CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina has always been able to count on a high-scoring offense under Larry Fedora. That might not be the case for Saturday’s home opener against California.
The Tar Heels enter the season aiming to replace quarterback Mitch Trubisky — who went from first-time college starter to No. 2 overall NFL draft pick in less than a year — as well as their top three receivers and their top two running backs. That leaves plenty of uncertainty about exactly how UNC’s attack will look against a power-conference opponent.
"Anytime you’ve got guys playing for the first time, or playing significant reps for the first time, you’re not really sure how they will handle the adversity and the things that are going to happen during a game," offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic said. "That’s the unique thing of college football, right? In the NFL you get preseason games. In high school you get jamborees or whatever.
"So the first time we get to see what they’re all about is when they’re live out there."
Fedora hasn’t named a starting quarterback to lead his no-huddle attack, listing three players — LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris, redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt and last year’s No. 2 Nathan Elliott — on the depth chart. Sophomore Jordon Brown and freshman Michael Carter top the depth chart at tailback, while senior Austin Proehl leads an inexperienced set of receivers for the Tar Heels (8-5).
"They’re going to do what has been successful for them, and Coach Fedora has done that for a number of years with different personnel," first-year Cal coach Justin Wilcox said. "I wouldn’t think that that would change their philosophy on offense but I can’t answer that."
The Golden Bears (5-7) have some changes of their own, too. They start with Wilcox, who is making his debut after spending the past 11 seasons as defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State.
Some other things to know about Saturday’s matchup between the Golden Bears and Tar Heels:
PHILOSOPHY CHANGE: Cal figures to look completely different after the past four years of the prolific "Bear Raid" offense and porous defense. Longtime defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox was hired to take over from Sonny Dykes with the first task being to upgrade a defense that ranked 125th in total defense and 127th in scoring defense out of 128 FBS teams.
UNTESTED PASSER: Ross Bowers won the summer quarterback battle to start this one. After redshirting in 2015, Bowers spent last season as Davis Webb’s backup. He appeared in the season finale against UCLA and didn’t throw a single pass, though he’ll have a dynamic wideout to help him in sophomore Demetris Robertson. "I’ve always believed in myself and tried to put myself in this position," Bowers said. "One mission is complete, now on to the next one."
DEFENSIVE EXPERIENCE: The Tar Heels have a chance to be improved defensively by returning their top three tacklers (linebackers Cole Holcomb and Andre Smith, safety Donnie Miles) for the first time since 2010. "It’s big," Smith said of UNC’s defensive experience. "Really for the most part, every guy that will be playing a considerable amount of reps has a played a lot of football for us."
KICKING GAME: Cal will have a clear edge in the kicking game. Senior Matt Anderson tied a school record last year with 22 made field goals. The Tar Heels must replace Nick Weiler, and listed two players atop the depth chart (junior Freeman Jones and freshman Noah Ruggles) yet to make a college field goal.
FIELD CONDITIONS: The Tar Heels are practicing daily in Kenan Stadium while the school builds an indoor practice facility on the site of their practice fields. UNC has planned to resod the field before each home game if necessary, and workers did so after Wednesday afternoon’s practice. This will be the first test of how well that newly laid sod holds up.
AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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