Five questions to ponder before kickoff


Coach Dave Doeren and his NC State football team are a 15 1/2 point favorite at Syracuse (Ethan Hyman/The News & Observer via AP)

The Thanksgiving turkey hangover has come and gone, college basketball has started and the biggest football game of the weekend in the Old North State — North Carolina vs. Notre Dame — has already been played.

But there’s still some unfinished business to take care of on this holiday weekend.

NC State, Duke, Appalachian State and East Carolina all have football games scheduled today. And while they won’t get the national attention that the Tar Heels and Irish did on Friday, they’re all still important to those playing in them and the fans of the teams involved. 

So while we wait for those games to kick off, here  are five questions to think about and consider:

1. Can State defy its history by taking care of business against a bad team?

The Wolfpack is a 15½-point favorite against dreadfully bad Syracuse at the Carrier Dome today in a game that should be a slam dunk for a squad in the process of putting together a hugely successful season despite all the obstacles related to the coronavirus pandemic. But if history tells us anything, it’s that this is exactly the kind of situation in which State teams of the past have laid an egg and lost a game it had no business losing. Coach Dave Doeren’s 6-3 team is coming off an emotional — if not pretty — upset of nationally ranked Liberty and can see the finish line. All that’s left now is for the Wolfpack to maintain its focus and make it there without stumbling over one of the final two hurdles, today against the one-win Orange and next week against two-win Georgia Tech. Something previous State teams have traditionally had a hard time doing.

2. How much motivation does App State have after last week’s loss at Coastal Carolina?

The Mountaineers haven’t been mathematically eliminated from the Sun Belt Conference championship race. But their close loss to the nationally ranked Chanticleers last Saturday all but ended their hopes of winning the league title for a fifth straight year. With three games still remaining to be played, including today’s home date against Troy, coach Shawn Clark’s team will have to regroup and readjust its goals quickly to avoid a letdown during a difficult finishing stretch.

3. How rusty will both Duke and Georgia Tech be after long layoffs?

The Blue Devils haven’t played since Nov. 7 because of open dates and COVID-19 postponements. The Yellow Jackets haven’t played since Oct. 31 for the same reason. Both teams have won just twice in games that have been played, so don’t expect this to be an aesthetically pleasing game to watch — especially since both teams are prone to turning the ball over. Duke ranks last in the ACC with 25 giveaways while Tech is 12th out of 15 teams with 19. This one is likely to come down to which team turns it over the least. And potentially, which team just wants to get its lost season over with the most.

4. Will Charlotte finally get to play a game?

Not today. But for a change, it’s not because of a COVID-19 related postponement or cancellation. The 49ers aren’t scheduled to play today. But they do have a game set for Tuesday, at home, against Western Kentucky. If it actually is played, the game will be the first for coach Will Healy’s team since a loss at Duke on Halloween. All three of Charlotte’s November dates — against Middle Tennessee, Gardner-Webb and Marshall — were victims of the coronavirus pandemic. The 49ers, who are 2-3 on the disrupted season, also had earlier games against UNC and Georgia State canceled.

5. Will there be a bowl season? 

The Pinstripe Bowl in New York became the latest postseason game to throw in the towel earlier this week, joining the Fenway, Holiday, Bahamas, Hawaii, Redbox and Quick Lane bowls on the sidelines this year. Three of those games have ACC tie-ins. With more states tightening restrictions on public gatherings as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise, it’s almost certain that they won’t be the only bowls deciding not to play this year. While there will still be some games that will be played — ESPN desperately needs them to fill air time during the holiday season — there will be fewer than usual. With no minimum win requirements for eligibility this year, it will be interesting to see how the changes affect where, or even if, UNC and NC State decide to go.

That’s all for today. 

Enjoy the games and stay safe!