upset somebody like Carolina or Miami or Boston College, they could get to six wins. I’m thinking 5-7 is more probable, and if they are going to do that well, they have to get off to a quick start.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown:

Sept. 4, Elon: Elon is a small school but they are good. A victory over Duke isn’t out of the question – think Appalachian over Michigan. Duke isn’t Michigan either. But Coach Cutcliffe should have them ready and won’t let them overlook Elon. Duke wins at home.

Sept. 11, at Wake Forest: This should be a good game but Wake is on the way down and Duke is on the way up. The Devils have a good field goal kicker for a change - Will Snyderwine is a member of the Groza Award watch list. Devils by a field goal.

Sept. 18, Alabama: It’ll be fun to see Alabama run out on the field in Durham. It won’t be much fun as they run off the field. Alabama.

Sept. 25, Army: Duke should have an easier time with Army than it did with Elon.

Oct. 2, at Maryland: This is a must win for Duke if they have any hopes of finishing .500 on the year. The Terps lost their last seven games last season but they should be better this year. They’ll expect to win this one against the Devils. They won’t. Duke’s players are more experienced and Sean Renfree should be settled in at quarterback by now. It’s starting to look like a special season as Duke stands at 4-1.

Oct. 16, Miami: The demise begins. The Hurricanes are a hard team to predict but my guess is they’ll be a good bit better than the Devils. Miami.

Oct. 23, at Virginia Tech: The Hokies by quite a few.

Oct. 30, at Navy: The Midshipmen are good. They like to run it right at you and they have virtually everybody back. Duke’s defense is probably weakest on the defensive line. Navy runs over the Devils in a ball-control, close contest.

Nov. 6, Virginia: This is the last time the Devils will be favored so they’d better win it at home.

Nov. 13, Boston College: Another winnable game but BC has 14 starters back from an 8-5 team and the Eagles could be battling Clemson for second in the division. Boston College.

Nov. 20, at Georgia Tech: Georgia Tech and Duke have comparable coaches but not comparable players or depth. By late in the season, the Devils lack of depth will hurt any chances they might have to upset someone. Ramblin' Wreck.

Nov. 27, North Carolina: This is always a wild, emotional game and it will mean even more than usual as the Devils could get to 6-6 with a victory and Carolina could be fighting for a good bowl. By this time all the NCAA investigation talk should be a distant memory for Carolina, which could have its best defense in years. Tar Heels.

That makes the season prediction 5-7.

If Duke could find some depth or either remain healthy throughout the season (which is almost impossible) and QB Renfree lives up to his potential and the defense holds its own, Duke could upset somebody and finish 6-6.

There is little room for error for Duke, plus Renfree, while good, is a year away from great. So Duke finishes 5-7.

Former UNC, Redskins player Chris Hanburger up for Hall of Fame

Former UNC and Washington Redskins star Chris Hanburger, now 69 years old, has been approved for induction in the the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio by the Hall's senior committee. It will come up for a full vote in February.

Hanburger was one of Carolina's first great linebackers. He starred for the Heels from 1962-64 and led them to an ACC championship and a Gator Bowl win during the 1963 season. He also played center on offense. He was named to the All-ACC team both his junior and senior seasons.

Hanburger, who majored in history, now spends much of his time reading books about American history and says he doesn't keep up with pro football much because it just doesn't interest him.

Hanburger played with the Redskins his entire pro career from 1965-78 and was named to nine Pro Bowl teams including in 1972 when he was also chosen as the NFC defensive player of the year. In the off season, he worked at Ford car dealerships and eventually owned one himself.

Hanburger, the defensive captain, was known for his hard hits and playing through pain. He played in 135 consecutive games for the Redskins. He mastered the art of the clothesline tackle, which is no longer legal in the NFL. He sidelined many a runningback and receiver by sticking that immovable arm around their neck. Before it incurred a penalty, it was fun to watch.

No. 55 was honored in 2002 as one of the 70 greatest Washington Redskins players of all time.

N.C. State ticket situation is worth watching

N.C. State’s season ticket sales are off slightly, The News & Observer reported Wednesday, which is always one of those signs of concern among the fan base. The Wolfpack sold 38,000 season tickets last year and is 1,800 off that number now.

