The University of North Carolina's football program has really stepped in it heel first. Already being investigated for star defensive tackle Marvin Austin's alleged balleracious behavior, UNC has self-reported academic infractions and moved nine players onto the practice squad.
According to Joe Schad, those players include Austin, linebacker Bruce Carter, and defensive end Robert Quinn. Losing any one of these players would damper UNC's Coastal Division hopes, but all three? In addition to highly rated starting cornerbacks Charles Brown and Kendrick Burney, recently dismissed for various murky who-knows-what?
Scouts, Inc. ranks Quinn as the nation's second best player, with Austin at 13th. College football information firehose Phil Steele ranks each of the three the best in the nation at his respective position. The book on the Tar Heels this year is that their blue-chip defense would more than make up for their mortifying offense, which scored almost a point per game less than freaking Duke last year. That's simply not going to be the case if they wind up having to play without these three players. And we don't even yet know who the other six players are.
This could set Georgia Tech up very nicely. The Coastal Division has been billed as a four-way shootout, like a game of GoldenEye 007, and we all know how easy it was to survive those while remaining in contention for a BCS title. Tech plays North Carolina early -- the trip to Chapel Hill was supposed to be the Jackets' only real early-season test. If UNC were to lose key defenders, Tech would be heavily favored in their first seven games, giving Al Groh's new 3-4 defense time to settle in before Tech faces four likely ranked teams in its final five. Coastal Division co-favorites Miami and Virginia Tech are included in that last batch, facing each other during the same span as well.
Continuing the hypothetical. Virginia Tech and Miami both face tough conference games before the late-season Survivor Series. VPI travels to Boston College early, and the Canes welcome Florida State and play in Clemson. Tech could very well be in the driver's seat by the time especially consequential conference games begin.
UNC held a press conference tonight at 7:30 and didn't offer much new information.