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Larry Fedora has some work to do to fill his Class of 2018.

North Carolina recruiting: Where Tar Heels will go after early signing period

Cody Pace

Join us daily at ACC DieHards for the latest North Carolina recruiting news and notes on the next crop of Tar Heels. Don’t miss any coverage from Cody Pace and the team. Read his daily notebooks here at 9 a.m. ET Monday through Friday. In this edition, we discuss what the next steps will look like for North Carolina after the early signing period ends.

While college football’s first early signing period isn’t over quite yet, most of the fireworks have ended and North Carolina is almost certainly done.

The Tar Heels signed 14 players and have a 15th — 3-star corner DeAndre Hollins — slated to sign in February. That leaves somewhere around 10 slots for North Carolina to fill between now and Feb. 7 National Signing Day.

While the early signing period allows the Tar Heels coaching staff to focus more heavily on a specific group of available players and affords them the ability to not worry about retaining their currently-committed class, it also has a negative. Each of the Power 5 conferences averaged more than 13 signees per school, meaning the average Power 5 school has more than half of its class full. That leaves a relatively small proportion of the Class of 2018 available to fill those 10 spots.

Here are some of the prospects that North Carolina is expected to focus on over the next six weeks.

William Barnes, 4-star T, Apopka, Fla.

William Barnes is one of the highest rated players left on the board, ranking as the No. 5 tackle and No. 45 overall player per 247Sports.

North Carolina, Auburn, Florida and Ohio State are the schools in the running, but it looks like this will come down to the Tar Heels and Florida. He’s going to be a tough sell for coach Larry Fedora, given Barnes’ ties to the state of Florida and new coach Dan Mullen’s early recruiting successes.

Still, he’s likely to make a January official visit to Chapel Hill. If that visit goes well, it’s not out of the question the Tar Heels could walk away with two top-tier offensive linemen in the Class of 2018. With only 4-star tackle Avery Jones committed for the class, a win on Barnes would be huge, and a loss will likely need to get filled by another offensive lineman.

Rick Sandidge, 4-star DT, Concord, N.C.

It’s going to be a dog fight for North Carolina to keep the state’s top uncommitted player from heading south.

Rick Sandidge, the No. 10 defensive tackle and No. 130 overall player in the Class of 2018 per 247Sports, has said he’ll name his top three in the near future, likely coming before the end of the year. It’d be a shocker if North Carolina wasn’t on it, and the same goes for South Carolina. He’s also looking at Florida, Georgia and Michigan for that last spot and my hunch is that it goes to the Bulldogs.

Sandidge is more of a luxury than a pressing need for the Tar Heels, given an already deep defensive line class that is likely to get deeper regardless of Sandidge’s destination, but an in-state win would feel good after the Tar Heels suffered a big loss on 4-star outside linebacker Payton Wilson earlier this month.

For what it’s worth, South Carolina is the overwhelming favorite to land him.

Dax Hollifield, 4-star ILB, Shelby, N.C.

Speaking of in-state wins, North Carolina needs Dax Hollifield in the worst way.

Wilson’s de-commitment and subsequent commitment to N.C. State leaves the Tar Heels with only 3-star inside linebacker Kyle Wright in the class. Hollifield, the nation’s No. 7 inside linebacker and No. 137 overall player per 247Sports, would represent a huge victory.

The Tar Heels were once the favorite on Hollifield, but it’s been Virginia Tech that’s trended upward lately. If North Carolina strikes out here, I would still expect the Tar Heels to add at least one more linebacker.

Marcellus Earlington, 3-star DE, Ramsey, N.J.

The de-commitment and subsequent flip to Arkansas from 3-star Georgia defensive end Nick Fulwider could actually end up not being a bad thing for the Tar Heels.

That chain of events is likely to increase Fedora’s pursuit of Marcellus Earlington, the nation’s No. 17 strong-side defensive end and No. 389 overall player, as the fourth best strong-side defensive end left on the board.

While the industry has Rutgers as the favorite to land Earlington, 247Sports has North Carolina as the hottest team.

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