UNC will start the season ranked No. 20, according to the preseason USA Today Coaches’ Poll released Friday.
The Tar Heels finished the 2008-09 season unranked after dropping three out of their last four games, including a 41-10 thrashing at the hands of in-state rival N.C. State — who, despite being picked to win the Atlantic Division by a few media outlets, only received one vote in the coaches’ poll. Carolina has been picked anywhere from second to fourth in the Coastal Division.
The Wolfpack closed last season winning four out of its last five games and was a Russell Wilson injury away from beating Rutgers in the Papajohns.com Bowl. State hosts UNC Nov. 28 — the final regular season game for both squads in 2009.
Three other ACC teams made the cut with Virginia Tech ranked No. 7, Georgia Tech No. 15 and Florida State No. 19.
Two UNC defensive backs — safety Deunta Williams and cornerback Kendric Burney — were named to the Jim Thorpe Award watch list Friday.
Williams and Burney, both juniors from Jacksonville, N.C., are among the 31 players on the preseason watch list for the award, which is annually given to top defensive back in the nation.
In 2008, Williams — then the reigning ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year — intercepted three passes and recorded 65 tackles. Burney totaled 78 tackles and three interceptions as well en route to a second-team All-ACC selection.
Carolina’s secondary picked off an astounding 20 passes last season; only seven teams caught more interceptions. Williams and Burney are part of the reason for the hype surrounding UNC this season, considering the Tar Heels return an experienced defense, including a stout defensive line led by Marvin Austin — a possible first round draft pick in the near future.