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North Carolina DT Ethan Farmer's eligibility remains a question

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Rob Kinnan/USA Today Sports
North Carolina senior Ethan Farmer (middle) might not be available for the Tar Heels this season.

North Carolina's defensive line was expected to be a team weakness this season, and the news keeps getting worse for coach Larry Fedora.

The Tar Heels use a 3-4 set, and lost two starters from last season in Kareem Martin (now with the Arizona Cardinals) and Tim Jackson. Now, it looks as if senior Ethan Farmer, the lone returning starter, could miss the opener and perhaps even the season.

The Raleigh News & Observer reports that Farmer's eligibility is in question. When asked if he expected to hear anything about Farmer's status before Saturday's opener against FCS opponent Liberty, Fedora said, "I'd love to. But I don't anticipate anything."

UNC already is without two other tackles, Shawn Underwood and Greg Webb, who left the program in late July. Underwood was seen as a likely starter, while Webb -- one of the Heels' top recruits in the 2013 signing class -- was set to be a top backup.

In the Tar Heels' 3-4 set, one end and two tackles normally play at the same time. If Farmer indeed is out for the season, there would be just three scholarship tackles on the roster who aren't true freshmen. Redshirt freshman Nazair Jones likely would start if Farmer can't go.

North Carolina's offense should be one of the best in the ACC. But defensive improvement from last season is a must if the Tar Heels are to legitimately challenge for the wide-open Coastal Division title. The Tar Heels have some talent at linebacker, and the secondary could be OK. But a mediocre defensive line could trump the positives in the back eight.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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