College Football Previews: Important games across the board for NC schools

UNC, Wake hit the road in ACC play; App State, ECU host conference foes; Charlotte looks to go above .500

UNC freshman quarterback Cade Fortin will look to get the Tar Heels back in the win column when they visit Syracuse. (Gerry Broome / AP Photo)

North Carolina at Syracuse
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.  |  Saturday, 12:20 p.m.  |  Raycom

Preview: The Tar Heels (1-4, 1-2) played one of their best games in two years only to lose in the final minute against Virginia Tech. Syracuse (4-2, 1-2 ACC) is coming off a bye week.   

Players to watch: Syracuse QB Eric Dungey has averaged 292.3 yards of total offense per game over his career, fourth-best among active players. True freshman QB Cade Fortin gave UNC back the threat of the deep ball, but his status is unsure after suffering an injury late in the first half.

Fast fact: Syracuse and UNC have never played an ACC game against each other, but they’re not the last two ACC teams to play. Pitt and Wake will face off for the first time in the conference on Nov. 17, and Louisville will play Virginia Tech next season.

What to expect: Carolina hasn’t shown consistency since Mitch Trubisky was throwing passes for them. If the Heels can put together back-to-back good games, it will be a major step forward.

— Shawn Krest

Charlotte at Middle Tennessee State
Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn.  |  Saturday, 3 p.m.  |  ESPN3

Preview: The 49ers (3-3, 2-1 CUSA) are coming off a win against Western Kentucky and have an opportunity to go over .500 for the first time since the second game of the 2015 season.

Players to watch: MTSU QB Brent Stockstill is questionable after injuring his left ankle in last week’s loss to Florida International. His backup, Asher O’Hara, was 9 of 20 for 114 yards and an interception. LB Darius Harris leads the Blue Raiders with 47 tackles, to go along with three sacks. Charlotte RB Bennie LeMay rushed for 121 yards and two TDs in last week’s 40-14 win against WKU while LB Juwan Foggie earned CUSA Defensive Player of the Week honors with two interceptions and eight tackles.

Fast fact: This is MTSU’s homecoming. The Blue Raiders are 17-3 in their last 20 Conference USA home games.

What to expect: The 49ers are vastly improved and lead CUSA defending the run, but winning on the road against a team whose strength is throwing the ball might be too tall a task for coach Brad Lambert’s team.

— Brett Friedlander

Appalachian State vs. Louisiana Lafayette
Kidd Brewer Stadium  |  Saturday, 3:30 p.m.  |  ESPN+

Preview: App State has won four straight since a season-opening loss at Penn State. The Ragin’ Cajuns have won back-to-back games to turn around a 1-3 start.

Players to watch: A week after Louisiana RB Elijah Mitchell won Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week, QB Andre Nunez took the honor, throwing a school-record five touchdown passes. With 14 tackles and a sack, App State LB Jordan Fehr took the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week award.

Fast fact: While this year’s game is at App State, Louisiana plays its home games in a stadium nicknamed “The Swamp.” The field is 2 feet below sea level, and fans walk down to their seats after entering the stadium. The Ragin’ Cajuns’ original football field is now an actual swamp in the middle of campus.   

What to expect: The Mountaineers should be able to keep their Sun Belt Conference run going, albeit against a solid opponent.

— Shawn Krest

Wake Forest at Florida State
Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee, Fla.  |  Saturday, 3:30 p.m.  |  SPN2

Preview: The Deacons (3-3, 0-2 ACC) and Seminoles (3-3, 3-1) are both coming off open dates after losing their most recent games.

Players to watch: The status of Wake WR/KR Greg Dortch, who leads the ACC with a 176.2 all-purpose yards per game, is uncertain because of an ankle injury suffered two weeks ago against Clemson. CB Essang Bassey leads the Deacons in tackles with 39 and ranks third in the ACC in passes defended. FSU QB Deondre Francois ranks second in the ACC in passing yards at 251 yards per game. DE Brian Burns leads the conference with three forced fumbles.

Fast fact: Before getting hurt on a punt return, Dortch became the fastest Wake player ever to record 100 career catches. He did it in just 14 games, eight fewer than the previous record of John Henry Mills from 1989-92.

What to expect: The Seminoles have shown steady improvement after a shaky start, going 2-1 with a one-point loss to rival Miami in their last three games, while the Deacons have been outscored 160-64 on their three losses this season.

— Brett Friedlander

ECU vs. Central Florida
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium  |  Saturday, 7 p.m.  |  ESPN2

Preview: Most schools schedule a homecoming opponent they know they can beat so the alumni will be happy. ECU (2-4, 0-3 AAC) decided to schedule its homecoming against a team whose 19-game winning streak is the nation’s longest.

Players to watch: Prized freshman QB Holton Ahlers will make his first career start for the Pirates after going 11 of 18 for 137 yards and a TD in a relief role last week. DE Nate Harvey has 8.5 sacks, 2.5 fewer than the entire Pirates team had last season. UCF QB McKenzie Milton torched ECU for 324 passing yards in last year’s 62-21 win. S Richie Grant leads the Knights (6-0, 3-0) in both tackles (54) and interceptions (3).

Fast fact: The Pirates have won 12 straight homecoming games. Their most recent loss was a 30-20 setback to UCF in 2005.

What to expect: ECU should get an infusion of energy with the much-anticipated elevation of Ahlers to a starting role, but it will need more than that to overcome a team with its sights set on a second straight unbeaten season.

— Brett Friedlander