Five questions to ponder before kickoff


NC State running back Ricky Person Jr. takes a handoff from quarterback Ryan Finley in last week's win against Virginia (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

  North Carolina and Duke have the week off and Appalachian State doesn’t have a game Saturday. That doesn’t mean it’s a slow college football weekend here in the Old North State.

  There’s plenty at stake in the games that will be played Saturday, especially at Carter-Finley Stadium, where NC State and Boston College will battle it out to determine which will be the most realistic challenger to Clemson in the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

  Speaking of those Tigers, they’ll be paying a visit to Wake Forest for a high-profile matchup while Elon will be playing a national power on the FCS level when it takes on defending national finalist James Madison in a battle of top-10 ranked teams.

  The action will begin early, as Wolfpack fans are all too aware. But while you’re waiting for kickoff, here are five questions to think about and consider:

1, Can NC State figure out how to hold serve at home against BC?

  The Wolfpack is playing at home, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will have a homefield advantage against the Eagles. In fact, recent history suggests the opposite. Since Dave Doeren arrived in Raleigh and Steve Addazio in Chestnut Hill in 2013, the visiting team is 4-1 and has won the last four games in this division rivalry.

  Doeren was at a loss to explain the phenomenon when asked about it at his regular weekly press conference on Monday, offering only that the games between his team and BC have all been physical affairs. This one should be no different. The State coach also noted that his team has fared best in this series when it has been able to run the ball effectively, which bodes well considering that the Wolfpack is coming off its best rushing game of the young season thanks to the addition of explosive freshman Ricky Person Jr.

   BC, on the other hand, will be without its top running back, ACC Player of the Year A.J. Dillon. The sophomore running back ranks third nationally with 652 yards through five games, but he suffered an ankle injury in last week’s win against Temple. His absence could potentially have a major impact on the game, especially as well as State’s defense is playing right now.Sc

  It can’t be understated how important a game this is to State. Ranked 23rd with an off week upcoming, the Wolfpack has a chance to set up an epic showdown with Clemson for the Atlantic Division lead in its next game. But only if it doesn’t get caught looking past BC.

2, Can Wake Forest’s offense have enough firepower to outscore Clemson?

  The Deacons made some necessary improvements to their struggling defense in last week’s win against Rice. But that was Rice. This week’s opponent is Clemson. With starting quarterback Trevor Lawrence back from injury. And looking to make an impression on all those poll voters that have been dropping them in the rankings even without a loss.

   Given the fact that Wake has allowed 97 points in its two games against Power 5 opponents thus far and its propensity for allowing big plays — it has already been burned for nine of 35 yards or longer — it’s a safe assumption that the Tigers are going to a big number up on the board.

  Even though the Deacons are averaging 38.2 points per game and have some elite playmakers themselves, most notably sophomore wide receiver Greg Dortch, they’re going to be hard pressed to score enough to give Clemson a serious challenge. That’s because their own freshman quarterback, Sam Hartman, has piled up most of his big numbers against Tulane, Towson and Rice. In losses to BC and Notre Dame, however, Hartman completed only 46 percent of his passes, averaging only 162 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

  He’ll look to use the experience gained from those two games to improve on his performance against top competition, but it won’t be easy. The Tigers’ defense is the best he and his team have faced so far this season.

3,  Has ECU improved enough to beat an AAC opponent on the road?

  The Pirates are a 10½-point underdog against the Owls in Philadelphia, which seems like a lot considering that ECU is vastly improved on defense, getting solid play from its offense and Temple is 2-3 with home losses to Villanova and Buffalo on its record.

  Obviously the folks in Las Vegas know more about these kind of things than most of us do, so perhaps they’re waiting for coach Scottie Montgomery’s team to prove it can win a conference game on the road before giving it any kind of love.

   ECU has made great strides this season and is 2-2 after four games. But with a difficult upcoming stretch against American Athletic Conference heavyweights Houston, Central Florida and Memphis coming up, it has an extremely slim margin for error when it comes to accomplishing Montgomery’s stated goal of winning six games and getting to a bowl.

  Although no game is technically unwinnable, especially with the way the Pirates held their own on the road at South Florida two weeks ago, they have four, maybe five, more reasonable opportunities for victories left on the schedule. And Saturday’s trip to Temple is one of them..

4, Can Elon shock the (FCS) world?

  The upstart Phoenix went into last year’s regular season finale with a chance to win the CAA championship and make a statement against defending FCS national champion James Madison. Instead, it suffered a humbling 31-3 beatdown by a team that would go on to play in its second straight national title game.

  Saturday, coach Curt Signetti’s team gets to see how far it has come since that loss when it travels to Harrisonburg, Va. for another shot at the Dukes. Elon is ranked No. 9 in the FCS. JMU is ranked No. 2.

  The Phoenix features an offense led by sophomore quarterback Davis Cheek, who is completing 76.4 percent of his passes against FCS competition, and running back Malcolm Summers, who is coming off his first 100-yard performance of the season against Charleston Southern. Defensively, Warren Messer was one of 25 players nationally to be included on the preseason Buck Buchanan watch list as the best defender in the FCS.

  Still, Elon is going to have its hands full. JMU has won all six of the previous meetings between the schools, including the last four years as CAA opponents.

5, Why is Appalachian State playing on a Tuesday?

  It’s because the Sun Belt Conference, desperate to gain some national exposure, decided to hold games on a night in which no one else is playing football at any level. And ESPN was only too happy to televise them.

  So it is that the Mountaineers will travel to Jonesboro, Ark., on Tuesday for a game against Arkansas State in a game that could very well be a preview of the Sun Belt championship game on Dec. 1. The good news about the unorthodox scheduling, if there is any, is that coach Scott Satterfield’s team has both this Saturday and next Saturday off to both prepare for and recover from the rare midweek game.

  Both teams are were the preseason favorites in their respective divisions. The fact that Arkansas State has already lost a conference game, falling to Georgia Southern last week, only adds to the intensity of the matchup. App State, meanwhile, is off to a fast start, having won three straight since losing in overtime to Penn State over Labor Day weekend. The Mountaineers rank third nationally, behind only Alabama and Houston, with an average of 51.8 points per game. So if nothing else, they should put on an entertaining show if anyone out there is watching on a Tuesday night.

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