The college football weekend in North Carolina is off to a so-so start, with NC Central having pulled out a 21-14 win MEAC rival against Florida A&M on Thursday and Duke suffering its first loss of the season to Miami in its ACC opener on Friday.
As we wait to see how the rest of the state’s teams fare on this final Saturday on September, here are five questions to think about and consider:
1. Can NC State avoid a post-Florida State hangover?
No matter how much coach Dave Doeren tries to downplay it, today’s home game against Syracuse is the classic trap game for his Wolfpack. It’s a noon start at home against an opponent that has already lost to Middle Tennessee State this season, and its sandwiched between the first real signature win of Doeren’s tenure and another high-profile Atlantic Division showdown next Thursday against Louisville. State has traditionally had trouble staying focused after big wins like the one it earned against Florida State in Tallahassee last week, most notably in 2012, when it followed up an upset of the Seminoles by getting dominated on homecoming by lowly Virginia. If the Wolfpack shows up focused and ready to play today, it should have little trouble disposing of the Orange. The big question is, will it?
2. Can UNC slow Georgia Tech’s triple option and if not, can its injury-riddled offense generate enough points to outscore the Yellow Jackets?
This figures to be a long day for the Tar Heels defense. But even with starters Andre Smith, Tyler Powell and Jalen Dalton available — they’re among the 19 players on this week’s injury list — UNC would still have had its hands full against coach Paul Johnson’s confounding run-oriented attack. Points are going to be scored. History bears that out. The Coastal Division rivals have combined for an average of 65.7 over their last five meetings. In 2012, Tech’s 68-50 win was the highest scoring game in ACC history. UNC has won the last three meetings, including last year’s game in which it posted a season-high 48 points. It’s going to take another big offensive number to win today in Atlanta. That might be too much to ask of young quarterback Chazz Surratt and his decimated receiving corps. But then, the Yellow Jackets turned the ball over four times last week against Pitt, so it’s possible the Tar Heels could get a little help.
3. Is Wake Forest ready to play (and beat) the big boys?
Even though the Deacons are undefeated and the Seminoles are winless coming into today’s game — a “man bites dog” story if there ever was one — the folks in Las Vegas aren’t convinced that coach Dave Clawson’s team is ready to compete with one of the ACC’s Atlantic Division heavyweights. Wake is a 7½-point underdog at home. That’s a reasonable expectation, considering that FSU’s two losses are to national championship favorite Alabama and NC State in a game that followed a two-week weather-related layoff while the Deacons’ best win came on the road against lightly regarded Boston College. And Wake’s new-and-improved offense hit its first stumbling block last week in a narrow one-point win at Appalachian State. Whether the Deacons got exposed in that game or simply got caught looking ahead to Florida State is something that will be determined on the field today. But for Wake to be taken seriously, by the oddsmakers and everyone else, it will first have to prove itself worthy by beating teams like the Seminoles.
4. Can ECU build on last week’s win at UConn or take a step back against South Florida today?
Last Sunday’s win at UConn allowed coach Scottie Montgomery and his Pirates an opportunity to take a deep breath and feel good about themselves for a few moments after a truly dismal start to the season. If nothing else, it meant that they won’t have to worry about going winless. But as exhilarating as the Pirates’ 41-38 victory might have been, it came at the expense of an opponent picked to finish last in the AAC’s East Division and the only team it has managed to beat over the past 11 months. And they still fell victim to many of the same problems that were responsible for lopsided losses to James Madison, West Virginia and Virginia Tech — particularly a defense that left too many receivers open, missed too many tackles and yielded 596 yards to the Huskies. There were a few bright spots, most notably the performance of quarterback Thomas Sirk and his stable of talented receivers. They’re going to need to be as good if not better today against a USF team that comes into the game at 4-0, ranked No. 18 nationally and coming off a 43-7 win at Temple in which it forced six turnovers.
5. Will having somebody new calling the plays make any difference for Charlotte’s stagnant offense?
The 49ers suffered the first shutout in the five-year history of their program last week against Georgia State and have scored more than seven points only once in their four games to date this season. And that was in a loss to FCS opponent NC A&T. In desperate need of something to spark his languid offense, coach Brad Lambert shook up his staff on Monday by demoting offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen and appointing offensive line coach Greg Adkins to handle the playcalling duties. It’s anybody’s guess how much of a difference Adkins can make. But then the bar isn’t set very high, considering that Charlotte ranks 127th out of 129 FBS teams in scoring offense. The 49ers might not need to score that many points to win today, anyway. They’re playing a Florida International team — led by former UNC coach Butch Davis, by the way — that has averaged only 15.7 points in its first three games.
That’s enough for this week. Enjoy the games!