Three Things: Carolina 45, Maryland 38
1. One of the biggest offseason storylines will be how Larry Fedora plans to shore up the Carolina defense, which looked alternately average and leaky over the final month of the season. But don’t let that overshadow the other side of the ball, where the Tar Heels just finished the most prolific season in school history by almost any measure.
Carolina shattered the single-season points per game record that was set by the 1993 club that featured Leon Johnson and Jason Stanicek. That group averaged 35.1 points per game; the 2012 Tar Heels put up a startling 487 points for an average of 40.6 points per game. How good was this season? Even if you take away the 62-point explosion against Elon and the 66-point showing against Idaho, the Tar Heels still would’ve set the single-season scoring record with an average of 35.9 points per game.
As you’d expect, the Tar Heels also obliterated the school record for yards per game. The 1983 club averaged 441.8 yards per game, but this year’s team posted 484.8 yards per game.
2. It would appear to be a two-player race between Carolina’s Gio Bernard and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd for ACC Player of the Year. Had the vote been taken after the NC State game on Oct. 27, Bernard was the likely winner. Since then, however, Boyd had an eight-touchdown game against the Wolfpack. Bernard led the league in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yards, while Boyd leads the conference in pass efficiency and total offense.
So, who’s the likely winner? Bernard has the signature play that everyone saw, the game-winning punt return against State. But keep an eye on the Clemson-South Carolina game tonight, because one of Boyd’s major selling points is that he’s racked up his numbers on a bigger stage for a team that’s gotten more attention. If he happens to direct the Tigers to a win tonight, he’s going to be very hard to beat. If he struggles, however, there’s a chance Bernard could edge him.
No Tar Heel has won the overall ACC Player of the Year award since Ethan Horton in 1984 (Marcus Jones won the 1995 Defensive Player of the Year award). No Carolina player has won the award and returned the next season since Mike Voight in 1975. As soon as the ACC POY votes are tabulated, or probably before, Bernard is going to be besieged with questions about his 2013 plans. As a redshirt sophomore, he is eligible to enter the NFL Draft. Having talked to two people very close to him in the past week, I can tell you that they were split on what would be the best decision for his future.
3. Speaking of conference honors, Tommy Hibbard needs to get some recognition for his fantastic season at punter. Voters usually go strictly on punting average, and Hibbard ranks second in that category (42.8 yards per punt average) to Duke’s Will Monday. The Tar Heel sophomore had another outstanding day against Maryland, consistently pinning the Terps deep in their own territory and averaging 44.8 yards on five punts. For the season, Hibbard placed 19 of his punts inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line.
What Carolina fans know about Hibbard that many voters probably won’t realize is that his athleticism helped the Tar Heels in several key situations, from snagging bad snaps in his role as a holder for Thomas Moore and Casey Barth, to grabbing high snaps as a punter, to even an occasional pass or run out of a fake field goal or punt.
All-ACC teams will be announced this week.
And a bonus fourth thing: if the Tar Heels were bowl eligible this season, they would've played in the ACC championship game next weekend in Charlotte. Georgia Tech, Miami and the Tar Heels all finished 5-3 in the league. That three-way tie is settled by combined head-to-head record, and all three teams would be tied. The tiebreaker would eventually get down to the record against the next-highest team in the division, which would be Virginia Tech. Because the Yellow Jackets lost to the Hokies, that would drop Georgia Tech out of the tiebreaker and leave just Carolina and Miami. Because the Tar Heels won that head-to-head matchup, they would move on to Charlotte.
"I'm proud of them," Larry Fedora said on the Tar Heel Sports Network postgame show. "These guys wanted to be Coastal Division champs, and they are, and they'll always be known that way."
So, what do you think? Should this team be called the Coastal Division champions? Could self-imposing a bowl ban last year have possibly avoided a postseason ban this year, and earned the Tar Heels the right to play Florida State for a BCS berth?