Published November 20, 2014
Less than a week away from a high-profile opener, Butch Davis doesn't sound too certain of who will take the field for North Carolina.
The 18th-ranked Tar Heels are weighed down by an NCAA investigation into agent-related benefits as well as a probe into potential academic misconduct. So instead of enjoying the buzz that comes with starting his fourth season against No. 21 LSU in Atlanta, Davis is answering questions — or, more accurately, not answering them — about who will be eligible to play.
"We're not preparing for worst-case scenarios," Davis said. "We're preparing for best-case scenarios."
The team didn't release a depth chart Monday before Davis' weekly news conference, a departure from typical procedure. He wouldn't say how many players could be held out, though he said he's using a "fluid" informal depth chart in practice this week.
He would, though, reiterate that three-year starter T.J. Yates would be under center against the Tigers after fending off a push from backup Bryn Renner. Yates said the defense has "a little more people in jeopardy than the offensive side of the ball does."
"It's definitely in the back of your mind," Yates said. "We kind of want to know before, going into the game. We kind of just want to have it set so we know who's going to be playing."
The NCAA has twice visited campus looking into whether senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin — projected as a possible NFL first-round draft pick — and senior receiver Greg Little received improper benefits from agents. Both players have been working with the second team for much of training camp and haven't spoken with reporters.
That probe expanded to academics last week, though the school has refused to specify how many players could be involved or are in jeopardy of missing the LSU game. Along the way, the NCAA has looked at a cross-country trip involving Austin and former Tar Heel Cam Thomas as well as the friendship between assistant coach John Blake and California-based agent Gary Wichard.
"I think we're at an all-time high with distractions," tight end Zack Pianalto said, "so I don't know if you can add any more or if it makes that much difference."
The Tigers are fully aware of those distractions, too.
"It probably benefits us best to focus on where they're most capable and that's what we're going to do," LSU coach Les Miles said. "We want to see their best players playing against us and we're preparing a game plan for that. ... Until I see a starting lineup or until I get affirmed information, I don't think there's much news."
Davis said players who are certain to be held out before Friday will not travel to Atlanta. Athletic director Dick Baddour said the school is still investigating the academics side to the probe and would reveal its findings to the NCAA through the week for assistance in determining whether who could or couldn't play.
Baddour said he and chancellor Holden Thorp would be involved in the decisions, even if it comes just before kickoff.
"We are working as hard as we can in each case to get a determination as soon as we can," Baddour said. "That could be fluid. In some situations, we may know more (Tuesday) or Wednesday. It could come down to the end of the week for sure."
That's not to say LSU's players mind all the fuss in Chapel Hill. While cornerback Patrick Peterson said the Tigers wanted to see North Carolina's "best guys on the field," quarterback Jordan Jefferson sounded eager to take advantage of a depleted roster.
"If they're losing their key guys, then they should have been way more aware of what they did before they did it," Jefferson said. "We're preparing for them to play, like I said, but if (Austin) doesn't, then that's their loss.
"I don't think (a backup) would be as strong as the starter would, so that's kind of a better situation."
AP Sports Writer Brett Martel in Baton Rouge, La., contributed to this report.