Five questions to ponder before kickoff


Wake Forest's Sage Surratt makes a catch against NC State earlier this season. The star wide receiver was injured last week against Virginia Tech (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

We’ve entered the home stretch of the college football season and while only one of the state’s seven FBS teams are still in line for a championship, there are still plenty of goals left to be reached — especially bowl eligibility for North Carolina, NC State, Duke and yes, even Charlotte.

The urgency to reach the six-win mark is getting higher as the number of games remaining gets lower. Here are five questions to think about and consider as we wait for today’s action to kick off:

1,  Can Wake Forest score enough to beat Clemson without top receivers Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington?

The Deacons have the No. 1 passing offense in the ACC at 314 yards per game and are No. 2 in scoring behind only Clemson at 35.7 points per game. At full strength, they’re the only team in the conference equipped to stay with the high-powered Tigers in a high-scoring shootout. The problem is, they’re not at full strength. Not only is Dave Clawson without his best defender, linebacker Justin Strnad, but he’s also down two of his top three receivers because of injury. Surratt has 66 catches for 1,001 and 11 touchdowns. Washington had 35 catches for 607 yards and six scores. The equally prolific Kendall Hinton is still in action, but with fewer targets for  quarterback Jamie Newman is going to present much less of a threat to ACC’s top-ranked defense.

2, Does NC State have enough players left to win again?

The Wolfpack has made it through the most difficult part of its schedule and begins a much more manageable home stretch tonight against Louisville. Despite losing its last three games — to Boston College, Wake and Clemson — by a combined margin of 144-44, State still has a realistic shot at bowl eligibility with two of its final three opponents currently sporting losing records and the Cardinals hovering around .500. The problem is coach Dave Doeren’s team might not have enough healthy bodies available to get the two wins needed to qualify for the postseason. Fourteen players — all of which have been on the two-deep at one point or another during the season — missed last week’s loss to Clemson. Several others are nursing injuries that could keep them out of tonight’s game. If Doeren and his staff can keep what’s left of their team motivated and piece together a serviceable lineup, especially on defense, there are still wins to be had.

3,  Is Syracuse the cure for what ails Duke?

Three weeks ago, the Blue Devils went to Charlottesville at 4-2 (2-1 in the ACC)  with thoughts of challenging for the Coastal Division title. But after consecutive losses to Virginia, UNC and Notre Dame, coach David Cutcliffe’s team is now suddenly hard-pressed to find the two more wins it needs just to get to a bowl. It won’t get a better opportunity to turn things around than today against Syracuse. The Orange has lost four straight and ranks in the bottom third of the ACC in both scoring offense and defense. It has already helped both NC State and Florida State get right again, if only temporarily. With Miami and Wake Forest left on the schedule, this is an opportunity Duke can’t afford to let pass by.

4, Is Appalachian State ripe for a letdown against Georgia State?

The Mountaineers had a very good week last week. Not only did they take down their second Power 5 opponent of the season and lay claim to the championship of the Carolinas by beating South Carolina in Columbia, but Sun Belt East rival Georgia Southern also lost, putting coach Eliah Drinkwitz’s team back in the driver’s seat for a spot in the conference championship game. The challenge for App State now is to stay focused on the task at hand and not let its advantage slip away with a flat performance today at Georgia State — a team that beat Tennessee earlier in the season and the last remaining divisional obstacle on the way to another divisional title.

5, Is this the year Charlotte makes program history?

Last week’s 28-21 win at UTEP put the 49ers on the verge of accomplishing something special in Will Healy’s first season as coach. At 5-5, they’re just one win away from becoming bowl eligible for the first time in school history. Finishing the job, at least in the next game after this week’s open date, won’t be easy against a Marshall team that has already won seven times and has a chance to win the Conference USA East. But Charlotte will be at home and gaining confidence on the strength of a three-game winning streak. And there’s not a lot of pressure right now with a date against 1-9 Old Dominion still coming up next week as a safety net.

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