The recession is obviously a factor – another may be that two of the Pack’s six home games come on Thursday nights. But this is a trend worth watching this fall. State hasn’t averaged fewer than 56,000 fans since 2005, when it averaged 52,925. Even that number is deceiving because one game, Middle Tennessee, drew only 37,000.

Here are State’s home-attendance averages the last four years:

2009: 56,422
2008: 56,665
2007: 56,356
2006: 56,540
2005: 52,925

Those aren’t SEC numbers but are strong for an ACC team. UNC, by comparison, has sold 35,100 season tickets this year, up from 34,500 last season.

Duke has sold out of season tickets, but the Devils aren’t giving that total. This much we do know – Alabama fans are doing all they can to get tickets, and you can bet some Duke, uh, season ticket holders will be wearing Crimson Sept. 18.

The lone New Yorker on the Wolfpack roster

Strange, but true - junior Curtis Underwood, who could start at running back for N.C. State, is the only player from the state of New York on the Wolfpack roster.

Underwood, 5 feet 11 and 216 pounds, is from Lackawanna, N.Y. Tom O'Brien was recruiting him when O'Brien was at Boston College and stayed on him after moving to Raleigh. Underwood was a two-star recruit according to Scout.com in O'Brien's initial recruiting class that signed in February of 2007.

Even Bowden should realize Fla. State needed a change

Isn’t it sad to see Bobby Bowden questioning Florida State’s loyalty after he was pushed out as football coach after last season.

"I know things don't always end the way you expect them to, but where was the loyalty you would think you'd get after 34 years of service?" he wrote in his book, “Called to Coach.” "You can't imagine how many times those in charge told me over the last 20 years, 'Bobby, you can coach as long as you'd like at FSU.'"

Bowden desperately wanted to win 400 games. He finished at 389, although the NCAA doesn’t recognize 12 of those after finding the athletic department guilty of academic fraud.

Bowden had a great run at Florida State but golly, that run was over. The Seminoles won the ACC in 2005 but were only 16-16 in league play in the last four seasons. Toss in the fact that FSU has lost six straight to Florida – and four by blow-out scores – and it was time for a change in Tallahassee.

Even Bowden should recognize that.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Projecting East Carolina: Big changes, schedule work against Pirates

East Carolina is coming off perhaps its best three-year run but with Coach Skip Holtz and 28 seniors gone, and with only eight starters returning, and with a very tough schedule, this is going to be a down year.

New coach Ruffin McNeill wants to play a more wide-open, pass-happy game and that will take time to put in place. While there is some good talent on offense and special teams that should keep them competitive, the defense looks shaky.

If ECU could get to six wins, McNeill should get coach of the year consideration in Conference USA. While five wins is doable, 4-8 is more likely not only because of the tough opponents but when the games are played. Two conference games and two away games against strong ACC teams is not how you’d like to start a new regime.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown:

Sept. 5, Tulsa: A conference game to start… at least it’s at home. Tulsa is coming off a 5-7 season and will be better this year. If Holtz were still there, I’d give this one to ECU but you have to think there will be growing pains early in Greenville. Tulsa.

Sept. 11, Memphis: This could be the most important game of the year, especially if ECU loses to Tulsa. These teams are evenly matched even though Memphis was only 2-10 last year. Being at home against a slightly inferior opponent and having a game under their belts, East Carolina should come out on top.

Sept. 18, at Virginia Tech: The Hokies are favorites to win the ACC and if QB Tyrod Taylor improves a good bit, they could be in the national championship talk at the end of the year. While this is an away game for ECU, it wouldn’t matter where it is played. Virginia Tech in a blowout.

Oct. 2, at North Carolina: ECU would dearly love to win this game, and if emotion alone could win at game, this would be it. And who knows what Carolina’s state of mind will be after tough games against LSU and Georgia Tech. But the game is in Chapel Hill and the Tar Heels have too much talent. UNC.

Oct. 9, at Southern Miss: Southern Miss is a Conference USA East favorite. They have one of the better defenses around, with almost everybody back. This shouldn’t be close. Golden Eagles.

