North Carolina won't have the reward of a bowl trip at the end of the season -- NCAA penalties eliminated that possibility -- but first-year coach Larry Fedora doesn't think that will be an issue.
The coaches and players hashed all that out when the penalties were announced in March, he said.
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"They were upset," he said, referring to his players, "but you play the game for more than just the bowl."
Fedora has particularly appreciated the way his upperclassmen have approached things.
"The seniors are probably more excited about this season than anybody," he said. "No one has really talked about the bowl situation other than that first meeting."
Though the Tar Heels won't be eligible for the ACC Championship Game, they figure to have a big impact on what team represents the Coastal Division.
With 13 starters back, including quarterback Bryn Renner, running back Giovani Bernard, four interior linemen on offense and linebacker Kevin Reddick, end Kareem Martin and tackle Sylvester Williams on defense, the Tar Heels were picked to finish third in their division in the annual preseason media poll.
But the two teams picked ahead of them, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, both must come to Chapel Hill for their regular-season meetings.
HEAD COACH: Larry Fedora, first year at North Carolina, 34-19 record as a head coach.
MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Bryn Renner -- With the Tar Heels going to a spread attack, Renner is going to have to keep things moving. He also is going to have to stay healthy. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are two redshirt freshmen (Caleb Pressley, Marquise Williams) and two true freshmen (Kanler Coker, James Summers).
BREAKOUT STAR: WR Erik Highsmith -- Highsmith's contributions last year (51 catches, 726 yards, 5 touchdowns) were overshadowed by those of his teammate, Dwight Jones (85, 1,196, 12 touchdowns). But with Jones gone, Highsmith steps into the role as No. 1 target almost by default. He has great speed and should thrive in the new spread offense.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: WR Quinshad Davis -- Out of Gaffney, S.C., Davis caught 108 passes as a high school senior for 2,009 yards and 25 touchdowns. He was a finalist for Mr. Football honors in the state. Davis has the height (6-feet-4) to give smaller cornerbacks problems and plays a position where the Tar Heels have a big need.
KEYS TO SUCCESS: The Tar Heels are going to have to adjust to the new up-tempo offense and the switch in defensive schemes to a 4-2-5. Renner, a 3,000-yard passer, and Bernard, a 1,000-yard rusher, must duplicate those efforts. Look for Reddick to have a big year at linebacker.
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AREAS OF CONCERN: Depth at wide receiver was an issue even before senior Todd Harrelson, who had a big spring, was dismissed from the team. Highsmith's 51 catches last year were second on the team to 85 of the departed Jones, but senior Jheranie Boyd was the only other wide receiver with more than 10 catches. He had 14, five of which were for touchdowns.
-- Junior LB Darius Lipford will miss the season after a knee injury he sustained during a rehab session on July 12 required surgery. He originally injured the knee in last season's Independence Bowl. He will take a redshirt in 2012 and have two seasons of eligibility remaining. He had 42 tackles and four starts last season.
-- WR Todd Harrelson, a projected starter for 2012, has been dismissed from the team. A senior, Harrelson was suspended last season but had rejoined the program after the coaching change. He had only two catches in 2010, but one came in the closing seconds against Tennessee in the Music City Bowl in North Carolina's drive for the tying touchdown.
-- FB Devon Ramsey is still recovering from a knee injury and his status for fall camp is in limbo. He was granted a sixth year of eligibility for his injury problems, which also included a shoulder injury.
-- Renner is one of 10 returning starters at the position in the ACC. As a sophomore, he set a North Carolina season record for touchdown passes with 26 in 2011 and completed 68.3 percent of his attempts for 3,086 yards.
-- Three former Tar Heels have had asterisks placed by their school records because the ongoing investigation into academic and extra benefits problems at the school uncovered that they were ineligible when they played. WR Hakeem Nicks had a school-record 1,222 receiving yards in 2008 and had career marks of 2,840 yards and 21 touchdowns. The next year, CB Kendric Burney set school marks for interception-return yardage for a game, season and career. S Deunta Williams also will have an asterisk placed by his marks for interceptions for a career (third) and a season (tied for fifth).