Ready or not, Triangle Division I college football starts tonight

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The Triangle’s college football season will start with a bang this weekend, with one game tonight followed by a trio of home contests on Saturday.

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The one receiving the most national attention will be N.C. State’s appearance in a Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game, with the Wolfpack taking on Tennessee at 7:30 tonight in the Georgia Dome. The Wolfpack finished 8-5 last season with a win in the Belk Bowl, while Tennessee is hoping to claw back from an awful 5-7 finish in 2011.

Tennessee is listed as a three-point favorite. The Vols lead the series 2-1, but it was last contested in 1938. The game will be shown on ESPNU.

And then there will be football traffic all around the Triangle all day Saturday.

UNC (7-6 last season), which won’t be going bowling this season because of NCAA sanctions, will kick off the Larry Fedora era in a 12:30 game against neighborhood rival and Southern Conference member Elon (5-6) at Kenan Stadium. The game will be shown on WRAZ-50.

N.C. Central (2-9) will kick off against former CIAA rival Fayetteville State (4-6) at 6 p.m. at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.

And in the nightcap, Duke (3-9) will square off with Florida International (8-5) at 7 p.m. at Wallace Wade Stadium.

All four games could be called must-win contests for the locals if they want to meet their season goals - for State and UNC, chances at 10-win seasons and division titles, and for the Durham schools, chances at simple winning seasons.

Tennessee leads the series with the Wolfpack 2-1, but it was last contested in 1938. The game will be shown on ESPNU.

State is playing a Southeastern Conference team for its opener for the third time in five seasons, losing the home-and-home with South Carolina in 2008 and ’09.

The Wolfpack returns solid senior quarterback Mike Glennon and interception machine David Amerson, but has some big holes to fill in the linebacking corps and the offensive trenches.

“We've had to replace all three linebackers and we have three new kids starting on Friday night,” Coach Tom O’Brien said. “They've been in football games, but none of them have started, none of them have been asked to play multiple snaps like they're going to have to Friday night.

“On the offensive side of the ball, even though we have a lot of experience back on the offensive line, we only have two starters back at their spots at center and right guard. (R.J. Mattes) moves into left guard, (Rob) Crisp moves to left tackle, and (Andrew) Wallace moves to right tackle. Those are key spots on the football team that are going to have to perform well for us if we're going to have success. We're not going to know how these guys work out until they get into the heat of battle.”

The Tar Heels are not expected to have a dropoff from last season, with quarterback Bryn Renner and versatile running back Giovani Bernard leading the show. It’s a particularly historic day for Elon sports, as the Phoenix has never played UNC in football. The Dunkel Index favors UNC by 38 ½ points.

Fedora, who came from Southern Mississippi, is hoping to get Bernard as many touches as possible.

“How many ways can we get the ball in his hands, instead of just the typical turn around and hand it to him?” Fedora said. “That's something that we talk about as a staff with the offense all the
time is, ‘What can we do with Gio to put us in a better situation to win?’

"A lot of that is going to be creating as much open space for him and put him in some one on one mismatched type situations. I'm excited about the skill level that he has, because he can do it all. He can run; he can block; he can catch the ball. He's tremendous out in open spaces. He's great in between the tackles.”

Duke’s most recent victory was a 31-27 win at FIU last Oct. 1 in the schools’ first meeting, but since then the Blue Devils have been on a seven-game losing streak all in ACC action.

The Blue Devils, listed as three-point favorites, are seeking their first winning season since 1994.

Senior quarterback Sean Renfree will have two very solid targets in Conner Vernon and Desmond Scott.

“Other than at tight end everybody on our offense has started before,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We have a lot experience coming back. On defense, everybody has started or played before. We still feel like this is the fastest, strongest team we have had. (But) we have some challenges in spots that we need to continue to shore up. Nine true freshmen will see action.”

NCCU, which will be a solid favorite, leads the series with FSU 23-9. But the last meeting was a 33-22 defeat in 2008 for the host Eagles, NCCU’s most recent loss to a team below the Division I level.

Wideout Geovonie Irvine is the Eagles’ biggest threat, while Matt Goggans, a transfer from Fullerton (Calif.) JC, is the new quarterback.

“We’ve had seven or eight months to think about this one,” second-year NCCU coach Henry Frazier said. “I like our overall attitude; it’s been extremely good. The guys are trying to do everything the coaches want done, from that first guy to that 95th guy.

“Fayetteville State has Kenny Phillips who’s a very good football coach, and last time they came to town they beat us. They’ll always have 8-9 guys on the field around the football on defense.”

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