Oct. 16, N.C. State: Tom O’Brien beat Skip Holtz twice and he can beat a first-year coach. ECU will fight hard at home against a hated in-state rival. But… the Pack. That leaves the mid-year record at 1-5.

Oct. 23, Marshall: With four straight losses and possibly only one win on the season, ECU fans will be singing Waylon Jennings – “This is gettin’ funny but there ain’t nobody laughin’.” Marshall is coming off a winning season where they went to a bowl but they have a new coach too and this game is at East Carolina. ECU will be hungry and, especially at home, wanting to show they are better than their record. ECU.

Oct. 30, at UCF: Along with Southern Miss, the favorites in the Conference USA East. ECU will be sky high after beating Marshall but UCF has too much talent, especially All-America defensive end Bruce Miller and tailback Brynn Harvey. UCF wins to drop ECU to 2-6 overall and 1-4 in the conference.

Nov. 6, Navy: The Midshipmen have had winning seasons for seven years in a row and went 10-4 last year with a big win in a bowl game. Some people have ECU winning this game. But East Carolina’s defense, especially along the line and at linebacker, is suspect and Navy, the nation’s fifth best rushing team last year, have their QB, their running backs and both tackles back. I know it’s at home but Navy’s running game can wear you down. Navy.

Nov. 11, at UAB: This is a Thursday night national TV game. Why, I don’t know. UAB has a poor defense and they lost their starting QB from a year ago. I suppose they’ll be fired up to host a primetime game but they are also probably the worse team in Conference USA. Plus, by this point in the season, it won’t seem like McNeill is a new coach and he should have things heading in the right direction. ECU improves to 3-7.

Nov. 20, at Rice: Rice reminds me of a dish that isn’t so tasty but there’s a lot of it. In other words, the Owls were terrible on both sides of the ball last year but most everybody is back. You have to figure with more experience that they’ll be better and they’re playing at home. But ECU has learned to play tough teams on the road by this point. They should be able to beat a less-than-tough team this late in the season. Plus, they have more than a week to prepare. ECU moves to 4-7.

Nov. 26, SMU: This should be a real fight. A proud East Carolina team will be playing its finale at home with no bowl prospects and SMU will be playing for a bowl and possibly the Conference USA West. SMU is an up-and-coming team under June Jones. Advantage SMU.

That makes the season prediction 4-8.

If Emanuel Davis, an all-conference cornerback, can step up as an effective leader and Boston College transfer QB Dominique Davis is as strong and mobile as advertised, and Davis can find someone to throw to besides Dwayne Harris, and Harris can run back a few punts or kickoffs for touchdowns, the miracle of miracles could happen and the Pirates could finish 7-5 or 6-6.

With a new coach and the schedule the way it is, I’ll stick with 4-8.

Pack's Toney Baker released by Denver Broncos

Hate to see Toney Baker get released by the Denver Broncos, which happened Monday. Baker could have returned to N.C. State this season, which would have been his sixth in school, but decided to try to play pro football.

However, Baker's chances of making the team dropped when the Broncos signed former Raider Justin Fargas to beef up what was already a crowded backfield. Baker certainly could have helped a Wolfpack team that takes an untested backfield into the 2010 season, but you can't blame him for wanting to take his chances at the NFL after five years of school.

Closer looks shows LSU game is opportunity for Heels

Les Miles
LSU is ranked No. 16 in the USA Today coaches’ poll – the third-highest SEC team – and if you only saw that, you’d think the Tigers were their usual juggernaut.

They are not, which makes their Sept. 4 game with North Carolina particularly intriguing. In the Triangle, attention has been focused on the NCAA probe and which Tar Heels will be eligible. But in the Bayou, there’s rising concern that LSU has dipped since Les Miles led them to the national title in 2007.

LSU was 8-5 in 2008 and 9-4 in 2009 but a combined 8-8 in SEC play over those two seasons. It’s interesting that reporters who cover college football overall and the SEC in particular aren’t as convinced about LSU’s potential. The Tigers are ranked No. 21 in preseason in the AP poll, their lowest showing in that poll since 2000.

