No. 19 North Carolina

The Times' Chris Dufresne unveils his preseason college football top 25, one day (and team) at a time:

No. 19 North Carolina

Rankman and North Carolina have a history dating to 1997, when Mack Brown was coaching at Chapel Hill and the stars, especially on defense, appeared aligned.

Yours truly surveyed the landscape, the personnel, the schedule (Florida State at home) and was convinced Tar Heels should be preseason No.1.

It registered 11 out of 10 on the giggle meter.

Andy Taylor picked up the phone in Mayberry and asked Sarah to patch him through to L.A. to say even Ernest T. Bass thought Rankman had a bolt loose.

North Carolina finished 11-1 and No. 4 in the final USA Today coaches' poll. The Tar Heels' only loss was to Florida State.

Brown parlayed it into the Texas job.

True story: The next year, on a visit to Austin, Rankman received an apology from the former Carolina coach.

"We let you down," Brown said. "You were right. All we had to do was beat Florida State at home."

Here we go again -- sort of. No. 19 is a long way from No. 1, but watch out in 2010, when North Carolina might crack Rankman's preseason top five.

We get the sort of vibe with Butch Davis at North Carolina we got with Brown.

Davis is checking in the kind of players who might soon make a run to the Atlantic Coast Conference title (Brown's 1997 North Carolina defense featured Greg Ellis and Dre Bly).

Davis rebuilt sanctions-torn Miami in the late 1990s and might have become a college coaching rock star, alongside Pete Carroll, Brown, Urban Meyer, Jim Tressel and Bob Stoops, had he not bolted for the Cleveland Browns a year before Miami won the national title in 2001 under Larry Coker.

Davis enters Year 3 at Chapel Hill on the ascent. North Carolina finished 8-5 last year, and think of what it could have been had it not lost those squeakers: 20-17 to Virginia Tech, 16-13 in overtime at Virginia, 17-15 at Maryland and 31-30 to West Virginia in the Meineke Car Bowl.

Davis has nine starters returning on defense.

The team is young, with only six seniors as projected starters, although junior quarterback T.J. Yates needs to drop his nasty bad habit of getting injured.

The offense also has to replace its three top receivers, but Rankman's theory is to jump on a bandwagon a year too soon rather than a year too late.

This just in: Football is never going to upstage basketball at North Carolina. Roy William's Tar Heels are still basking in the glow of an NCAA title. The basketball arena was named for a coach, Dean Smith, while he was still coaching.

But the programs can be friends.

People used to say egos and politics wouldn't allow a school to be great in basketball and football, but Florida recently debunked that theory by winning national titles in both sports -- in the same year.

Twelve seasons is a long time in the life of a pollster and a Tobacco Road program.

Welcome back, Tar Heels. Maybe this year you can beat Florida State at home (Oct. 22).


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