Four North Carolina teams prepare for bowl games

Duke plays in the Motor City and App State travels to Alabama while NC State goes to Texas and Wake stays in N.C.

John Wolford and Wake Forest travel just down the road for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, while safety Dylan Singleton and the Blue Devils are set to play in Detroit. (Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports)

Appalachian State vs. Toledo
Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
Saturday, Dec. 23, 7 p.m.  |  ESPN

Preview: App State (8-4, 7-1 Sun Belt) becomes the second Sun Belt team ever to go to three straight bowl games. Marshall did it from 1997-2002. Toledo (11-2, 7-1 MAC) faces App for the second straight season. The Mountaineers won last year’s Camellia Bowl, 31-28.

Players to watch: App State running back Jalin Moore led the Sun Belt with 912 rushing yards, including nine scores. Defensive lineman Tee Sims had 9.5 sacks, 13.5 tackles for loss and two fumbles recovered. Toledo’s Logan Woodside led the MAC with 3,758 passing yards, eighth-best in the country. Senior cornerback Trevon Mathis had three interceptions and seven pass breakups to win the team’s Defensive MVP award.

Fast fact: This is one of just three bowl games this year to match two conference champions and the only one that won’t take place on New Year’s weekend. App shared the Sun Belt crown with Troy, while Toledo won the MAC title game. The Cotton Bowl (USC vs. Ohio State) and Rose Bowl (Georgia vs. Oklahoma) are the others.

What to expect: App was the first team to win back-to-back bowls in its first two seasons of FBS eligibility. The Mountaineers will look to extend the streak to three years, but the MAC champion Rockets are going to be out to prove a point, after feeling shortchanged by the bid to the game in Mobile.

Duke vs. Northern Illinois
Ford Field, Detroit
Tuesday, Dec. 26, 5:15 p.m.  |  ESPN

Preview: Duke (6-6, 3-5 ACC) returns to a bowl after a late-season spurt to become eligible. The Blue Devils have been to five bowls in the last six years. NIU (8-4, 6-2 MAC) heads to its ninth bowl in 10 years.

Players to watch: Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris was first-team All-ACC and second-team All-American. He ranks fifth among active players in tackles per game and had 117 tackles, 15 tackles-for-loss and 4.5 sacks this year. Sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones passed for 12 touchdowns while rushing for six. Northern Illinois defensive end Sutton Smith was named MAC Defensive Player of the Year. He leads the nation in tackles for loss (29) and sacks (14). Redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Childers took over at midseason and led the team to a 6-2 record as starter, winning MAC Freshman of the Year.

Fast fact: Northern Illinois tied for the NCAA lead with six blocked kicks, and its four blocked punts were one away from leading the nation. Earlier this month, Duke dismissed Austin Parker, who handled placekicking and punting all season, from the team and will be using William Holmquist, who has one PAT in his Duke career.

What to expect: The Blue Devils looked dead in the water in November, in the midst of a six-game losing streak. They rebounded with a furious finish to make a bowl. Expect them to come out motivated to bring back a win.

Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M
Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
Friday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.  |  ESPN

Preview: Wake (7-5, 4-4 ACC) heads to its second straight bowl following a record-setting year on offense. Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4 SEC) will play in a bowl for the ninth straight year, but the Aggies will have an interim coach — special teams coordinator Jeff Banks — after firing Kevin Sumlin following the regular season.

Players to watch: Wake quarterback John Wolford had a breakout year in his senior season. Behind Wolford’s passing and running, the Deacs are the third-most improved offense in the country, with a nearly 150 yards per game improvement over last year. They’ve scored a school-record 404 points. Defensive end Duke Ejiofor ranked in the top 10 nationally in tackles for loss. A&M’s Tyrel Dodson needs three tackles in the game to become the first Aggie linebacker to have 100 in a season. He also has 11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and three interceptions. Receiver Christian Kirk leads the team with 58 catches, 730 yards and seven touchdown catches. He’s also the only SEC player to return a kick and a punt for touchdowns this season.

Fast fact: Wake Forest has never beaten an SEC team in a bowl. The Deacs lost to LSU in the 1979 Tangerine Bowl and Mississippi State in the 2011 Music City Bowl.

What to expect: Wake got the bowl it wanted but may struggle with the opponent. The Aggies will be looking to make a good first impression on former FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, who takes over following the bowl.

NC State vs. Arizona State
Sun Bowl Stadium, El Paso, Texas
Friday, Dec. 29, 3 p.m.  |  CBS

Preview: The Pack (8-4, 6-2 ACC) nearly lost their head coach to Tennessee, but Dave Doeren decided to stay, and his near departure is forgiven. Arizona State (7-5, 6-3 Pac-12) fired coach Todd Graham and hired former NFL coach and ESPN announcer Herm Edwards after the season, but Graham will still coach the bowl game.

Players to watch: If he plays, instead of sitting out to prepare for the NFL Draft, Wolfpack defensive end Bradley Chubb will be the best player on the field. He’s this year’s winner of the Nagurski Trophy and the Hendricks Award. Running back Nyheim Hines rushed for 1,040 yards and added another 610 on kick and punt returns. ASU receiver N’Keal Harry is 19th in the country with 73 catches and 24th with exactly 1,000 receiving yards. Cornerback Chase Lucas was named a freshman All-American. He had 53 tackles, two interceptions and seven pass breakups, while posting the fifth-lowest pass completion percentage allowed of any corner in the Pac-12.

Fast fact: NC State has never played in the Sun Bowl before, and this is its first game against a Pac-12 opponent since 1989, when the Pack lost to Arizona in the Copper Bowl. Its last win over a Pac-12 team was at Arizona State in 1974.

What to expect: State fans didn’t want to be sent to El Paso, and the support level may be low for the Wolfpack. Still, the Pack appears to have more to play for than an ASU team in transition.