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September 2, 2011
Batten: Time for Answers
After months of speculating, pontificating and pondering, North Carolina's 2011 football season is finally upon us.
When the Tar Heels kick off the year Saturday in Chapel Hill against James Madison, we'll finally start to learn how this squad has responded to losing its head coach right before preseason practice and how the offense is adjusting to a new quarterback among other things.
Personally, here are some of the questions I'm most anxious to have answered in the season opener.
What kind of game coach will Everett Withers be?
Despite his impressive resume, Withers has never been a head coach, not even at the high school level. He's now the guy players will look to for leadership on game day. He'll have to make the tough decisions on going for it on fourth down, or determine whether to ask officials for a video review.
Hopefully, his experience having worked for some astute head coaches like Mack Brown, Jeff Fisher and, yes, Butch Davis, have helped prepare Withers for game-day management as a head coach.
How prepared is Ryan Houston?
The coaching staff treated Houston with kid's gloves during preseason practice as he continued to recover from off-season surgery to repair his right scapula.
Although he's gotten extensive work with the offense in preseason drills, Houston has been exposed to minimal contact. It will be interesting to see what affects the situation has on the running back's stamina and his ability to power through tackles, the latter of which is his bread-and-butter.
In a related question, I'm anxious to see redshirt freshman Gio Bernard make his college debut. Bernard is a shifty, speedy back who could provide a great contrast to Houston. I'm also curious to see sophomore A.J. Blue work at tailback, where I think he's got Ethan Horton-like potential.
What true freshmen will play?
It's an annual question we all ask. For UNC, the answers this year may produce some surprises. Anyone who follows Tar Heel recruiting probably anticipated linebacker Travis Hughes, receiver T.J. Thorpe and tight end Eric Ebron would crack the opening game depth chart.
But cornerbacks Tim Scott and Alex Dixon, offensive guard Landon Turner, linebacker Keeon Virgile and tight end Jack Tabb are also expected to see action from the recruiting Class of 2011.
Is Bryn Renner a strong leader?
I think I know enough to believe Renner has the physical tools to be a great quarterback. But Renner tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve, and that can can have a negative impact if he's not able to keep that in check.
What receiver is going to step up to take the pressure off Dwight Jones?
Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd have had their moments for UNC. But neither has played with consistency to this point. Jones is going to face plenty of double teams until one of those guys, or somebody else steps up to become a threat on the other side.
How soon will Casey Barth surpass his brother, Connor, as UNC's all-time leader in field goals?
Casey needs just five more to move past Connor's record of 53 career field goals. So the answer to this question is likely to come within the first three to five games.
Will they fill up the "Blue Zone'' seats?
The answer to how upset the UNC faithful are about Chancellor Holden Thorp's decision to fire Butch Davis may be found in how many fans show up to fill this new addition to Kenan Staduim.
Will UNC fans embrace Jones Angell as the radio play-by-play voice of the Tar Heels?
Woody Durham was both revered and adored by UNC fans, many of whom for years have turned off the sound on their TV sets to listen to his play-by-play call. Angell doesn't need to be another Woody Durham to endear himself to fans. But if he's accurate, informative and develops his own style, the fans will eventually come around.