James Conner: How a Torn ACL affects Tar Heels


James Conner just changed the nature of the ACC Coastal Division race. The big Pittsburgh running back went down with a MCL tear in the team’s first game of the season against FCS Youngstown State. Conner WAS the gameplan for Pitt last year, and his absence likely means that the Panthers are no longer a factor in the Coastal race.

Both Duke and North Carolina had close games with the Panthers last year with a healthy Conner on the field. Indeed, if former Pitt and current Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst had kept giving Conner the ball there is a good chance they would have beaten the Tar Heels last year. The rebuilding defenses at North Carolina and Duke cannot be sad to see him go.

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In the ACC preview, we picked Pitt to go 4-4 in the conference. That included home wins against Miami and the Tar Heels. Those two games have to be seen as flipped now, since Conner would have been the main reason why they would have beaten the Canes and the Heels. That flip has potential consequences for the Tar Heels.

In my game preview, I took North Carolina to beat South Carolina close with the Gamecocks controlling the ball, but Marquise Williams being the X-factor. Well I got two of those with Williams being the X-factor in the wrong way. However in the Season preview, I suggested that South Carolina would win game one. That game does not affect the Tar Heels’ conference record, which I predicted would be 4-4. A Pitt flip would make it 5-3.

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What difference does 5-3 mean for the Heels over 4-4? Mostly it has to do with postseason bowl positioning. With a high scoring offense, the Tar Heels can be pretty entertaining. However they could still be overlooked for the better bowl destinations. Having a better conference record forces some bowl to take the Heels instead of getting bypassed.

Still, the Heels still have to play and win the games. They have to do this knowing that only one of the potential wins against A&T and Delaware will not count for bowl eligibility. I hope Conner gets healthy to either turn pro or rejoin the ACC next year.

Next: Five Lessons from UNC-USC