College Football Previews: Season kicks off with three days of games

Wake travels to Tulane; Duke hosts Army; Charlotte faces Fordham; East Carolina and NC A&T face off; NC State gets a visit from James Madison

Wake Forest wide receiver Greg Dortch may have suffered his season-ending injury as he dove for the pylon on this second quarter touchdown Saturday (Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports)

The floodgates open on the 2018 college football season, with Wake Forest playing in New Orleans on Thursday, Duke hosting Army on Friday, and N.C.’s five other FBS schools opening their seasons on Saturday. (App State’s trip to Penn State is featured here, and UNC’s trek to the West Coast to face Cal is previewed here).

Wake Forest vs. Tulane
Yulman Stadium, New Orleans, La.  |  Thursday, 8 p.m.  |  CBSSN

Preview: The Deacons, coming off a season in which they won eight games and set 105 school records, face a difficult opener on the road against a Tulane team that literally came within inches of bowl eligibility in its final game in 2017.

Players to watch: Wake will start freshman Sam Hartman at QB, who will benefit from the return of WR Greg Dortch, again healthy after being injured for the final four games. Tulane added graduate transfer Justin McMillian from LSU less than two weeks ago. Defensively, CB Donnie Lewis had three interceptions and 11 pass breakups a year ago.

Fast fact: Wake’s Matt Colburn II has the most career rushing yards of any returning RB in the ACC with 1,780, including 904 last season.

What to expect: The Deacons should have more than enough offense to exploit an inexperienced Tulane defense and come away with a key road win.

Duke vs. Army
Wallace Wade Stadium  |  Friday, 7 p.m.  |  ESPNU

Preview: The Black Knights handed the Blue Devils (7-6 in 2017) the last of six straight losses in the middle of the 2017 schedule, a 21-16 result at West Point. The lessons learned against the Knights’ option attack paid off the next week, however, when Duke topped like-minded Georgia Tech to snap its drought.

Player to watch: Quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw is gone, but Army still has Andy Davidson and Darnell Woolfork — they combined for 115 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries against the Blue Devils last year. Duke QB Daniel Jones is a year older and wiser. Army, 10-3 last year, will have to slow him down.

Fast fact: Duke last lost an opener in 2011. Army has played at least one ACC team every year since 2012, going 3-6.

What to expect: With an entire offseason to prepare, the Blue Devils should have the Black Knights figured out. Still, Army will likely keep it close.

Charlotte vs. Fordham
Richardson Stadium  |  Saturday, 6 p.m.  |  ESPNPlus

Preview: The 49ers begin what figures to be a win-or-else season for coach Brad Lambert against a nonscholarship FCS team that went 4-7 last season and is breaking in a first-time head coach.

Players to watch: Charlotte returns four offensive linemen with more than 70 combined starts, along with leading rusher Benny LeMay and top receiver Mark Quattlebaum. The defense is led by preseason All-CUSA safety Ben DeLuca. Fordham returns eight starters on defense, including All-Patriot League DB Dylan Mabin. WR Austin Longi has 16 career touchdown catches.

Fast fact: Lambert’s staff will have a new look with Shane Montgomery taking over as offensive coordinator and Glenn Spencer hired as defensive coordinator.

What to expect: If ever there was a game set up to help a team get off to a positive start, this is it. The Rams should be the perfect fodder for the 49ers, who went 1-11 a year ago.

East Carolina vs. NC A&T
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium  |  Saturday, 6 p.m.  |  ESPN3

Preview: For the second straight year, the Pirates open against a talented, veteran FCS team. Compounding matters for ECU, NC A&T has already won a difficult road game at Jacksonville State last Saturday.

Players to watch: WR Trevon Brown enters the season with 1,829 career receiving yards, fifth most in ECU history. DE Kendall Futrell is a key to the Pirates’ revamped defense. Aggies QB Lamar Raynard, the 2017 MEAC Player of the Year, is 27-0 as a starter. DE Darryl Johnson saved last week’s win with a strip sack in the final minute.

Fast fact: New ECU defensive coordinator David Blackwell came from Jacksonville State, whose defense held A&T to just 148 total yards last week.

What to expect: This is a win the Pirates absolutely have to get in order to reach Scottie Montgomery’s goal of bowl eligibility and perhaps save the coach’s job.

NC State vs. James Madison
Carter-Finley Stadium  |  Saturday, Noon  |  ESPNU

Preview: James Madison travels to North Carolina for the second straight year to open the season. Last year, the Dukes handed ECU a 34-14 loss in Greenville. The Wolfpack open their season with high expectations after a 9-4 campaign in 2017.

Player to watch: Two first-team Preseason All-ACC performers, quarterback Ryan Finley and receiver Kelvin Harmon, lead the Wolfpack. They will be countered by two FCS preseason All-Americans in the secondary: first-teamer Rashad Robinson and third-teamer Jimmy Moreland.

Fast fact: James Madison is ranked No. 2 in the FCS preseason poll and has reached the championship game the last two years, winning it all in 2016 when its only loss was a 56-28 decision at UNC.

What to expect: It’s doubtful NC State coach Dave Doeren will allow his team to look past JMU. The Wolfpack will need to avoid mistakes and contain punt returner D’Angelo Amos to fend off of an upset.