The SEC media picked the Tigers for fourth in the SEC West. In fact, the media vote total for LSU was only the seventh-highest in the league and only one reporter picked the Tigers to win the SEC.

LSU wide receiver Russell Shepard told the New Orleans Times-Picayune, "A lot of teams would kill to be there. At the same time, our expectation levels here are very high.

"You can't get caught up in them. We're going to take it one game at a time and make our statement Sept. 4."

Monday, August 23, 2010

UNC hangs hopes on Yates, at least for now

T.J. Yates is North Carolina's starting quarterback, at least for the opener Sept. 4 against LSU. Now, the hard part for Yates may be hanging onto the job.

Yates has been pushed hard in preseason by redshirt freshman Bryn Renner. UNC coach Butch Davis has raved about Renner's arm, and you can't help but be impressed when you see Renner roll out and throw. But Davis told reporters Monday that Yates remains No. 1.

“Clearly, as I said the other day, T.J. Yates is still the starting quarterback,” Davis said. “And I think that he’s done a very, very good job. I think that Bryn has pushed him and Bryn has earned the respect. ..."

Davis said it "wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility that [Renner] could certainly play in the first game."

But he hedged that by saying he didn't know how the game would unfold, and there was no set plan to play Renner.

You can't help but like Yates if you meet him. He's patient, quotable, funny, and smart enough to handle any hard question. You'd have to imagine his teammates respect him and want him to succeed. The real question on Yates isn't whether he's a good quarterback. Obviously he is - his 2,655 yards passing in 2007 was a UNC record, and he had a strong sophomore year despite missing five games.

But is Yates a great quarterback? Yates had some tough games in 2009, going 11 of 26 with two picks in the loss at Georgia Tech, throwing two more interceptions against Virginia with no touchdowns, and completing only 12 of 25 against Florida State.

Can he put Carolina in position to compete for an ACC title, which it hasn't won since 1980?  Beginning with LSU, the Tar Heels will find out.

Rankings full of Duke football foes

One reporter to watch in the Triangle is veteran Steve Wiseman, who helped us get started here at CapitalSportsNC and just joined the Durham Herald-Sun to cover Duke. Wiseman had covered the NFL, including the Panthers and Saints, before a long stint at the Columbia State.

His recent story on Duke football raised an interesting point - the Devils play five teams ranked in the AP Top 25, including No. 1 Alabama, and also Elon, which is ranked No. 7 in the Football Championship Subdivision.

Projecting N.C. State: Looks like a 6-6 fall

N.C. State hasn’t had a winning season since 2005, and looking over the schedule, it’s hard to see the Wolfpack finishing the regular season with a winning record this time.

A tough non-conference schedule should lead State to a 6-6 record, which should be just enough to squeeze it into a low-level bowl.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown:

Sept. 4, Western Carolina: An easy win. 1-0.

Sept. 11, at Central Florida: George O’Leary is in his seventh season here and has 15 starters back. The defense allowed just 83 yards rushing per game and there is tons of talent in the secondary. The offense is a physical unit that has a powerful running game. A loss here moves State to 1-1.

Sept. 16, Cincinnati:
ESPN is back for a Thursday night game with a Cincinnati team that lacks coach Brian Kelly but returns a superb offense.

GT's Johnson isn't worrying about Sept. 25
The Bearcats were 12-1 last year but their defense was simply horrible as the season progressed, as Florida showed in a 51-24 Super Bowl stomping. State has enough offense to win this one and move to 2-1.

Sept. 25, at Georgia Tech: State’s defense is the team’s biggest question mark and you can just see the Jackets grinding away in this game. State does have linebackers coach Jon Tenuta now, and he’s brilliant at figuring out how to plug gaps and stymie offenses. But even with Tenuta and Nate Irving back, you can’t see the Wolfpack winning here. Put the Pack down for 2-2.

Oct. 2, Virginia Tech: The Pack only rushed for 14 yards in last year’s 38-10 loss in Blacksburg. State puts up a better fight but the Hokies win to make State 2-3.

