Five questions to ponder before kickoff


Sam Howell and his Tar Heels have had two weeks to prepare for today's game at Boston College (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

Barring any last minute surprises, this will mark the first weekend of the college football season in which every game involving a North Carolina team will be played as scheduled.

That’s good news for everyone, especially North Carolina, which hasn’t played since its opener against Syracuse three Saturdays ago. East Carolina is also breathing a sigh of relief because its opponent Georgia State had its most recent game postponed because of coronavirus concerns. The weekend has already begun with Wake Forest’s rout of Campbell on Friday.

The run of good luck won’t last, though. Appalachian State has already postponed its game next week — scheduled for Wednesday — as it recovers from a COVID-19 outbreak. But let’s not allow that to dampen the mood of this perfect college football Saturday.

So here are five questions for you to think about and consider as we wait for the games to begin:

1. How will UNC be affected by its long layoff?

The general consensus is that the Tar Heels will be at a disadvantage against Boston College because of their lack of recent game activity. And there will be some rust to shake off. But there’s also a possibility that coach Mack Brown’s team could actually benefit from the extended break, caused by the postponement of its game against Charlotte on Sept. 19. UNC might have beaten Syracuse by a lopsided score of 31-6 in its opener, but the reality is that it didn’t play well offensively for the majority of that game. By getting two weeks off, QB Sam Howell and his teammates were given an opportunity get back to the practice field for what amounts to a second preseason camp and smooth out some of their rough edges.

2. Which NC State team will show up at Pittsburgh today?

The Wolfpack looked like a new, improved unit — especially offensively — in its opening week win against Wake Forest. Just one week later, coach Dave Doeren’s team looked like an extension of last year’s 4-8 squad that beat just one ACC opponent. So which one will take the field this afternoon in Pittsburgh against a second straight nationally ranked opponent? The answer will go a long way toward the direction of State’s 2020 season and Doeren’s future with the program. One thing going in the Wolfpack’s favor is that projected starting quarterback Devin Leary is expected to get his first start of the year after being forced to the sideline because of excessive preseason contact tracing. State will also get top defensive players Payton Wilson and Tanner Ingle back from injury. But it will still have its work cut out for it against a Panthers team that is already 3-0 and ranked 24th nationally.

3. Can ECU avoid beating itself?

Fate and the schedule-makers didn’t do the Pirates any favors last week when circumstances forced coach Mike Houston’s team to play it’s long-awaited 2020 opener against Central Florida, a team currently ranked 11th in the nation. ECU wasn’t likely to win that game even under the best of circumstances. But regardless of the opponent, the Pirates contributed to their own demise by turning the ball over four times, failing to convert fourth down opportunities and committing 11 penalties for 105 yards. Those are mistakes that have to be cleaned up because even though the competition this week will be much less daunting, ECU won’t be able to beat any opponent if it can’t stop beating itself.

4. If Chase Brice isn’t the answer for Duke’s offense, who or what is? 

The narrative coming into the season is that Clemson transfer Chase Brice would be the remedy that cured the ills that plagued the Blue Devils in 2019, when they ranked 13th out of 14 ACC teams in total offense at 314.8 yards per game. While Brice has put up decent numbers in his first three games for coach David Cutcliffe’s team, he hasn’t been successful in getting Duke into the end zone. With the Blue Devils at 0-3, currently ranking 14th in points per game and rushing yards, and 13th in offensive efficiency, Cutcliffe is considering a change to backup Gunnar Holmberg heading into today’s home game as a 13-point underdog to Virginia Tech. Whoever plays, something needs to change soon for Duke to have any chance at salvaging its season.

5. Does anyone know what to expect from either Charlotte or Florida Atlantic?

Talk about the great unknown. FAU has yet to play a game because of the the coronavirus pandemic. Charlotte hasn’t played in three weeks because of two straight postponements/cancellations — including one last week against Georgia State that was caused by a lab mistake that resulted in false positive test results. The 49ers could have a slight advantage from having played a game, albeit a loss to Appalachian State, and FAU has a new coach in Willie Taggart. But the Owls have won two of the past three Conference USA titles and scored a 45-27 victory in last year’s meeting between the teams.

That’s enough for this week. Enjoy the games (and the perfect football weather).