Five questions to ponder before kickoff


Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds will try to lead his team to an upset at Duke today (AP Photo/Richard Shiro)

The college football weekend in the Old North State is already underway with East Carolina’s controversial 34-30 loss at Tulsa already in the books.

Hopefully, the officiating in today’s games involving North Carolina, Wake Forest, Duke, Charlotte and Appalachian State is better than those that botched the decisive drive of the Pirates’ painful defeat.

To quote ECU coach Mike Houston, “I’ve never seen anything like that in my entire life,” after two reversed calls and a questionable pass interference call prevented his team from a badly needed win that could have changed the course of its season.

Today’s schedule features the South’s oldest  rivalry and a first-time matchup between in-state opponents. So as you anxiously await the games to kick off, here are five questions to think about and consider:

1. Did the “real” UNC finally show up against NC State last week?

For the first time in this corona-crazy 2020 season, the Tar Heels looked like the team they were supposed to be — the one that was ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation before that debacle in Tallahassee — in routing rival NC State 48-21 last week.

Quarterback Sam Howell and all his offensive weapons were on full display in rolling up 578 total yards while linebacker Chazz Surratt and the defense forced four Wolfpack turnovers.

The question is whether that performance was a one-off or if coach Mack Brown’s team is finally ready to live up to the hype and contend for a spot in the ACC Championship Game. Today’s game at Virginia could go a long way toward answering that question.

UNC has traditionally had a hard time winning in Charlottesville — having gone from 1982-2010 without a victory there — and has lost three straight heading into the 125th renewal of the South’s Oldest Rivalry, a series that began in 1892 and has been played every year since 1919.

2. Can Duke figure out a way to stop beating itself?

The Blue Devils are 1-5 heading into today’s nonconference game against Charlotte, and the primary reason is turnovers. Coach David Cutcliffe’s team has committed 22 of them (12 interceptions, 10 fumbles), four more than anyone else in the nation. They’re also a dreadful minus-11 in turnover margin.

Quarterback Chase Brice has been the main source of that misfortune, having been intercepted 11 times and losing two fumbles already this season. But Cutcliffe still appears to have confidence in the Clemson transfer.

As if those self-inflicted wounds aren’t bad enough, Duke also suffered some physical wounds as well during its open week when starting center Will Taylor underwent season-ending knee surgery. Taylor is the second center to go down, leaving the Blue Devils with a true freshman — Graham Barton — to fill the position. The team also lost top cornerback Mark Gilbert, who bailed on the second half of the season to prepare for the 2021 NFL Draft.

3. Is Charlotte ready to beat one of the state’s big boys?

The 49ers missed out on a chance to knock off one of its more established in-state ACC programs when its game at North Carolina was canceled earlier in the season because of a COVID-19 outbreak. Barring an 11th-hour development, coach Will Healy’s team will get its long-awaited opportunity to score a signature victory today at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Charlotte is coming off its first bowl season and has won two straight, piling up big offensive numbers now that quarterback Chris Reynolds is back from injury. Reynolds will be only two happy to take advantage of Duke’s newly depleted secondary. And unlike the Blue Devils, the 49ers don’t give the ball away. They’ve turned the ball over only three times in their four games and none in the past two.

4. How will Wake Forest handle being favored at Syracuse?

The Deacons were written off after losing their first two games this season to Clemson and NC State, but coach Dave Clawson’s team has bounced back by winning their past two ACC games — including an impressive 23-16 upset of then-No. 19 Virginia Tech last Saturday. It was a victory that gained national attention because of the three-interception performance of true freshman walk-on safety Nick Anderson. The Deacons have gotten plenty of pats on the back since then, to go along with a few ACC and national awards.

Wake has always been at its best when it has been an underdog, playing with a chip on its shoulder. But that won’t be the case today at Syracuse. It’s a 14-point favorite on the road against a team that has lost to Liberty. Clawson and his staff will have their work cut out for them getting their players to put last week’s win behind them and focusing on giving the same kind of effort against the lowly Orange.

5. Why is Appalachian State a 30-point favorite against Louisiana-Monroe?

Simply put, because Louisiana-Monroe is awful. The Warhawks are 0-6 this season and have lost by three touchdowns or more in all but one of them. A year ago, Zac Thomas and the Mountaineers routed Monroe 52-7. The rematch doesn’t look to be much more competitive.

App State’s defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt Conference, should have little trouble with a ULM offense that has rushed for just 375 yards this season (an average of 62.5 per game). And while Thomas has the ability to burn the Warhawks through the air on the other side of the ball, he might not have to. ULM is giving up nearly 250 yards per game on the ground and with a running attack that has churned out 300 or more yards in three of its first four games, coach Shawn Clark’s strategy might simply be to pound the ball down his opponent’s throat and get back home to Boone as quickly and easily as possible.

NC State is off, so that’s all for today. Enjoy the games and stay safe!