Alexander: Mack Brown, Sam Howell Have People Believing In Tar Heels

LISTEN: UNC Beat Writer Joins Ferrall On The Bench

Ferrall On The Bench
September 13, 2019 - 9:14 am
North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell (7) celebrates after leading the North Carolina Tar Heels to a 28-25 win over the Miami Hurricanes at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

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Nobody had expected head coach Mack Brown and the North Carolina Tar Heels to make this much noise three weeks into the college football season.

The Tar Heels weren't heavily favored in the ACC's annual preseason poll, voted upon by members of the media. After ending last season at 2-9, North Carolina was projected to have a sub-par season, finishing sixth in the conference's Coastal Division but it did receive one first-place vote. Brown and the Tar Heels have since exceeded expectations. The team rallied off two straight wins to begin the season, defeating South Carolina and Miami, who was predicted to finish second in the division. 

Now, the Tar Heels are making people believe in the program once again. Jonathan Alexander, who covers North Carolina for The Raleigh News & Observer, discussed Brown's impact with the upstart Tar Heels on "Ferrall on the Bench." 

"Usually when you have a team like that and a new coach, it's a process," Alexander said. "That's what a a lot of people expected. Mack Brown is a great coach, but nobody really predicted them to beat South Carolina and then Miami. Then they go out and do it - both fourth quarter comebacks. They have people believing. This is a totally different team with a different with a different mindset. 

Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell played a huge role in North Carolina's revival this season. Howell has thrown for 519 yards and four touchdowns during his freshman year. He's yet to throw an interception as the Tar Heels are finally receiving credit, gaining 48 votes in the latest Associated Press poll. Alexander says very few pundits expected the North Carolina native to be this good for the program in his first month as a starter. 

"I think the only people who really expected Sam Howell to be as good as he is are the people at high high school and in his hometown," Alexander said. "I went there before the first game and everybody told me he's build for this moment. He's played high school football and was the starter since he was a freshman and he took the team by storm as a freshman. They knew he was going to do it when he got to college and he did that.

"I think the one thing about Carolina last year, the biggest thing they were missing was a quarterback because they were in a lot of those games. I think they lost seven of their games by 10 points or less - six by seven points or less. All they needed was a quarterback last year. They didn't have a guy who could throw the ball deeper than ten yards. It was that bad last year and now they got Sam, who can throw that deep ball, a really good deep ball pass, who's confident. They called him "Ice Cold" last week. They said he got ice in his veins. He can play."

North Carolina sits atop of its division, tied with Virginia at 2-0. They'll face undefeated Wake Forest, who entered the season in a similar underdog type situation as UNC, on Friday with a chance to widen its gap over the rest of the Coastal Division. This is the type of success fans had hoped for when Brown ended his retirement from coaching to take over the program.

"What he told me was in an interview that he just missed the game," Alexander said. "He could'nt sit by idly and continue to watch the game. He enjoyed his job but he needed to be in the thick of the game. He needed to be a mentor a kids and he's doing that and he's having fun. He's right in his element. He's helping the Tar Heels win. He's providing that confidence that the Tar Heels lacked last year."

Click the audio player below to listen to Alexander's interview in its entirety.