We rate the top 25 estimates by national security. Nerd up, geek out, and follow along for number 20, North Carolina.
20. North Carolina.
Companion Country: Spain.
Because they have a recent modest upswing going, and would still rather be playing basketball or soccer than college football; have produced luminary after luminary despite being a rather aggregate meh as a collective unit; do well enough despite being surrounded by and trampled upon by more aggressive regional rivals; because they border at least one third-world state, have a cultural passion for ham, are more well-off than you might think at first glance, and thrive despite hilly, often inhospitable terrain.
North Carolina has managed to produce Lawrence Taylor, Willie Parker, Julius Peppers, Dre Bly, and a sackful of NFL talent and famed collegians despite an overall program record just floating above .500 and a local interest base best described as "August and Septembertastic."
Like Spain, North Carolina might have once had to voyage overseas for talent, but now Butch Davis' domestic market in recruits means they can stay at home to keep the jamon on the table, metaphorically speaking.
Recent tentative upswing aside, North Carolina has been a model of gentle, consistent neglect since the departure of Mack Brown in the 90s for Texas: first with Carl Torbush, then with John Bunting, who stocked the roster with players who slaked his deep, unending thirst for "football slows." (Mack Brown plays the part of a particularly jovial Franco here.) They have not won a bowl game since 2001, and average an ACC championship every ten years or so. (Joined in 1953, and the fifth and final title came in 1980.) So, yeah, like Spain: short on recent glory, working their way in increments up to goodness, and still not apologizing for the naps they take along the way. (Spain, siesta; North Carolina, basketball season.)
Internal Stability: Bueno, senor. Furte, even, if you consider the smoking wreck John Bunting left behind with a 3-9 season in 2006. Butch Davis locked down in-state recruiting, began his usual stockpiling of short-legged slap monsters along the defensive line, and began to build up the team's overall speed, something Bunting era teams sorely lacked. They've also sold out their home games (yes, even after October,) taken the preferred trajectory from 4-8 in year one to 8-5 in 2008, and got to a bowl game, even if it was a loss to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Care bowl. You surprised Pat White in the woods, and like when any deadly animal attacks, it was largely just a matter of bad luck meeting you claw-first in the face.
Roster turnover does harm the Tar Heels in one respect: wideout. Hakeem Nicks is gone, leaving Greg Little as the leading suspect to replace him as "glowing and much-circled dot on defensive schemes." Little missed much of last year to an ankle injury, but he's fully recovered, and at 6-3, 220 the converted tailback should at least mimic the bulky challenge of defending someone as fast and huge as Nicks. After all, he was not pleasant to play against as a tailback, and now he'll get the ball running full speed. Whee:
He and the other receivers will take the ball from junior quarterback TJ Yates, who also missed time due to injury in 2008 but was tidy and efficient in the six games he did play. He broke his ankle to Virginia Tech in an eventual loss, but more on the symbolism of that for Carolina as a whole in a moment.
Surprising thing you did not know about this team: In case this is the first time you're really thinking about the Tar Heels in 2009, their defensive line rips, especially up the middle with Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas, a full 660 pounds of prime Butch Davis-graded beef. (Remember: Davisvision calibrates for college performance only, and guarantees no pro performance whatsoever. Love, Cleveland Brown fans.) The defense on the whole should be quite competent, returning nine starters, putting immense pressure on offensive fronts, and staying more consistent than in past campaigns thanks to a cast of upper classmen taking nine of the eleven slots on the depth chart.
The IMF says: Watch for extreme variance. As much potential as any team in the ACC, with one key litmus test: October 29th on a Thursday night in Blacksburg. North Carolina hasn't beaten VT yet in the Coastal Division, and lost starting qb Yates to an injury while leading VT 10-3 last year in an eventual 20-17 loss. This game looks a bit better with Darren Evans out of the picture, and the strength of the defensive line means a positive performance against Georgia Tech's triple option is certainly something one could reasonably hope for. Then again, we could have typed this last year re: Miami's superb and maturing d-line, and they gave up 472 yards to the Jackets, so scratch prior statements, and put the game against Georgia Tech in bold letters, too.
Schedule-wise, things wax pleasant: two gimmes (Citadel, Georgia Southern,) a likely win over ECU, and then two in-conference "shoulds" versus Duke and Boston College. The rest, as ever in the ACC, is a crapshoot, but a well-seasoned TJ Yates, the solid defense, and the reliance on the run game in the Tar Heel offense mean our variance is wide, wide, wide.
Therefore, if you're into risky, condom-free investing with high payouts and high risk: Approve UNC up as far as ten, since they are the most balanced team in the ACC Coastal division, and because Butch Davis in year three of a recruiting rampage sounds like something that has to show up on the field eventually. If you're close to football retirement, though, hold UNC right where they are at 20, since the margins in the ACC can kill grown men and elderly gamblers alike. UNC knows this best of all: they lost three of their four pre-bowl losses by three points or less, and were a few shy fartsqueaks away from going 11-1 going into bowl season.