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A dozen UNC players ineligible for/withheld from opener

The verdict is partially in, and it’s not good news for the North Carolina football program. At all, from any vantage point.

While it’s not the 16 players rumored on Thursday, the Tar Heels will be down a staggering dozen players, including numerous starters, when they open the season Saturday night against LSU.

According to a press release issued by the school, six players have been declared ineligible for this weekend’s game while an additional six players are being withheld from the game. The release stated that the investigation continues to include both agent-related and academic issues, although athletic director Dick Baddour cautioned that "[i]t is important to note again that people should not make assumptions as to the nature of each student-athlete’s involvement with these issues.”

What we don’t have to assume are the names of the players who will not be making the trip to Atlanta with their Tar Heel teammates this morning.

The suspended players are defensive tackle Marvin Austin, cornerback Charles Brown, cornerback Kendric Burney, wide receiver Greg Little, defensive end Michael McAdoo and defensive end Robert Quinn.

The half-dozen being held out, presumably as a precaution, are tailback Shaun Draughn, defensive end Linwan Euwell, safety Brian Gupton, tailback Ryan Houston, safety Da’Norris Searcy and safety Jonathan Smith.

Eight of those 12 players are starters, including six on the defensive side alone. To repeat, the Tar Heels will take the field Saturday night against a nationally-ranked opponent with more than half their starting defense sidelined, not to mention losing far and away their best receiver and their top two running backs.

Head coach Butch Davis said he was disappointed in the choices his players had made that led to this situation, a disappointment that will certainly be exceeded, at least privately, by what their absences will mean to the on-field results come midnight or so Saturday.

“As I’ve have said, there is no single game more important than the character and integrity of this University,” Davis said in a statement. “We are disappointed the players’ choices have denied them the opportunity to compete alongside their teammates and represent the University of North Carolina. Our coaches and players have a tremendous challenge this weekend, and despite these circumstances, our team will be excited to face LSU.”

This might not be the last of the attrition for UNC, however, as the press release also stated that the number of games the 12 student-athletes will miss has not been determined at this time. Baddour said that the investigation is still ongoing and that they are “working with the NCAA staff to resolve these eligibility issues. The NCAA is focusing on each of their situations on a case-by-case basis.”

Suffice to say, UNC is in a world of hurt going forward. And, based on a reading of the tea leaves, the hurting is not going to stop for the foreseeable future.

UPDATED 10:39 a.m. ET: According to the Raleigh News and Observer, UNC is still attempting to establish the eligibility of three additional players, bringing the total to 15 players who did not make the trip to Atlanta.

The three players whose eligibility are all defensive starters: senior linebacker Quan Sturdivant, senior linebacker Bruce Carter and senior safety Deunta Williams.

If those three players are ultimately ruled ineligible, that would mean nine of the 11 starters on defense will be sidelined for the opener.

Can I get a “WOW!”?