This post begins a series previewing each of our 2013 opponents. We begin with our opening contest, which is against the North Carolina Tarheels.
This game is of interest primarily because of the colors the opponent is wearing, not how good it is. USC fans have been clamoring for a return visit from our former ACC rivals ever since USC won a narrow contest in Chapel Hill during the 2007 season, so fan interest should be relatively high for this game. However, USC should win this one. We're currently a 12 1/2-point favorite in the game, which should give you an idea of how the two teams stack up against each other.
That's not to say that UNC is chopped liver. In his first season, Larry Fedora successfully installed his spread offense. Fedora's spread is premised on a rush-pass balance and incorporates the no-huddle. It was one of the most prolific offenses in the nation last year, helping the Tarheels to a somewhat surprising 8-4 record in what was supposed to be a building year for the new coach. This year, Fedora returns some weapons to play with in All-ACC QB Bryn Renner and South Carolina-product WR Quinshad Davis.
However, the first bit of bad news for UNC is that it while it returns Renner, Davis, and some more talent at receiver, it loses one of the keys to its success, an elite offensive line, a few players of which will be playing on Sundays next year. Fedora will be breaking in a very young group up front this year, which will put him at a disadvantage against USC's stellar defensive line. The Tarheels also lose All-ACC RB Giovanni Bernard, although it should be said that they return a couple of backs who did well spelling Bernard last year.
The second bit of bad news for UNC is that Heels lose a lot of talent up front from a defense that already struggled a lot last year. There may be some gains to be had for UNC if the defense grows into the new 4-2-5 scheme that Fedora's staff implemented last season. On the other hand, those gains might be offset by the fact that USC is one of the few other teams in the country that run a similar defensive scheme, which should help us prepare for the Heels.
My feeling is that this one might be interesting early on if Fedora and Renner figure out a way to piece a couple of scoring drives together, but eventually, USC's superior talent will take over this game. There's little reason to believe that a green UNC defensive front will be able to slow our running game or that UNC's offensive front will be able to hold off Clowney and company for any appreciable period of time. That should add up to USC eventually wearing UNC down on both sides of the ball, a process that may be accelerated by UNC's hurryup offensive style. The real Carolina should have this one under control by early in the final quarter.