NC State is playing for the first time, North Carolina was supposed to be playing but isn’t and Appalachian State is playing an opponent that wasn’t originally on its schedule.
These are strange times in which we’re all living thanks to COVID-19.
So since there is at least some college football taking place in the Old North State on this mid-September Saturday, here are five questions to think about and consider before today’s action kicks off:
1, Can Chase Brice build off a promising debut performance for Duke and start getting the Blue Devils into the end zone?
Brice, the graduate transfer quarterback from Clemson, completed 20 of 37 passes for 259 yards against a tough Notre Dame defense in his first game with the Blue Devils last Saturday while leading his team to 332 yards of total offense. But all that marching up and down the field resulted in only one touchdown and a couple of field goals. The obvious next step, both for Brice and Duke is to figure out a way to parlay all that yardage between the 20s into touchdowns that finish off scoring chances. They have the perfect opportunity to do that today in their home opener against a Boston College team playing its first game under a new coaching staff.
2, How dangerous of a game for Appalachian State is its matchup at Marshall?
Give the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers credit. They could have opted for a much less challenging replacement when the Big Ten’s fall postponement canceled their scheduled trip to Wisconsin today. Instead, their latest new coach Shawn Clark will take them on the road to Huntington, WVa to play at Marshall. It’s a homecoming for Clark, who grew up in nearby Charleston. But the game itself is anything but a gimme. The Thundering Herd looked impressive, albeit against an outclassed FCS opponent, in a 59-0 rout of Eastern Kentucky. App State has designs on going undefeated and playing in a New Year’s Six bowl — assuming they’re played — after going 13-1 and falling just short last season. This game is a potential stumbling block.
3, How much if any will NC State’s offense improve under new coordinator Tim Beck?
The good news for Beck, who came to the Wolfpack from Texas, is that the Wolfpack’s offense can’t get much worse than it was in 2019. The team averaged just 16 points per game in ACC play, ranking dead last in the counference, while going 1-7 against league competition. While Beck has installed a more balanced attack that should take better advantage of a stable of talented backs — a group led by Zonovan Knight, Jordan Houston and a healthy Ricky Person Jr. — quarterback remains a question. Devin Leary completed only 48 percent of his passes during the six games in which he saw significant action. But he’s more experienced now and more confident after being named the Wolfpack’s starter even before the start of its abbreviate spring practice. He also has the advantage of offensive linemen Justin Witt and Tyrone Riley, along with deep threat receiver C.J. Riley, back in the lineup after missing all or most of last season with injuries.
4, Was last week’s opener a true indication of what to expect from Wake Forest?
In a word, no. The Deacons didn’t look good last Saturday in a 37-13 loss to Clemson, but let’s face it. Who looks good against the top-ranked Tigers? And putting that game into perspective, it was still a lot better than the last time Wake played the perennial ACC champions, games that ended with scores of 53-3 last season and 63-3 in 2018. Even in the defeat, there were promising signs for coach Dave Clawson’s team. When he wasn’t on his back or running for his life, once-again starting quarterback Sam Hartman threw for 182 yards while a trio of young receivers stepped forward to fill the void left by Sage Surratt’s opt out. Defensively, Carlos “Boogie” Basham recorded his 19th straight game with a tackle for loss. There’s a good chance that the Deacons will look like a different team tonight at NC State, especially against a Wolfpack team that hasn’t had the advantage of playing a game yet.
5, Can UNC find another plus-one on short notice?
The Tar Heels were supposed to play at home against Charlotte today, but a COVID-19 outbreak and accompanying contact tracing among the 49ers forced a cancelation earlier this week. That’s left the Tar Heels with the potential of two straight Saturdays without a game. According to published reports, coach Mack Brown and athletic director Bubba Cunningham are scrambling in an effort to pick up a replacement game for next week. Given the short notice, though, their options are limited. Among the teams with open dates that could be available are FBS programs Mercer — which UNC played last season — and North Alabama.
That’s enough for this week. Keep your figures crossed that the games get played if they do, enjoy them (at a social distance, of course)!