Oct. 9, Boston College: BC is always better than advertised, but Tom O’Brien finally beats his old team this time to make State 3-3.

Oct. 16, at East Carolina: O’Brien is 2-0 against the Pirates. This ECU team is hard to predict but certainly will play well at home against N.C. State. Still, this looks like a Wolfpack victory for a 4-3 record.

Oct. 28, Florida State:
Hey, where’s Amato? He won’t be on either sideline this time. Won’t matter either way – the Seminoles are loaded. Make State 4-4.

Nov. 6, at Clemson: The Tigers won’t be the same offense that rang up 43 points on State last season. Running back C.J. Spiller is off to the NFL, but quarterback Kyle Parker didn’t depart for baseball and the Tigers still will be potent on offense. The Pack falls to 4-5.

Nov. 13, Wake Forest:
Can you ever consider Wake Forest an easy win any more? No chance. O’Brien is 1-2 against the Deacons but should get this one to make State 5-5.

0-3 vs NCSU, TBA vs NCAA
Nov. 20, at UNC: O’Brien’s record against Carolina is a sparkling 3-0, but look for this to be Butch Davis’ turn. Carolina has much more depth than N.C. State on both sides and can better afford to withstand injuries. If State is having a poor season and stumbles into this game, say, 3-7, then the stakes here are enormous. Make State 5-6.

Nov. 27, at Maryland:
The Ralph Friedgen years may be at an end by this point. Sometimes teams just come out flat, as the Wolfpack did in the 2007 finale against Maryland in a baffling 37-0 loss. State hasn’t won at Maryland since 2004 but should get this one to finish 6-6.

Yow bust is rare, but appropriate

At the University of Alabama, you get a statue if you coach the Crimson Tide to a national football championship.

But around the Triangle, there's no statue for Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano or even Everett Case. But there will be a bust, at least, of Kay Yow, the legendary Wolfpack women's basketball coach, when NCSU unveils its tribute to Yow on Tuesday at 3 p.m., a move that comes with a twinge of irony as new athletics director Debbie Yow will speak at the event.

Yow's death in January of 2009 ended one of the most remarkable careers in Wolfpack athletics. Yow, especially in the early and middle years of her tenure, established terrific teams that always hovered at the top of the ACC standings. She was a fervent advocate of the women's game, urging the media to cover events and working tirelessly to build up the sport.

Perhaps the only blemish on her mark was she only made the NCAA Final Four once. But that seems like a footnote in a career that will be remembered by her grace and dignity as she coached on with breast cancer.

The memorial will include a bust of Yow, on a pink stone base, and should be a fitting tribute to a coach who expanded and transcended her sport.

And by the way, if you never saw Yow's video that she made before she died, you can view it here from WRAL.com. It's an amazing commentary from her about her faith and it's impact on her life.

North Carolina Little League team fell just short of the national spotlight

If you're not watching the Little League World Series on ESPN and ABC, you should check it out. The double-elimination tournament continues through Saturday when a U.S. champion is determined and Sunday when a World champion is determined.

The team from the Southeast appears to be one of three U.S. powerhouses (the others Texas and Ohio). That Georgia team came out of a regional held in Georgia where the team from North Carolina - Winston-Salem Nationals - lost in the semi-finals.

Winston-Salem National, representing the Tar Heel state, fell to the eventual runner-up Melbourne, Fla. team 3-2. The Florida team had outscored opponents 22-1 going into that game so North Carolina got close to some national TV exposure.

Winston-Salem got the tying run to third in the last inning but a Florida relief pitcher came on to strike out two straight batters to end the game.

Unfortunately, it's been since 2004 that North Carolina won the Southeast regional and went on to play in the Little League World Series tournament. That year a team from Morganton went undefeated and beat a team from Georgia (which wins most of the Southeast regional titles) to advance to the World Series.

That North Carolina team made it all the way to the U.S. semi-finals before losing to Richmond, Texas, which lost in the U.S. championship game to the West team from Thousand Oaks, Ca.

By the way, no team from the Triangle area made it to the North Carolina championships where Greenville, Wilson, Boiling Springs, Charlotte and Morganton teams competed against Winston-Salem.