North Carolina is entering the 2022 season with deflated expectations after falling short of its goals in 2021.

With Sam Howell gone, the Tar Heels have taken a step back out of the spotlight following last season’s disappointment. They entered the year as a preseason top-10 team, but finished just 6-7.

UNC’s struggles a year ago could be contributing to the lack of expectations this season. The Tar Heels are expected to finish no higher than 3rd in the Coastal, with most analysts having them comfortably behind both Miami and Pittsburgh in that division.

But the ACC Network’s Mark Packer sees things differently. He recently called UNC the “sleeper” of the ACC in 2022.

Despite losing Howell, North Carolina has one of the most talented rosters in the conference. The Tar Heels have recruited at a very high level since Mack Brown returned to Chapel Hill and nearly put together a top-10 class for the 2022 cycle. They did sign a pair of 5-stars in that group — offensive lineman Zach Rice and defensive lineman Travis Shaw.

And while replacing Howell will be difficult, North Carolina appears to have a pair of solid choices at the quarterback position. Both Drake Maye and Jacolby Criswell have been impressive since the spring and either could help the Tar Heels win games this season.

North Carolina opens the year vs. Florida A&M on Aug. 27.