It's that time again. It's game week for Carolina football, and so the countdown begins until Saturday's kickoff with Cal. And while the Tar Heels don't practice on Mondays, their head coach takes the podium for the weekly press conference, as Larry Fedora did today.
"You're tired of practicing against each other and you're tired of preparing," Fedora said of the week ahead. "You're ready to get out on the field and find out what your team's made of, so as coaches you feel like there's never enough time and there are so many more things to do, but the players, they're ready to go. They want to play, so (we're) excited about Saturday getting here."
With the press conference came the first pregame depth chart. And, well, there's not much clarity there. While some units seem pretty well sorted out –offensive line, the receiving corps, the linebackers and secondary– there are crucial positions without a defined starter five days before the season kicks off.
That includes, of course, the quarterbacks position, which lists Brandon Harris OR Chazz Surratt OR Nathan Elliott. It's a three-man race, at least publicly, and if Fedora has chosen a starter, he's not tipping his hand. At all. Could the Tar Heels use two quarterbacks on Saturday?
"That's a possiblity," Fedora said. "That's a possibility. We could go with one. We could go with two. We could go with three. We could possibly get to four."
Throughout training camp, the Tar Heel head coach has stressed that he will name a starter when one player has "separated himself" from the rest of the pack. And apparently, no quarterback has done that, yet (or, again, at least enough for Fedora to name a starter publicly). "It's a legitimate battle," Fedora said. "You guys (the media) may not think that they are legitimate battles, but they're legitimate battles in my mind. When I announce them publicly, that may not happen the day that I make a decision."
In Harris, the Tar Heels have a graduate transfer with a year-plus of starting experience at LSU in the SEC. In Elliott, they have a redshirt sophomore, dual-threat quarterback who saw Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky have success in this offense and was Trubisky's backup a year ago. Surratt, meanwhile, is the presumed heir apparent at the position, a high school All-America who set state career records for touchdowns and total yards.
Three years ago, Williams and Trubisky battled in camp to be the starter. Williams ended up running the show, as he did in 2015, though he and Trubisky split series (to little success) in 2014. That year, the quarterback battle was between two talented players; the race was tight because they were so good. This year, what's the story? Bob Sutton of The Burlington Times-News asked if no one had separated themselves because they were all so good, or so bad.
"I guess Saturday will determine that, won't it?" Fedora answered. "The extension of [the position battle] has just been because no one has separated themselves."
So on Saturday, someone will step behind center for the first Tar Heel offensive series of 2017. We just won't know who it is until then.
Other depth chart notes:
•While the OR questions on offense hit the quarterback, tailback (Jordon Brown OR Michael Carter) and second-team receiver (Dazz Newsome OR Roscoe Johnson) positions because of inexperience, they dot every position on the defensive line because of a wealth of experience. Tomon Fox OR Malik Carney at one defensive end position. Tyler Powell OR Dajaun Drennon at the other. And at defensive tackle, it's Aaron Crawford OR Jeremiah Clarke and Jalen Dalton OR Jason Strowbridge. All eight players should see the field plenty on Saturday; the depth up front will allow the defense to stay fresh and aggressive for four quarters.
•Carolina has 12 positions listed on the defensive depth chart, with M.J. Stewart, a starter at cornerback, listed with Corey Bell, Jr. there. So look for the Tar Heels to be more versatile at the second and third levels of the defense.
•No kicker yet, as it's junior Freeman Jones OR freshman Noah Ruggles. All reports are that the battle at kicker has been extremely tight, with both players proving reliable from deep.