Five questions to ponder before kickoff

Here are five things to think about and consider as we wait for today's football games involving state teams to begin

Jaboree Williams and his Wake Forest teammates will need all their strength to battle defending national champion Clemson at Death Valley today (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

 Believe it or not, we’ve reached the midway point in the college football season — which means it’s time for state teams to take stock in where they are and the direction in which they’re headed.

For NC State, which started the weekend off with an impressive win against Louisville on Thursday, it means waiting to see how high it will be ranked and looking ahead to a potential dream matchup with Clemson.

For Appalachian State, it’s about building momentum for another conference championship run while Duke and Wake Forest begin counting the wins necessary to earn bowl eligibility. As for North Carolina, East Carolina and Charlotte, well, it’s time to regroup and do what they can to salvage what has been a forgettable season to this point.

As we wait to see how things shake out, here are five questions about today’s games to think about and consider:  

1. Who’s responsible for Wake Forest’s schedule?

Whoever it was, you can bet they won’t be getting a Christmas card from coach Dave Clawson or his players this year. The Deacons were given the unenviable task of having to play Atlantic Division heavyweights Florida State and Clemson in back-to-back weeks, with today’s matchup against the defending national champion Tigers at Death Valley.

Wake came within an eyelash of knocking off the Seminoles at home last Saturday, outgaining them by more than 100 yards, recording five sacks and leading almost the entire game before finally falling 26-19 on a 40-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining.

The Deacons are vastly improved from recent years and have a defense that is capable of giving any team trouble. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney made note of that when he said that Wake “is a very, very good football team and if anybody says otherwise they have no clue what they are talking about.”

All flattery aside, though, the task it will face today is among the most difficult in college football. And it’s only complicated by the fact that it’s coming on the heels of a physical game against another top opponent. It’s going to take a flawless performance by the offense and perhaps a turnover or two from the defense for the Deacons to hang with the Tigers.

2. Who will play quarterback for Notre Dame against UNC? Does it really matter?

The answer to the first question is that we won’t know until just before game time. The answer to the second is probably no.

Notre Dame starter Brandon Wimbush has been limited in practice this week with a right foot strain. Wimbush is the Irish’s second-leading rusher at 80 yards per game. His potential replacement, Ian Book, is averaging eight yards per carry in a backup role. As a team, Notre Dame ranks seventh nationally in rushing at 301.4 yards per game, with running back Josh Adams leading the way at 131.6 yards per game.

Those numbers make for a highly unfavorable matchup for an injury-riddled Tar Heels defense that was torched for 403 rushing yards in last week’s loss to Georgia Tech and are allowing an average of 221.8 yards per game on the ground.

3. What’s happened to Duke’s offense?

The Blue Devils got off to a flying start by averaging better than 40 points per game through their first four games, all wins. But that momentum came to a screeching halt last Friday night when they were held to their lowest point total of the David Cutcliffe era in a 31-6 home loss to Miami.

Quarterback Daniel Jones threw for the second-lowest percentage of his career and Duke went just 5 of 19 on third down in a game Cutcliffe said everything “just went south.” As epic as the Blue Devils’ offensive struggles were against the Hurricanes, they actually began a week earlier when Jones and his receivers often seemed out of sync while only managing 27 points against a defenseless UNC defense.

They’ll try to turn things around today at Virginia.

That would normally be a good place to start trending in the right direction again, except that the Cavaliers have begun to show signs of life under second-year coach Bronco Mendenhall. They went to Boise State and won 42-23 on the blue turf and have had a bye week to prepare for today’s game. And, oh yes, they beat Duke in Durham last year for one of the two wins they earned the entire season.

This is a huge game that will likely determine the direction both teams take for the rest of this season.

4. Which is worse, ECU’s defense or Temple’s offense?

 The Pirates come into the game ranked 128th out of 129 FBS teams nationally in scoring defense, allowing 50.6 points per game while the Owls’ offense is nearly as bad while mustering an average of just 16.2 points in their first five games.

Clearly, something has to give.

If you go strictly by their most recent performances, Temple figures to have the advantage after “exploding” for two touchdowns and a field goal in the second half last week after falling behind Houston 20-17 at halftime. For the season, though, the Owls are averaging less than 300 yards per game as they transition into new coach Geoff Collins’ pro style offense that also goes into a spread from time to time.

That last stat has to give the Pirates hope, considering they have yet to hold an opponent to fewer than 575 yards in a game this season while allowing 50 or more points three times in five games. Defensive coordinator Robert Prunty, who took over only two games ago, said he plans to rotate more players into the game today in hopes of keeping his top players from getting worn down in the second half. The Pirates have been outscored 129-52 over the third and fourth quarters this season.

If Prunty’s defense can keep the score even moderately respectable, ECU’s offense is playing well enough over the past two weeks to make this a winnable game for the struggling Pirates.

5. Who is the only undefeated Division I team in North Carolina?

It’s NC A&T, which is 5-0 after completing a three-game road trip with an impressive 21-7 win against MEAC rival South Carolina State last week. The Aggies are one of only nine undefeated FCS teams nationally and they’re the only unbeaten HBCU. They’re a good bet to stay that way and improve to 6-0 for the first time in 24 years with a homecoming date with winless Delaware State today.

While coach Rod Broadway’s team started the season by flexing its offensive muscle behind the passing of quarterback Lamar Raynard (68.3 percent, 14 touchdowns, one interception), the rushing of Marquell Cartwright (103 yards per game) and the receiving of Elijah Bell (22 catches, seven TDs), the defense has stepped up of late. A&T has averaged only 12 points allowed in its last two games.

Considering the way the Aggies are playing and the opponent they’re facing, it promises to be a happy homecoming in Greensboro today.

That’s enough for this week. Enjoy the games!

And don’t forget to keep track of today’s action at it happens on Twitter by following NSJ writers Brett Friedlander at @BFriedACC and Shawn Krest at @shawnkrest.