3 biggest North Carolina football storylines to follow this spring

Campbell v North Carolina
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With spring practice now in full swing across the country, early anticipation and storylines are beginning to unfold ahead of the 2024-25 season. Today, we will turn to the ACC and focus on North Carolina football.

In what will now be the program’s sixth straight year under head coach Mack Brown, North Carolina is coming off a rather underwhelming season — one where the Tar Heels started off 6-0 and looked like perennial ACC title contenders before dropping five of their last seven games. After losing a few key pieces this offseason, UNC is in for a reload and will have a handful of new faces headlining the starting roster.

Here are three can’t-miss storylines on the North Carolina football program this spring.

1. The QB battle

The clear-cut biggest storyline of the spring revolves around who will be the guy to fill golden-arm quarterback and future first-round pick Drake Maye’s shoes. Replacing the best quarterback in school history is obviously a tall task and it raises some uncertainty ahead of next season in Chapel Hill. Tar Heel fans were spoiled with superb quarterback play over the past five seasons between Maye and Sam Howell. Now the next man up will most likely be either a fifth-year senior and/or an inexperienced dual-threat.

In what is now his third Power Five school, transfer portal pickup Max Johnson will be one of the early frontrunners to lead the UNC offense in 2024. What gives Johnson the early edge is experience, as the former LSU Tiger and Texas A&M Aggie has played in 30 games (22 starts) across four seasons. Production wise, Johnson tallied 47 touchdowns, 5,853 passing yards, and a 60.5 completion percentage in that span. However, the biggest red flag centered around him is durability. In each of the past two seasons, Johnson saw limited action due to injury after suffering a broken hand in 2022 and broken ribs last season.

As of right now, Johnson’s biggest competition for the starting job is redshirt-sophomore Conner Harrell. While the former three-star high school recruit does lack what Johnson has in terms of experience and production, he does have a higher ceiling than Johnson with his dual-threat ability and overall athleticism. Aside from the two interceptions, Harrell showed flashes in North Carolina’s bowl game loss to West Virginia, racking up 224 all-purpose yards and a passing touchdown behind a formidable 66.7 completion rate. His further development and progression under center will be something to keep an eye on this spring and beyond.