by Mike Potter
All three local ACC teams are at pivotal points in their seasons, and all three have plenty to gain as they host conference opponents.
It’s also a very important day for N.C. Central, which will look to boost its MEAC credibility when the Eagles take on South Carolina State in the Circle City Classic in Indianapolis.
But back to that ACC schedule which is has the potential for clogging up a lot of local highways today.
UNC (3-2, 0-1 ACC) will open the card at 12:30, taking on Virginia Tech (3-2, 1-0) in a Kenan Stadium contest that will be shown on WRAL.
Then at 3 Duke (4-1, 1-0) will host one of its biggest games in a generation as Virginia (2-3, 0-1) comes to Wallace Wade Stadium in a game shown on Fox Sports Carolinas.
And at 8 N.C. State (3-2, 0-1) will look for an upset against No. 3 Florida State (5-0, 2-0) as the Seminoles look to keep their national title hopes alive in an ESPN2 game at Carter-Finley Stadium.
In a rarity in recent years, none of the local ACC teams has lost a home game yet. And it is already October.
NCCU (2-2, 1-0 MEAC) will face the Bulldogs (2-3, 1-1) at 2:30, with the Eagles the designated home team.
Duke vs. Virginia
In the really big-picture realm, the most important game is for Duke, which hasn’t been to a bowl game — read, hasn’t had a winning season — in 18 years. Virginia leads the series 33-30 including a 31-21 win in Charlottesville last season, but Duke will be a 1½-point favorite today.
The Blue Devils have won three straight games, including last week’s 34-27 decision that ended their 12-game losing streak to Wake Forest. Virginia lost 44-38 to visiting Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Sean Renfree, who is listed as questionable with an arm injury, has completed 121 of 168 passes for 1282 yards and nine TDs with five interceptions for Duke. Conner Vernon has 34 catches for 462 yards and three TDs for the Blue Devils, while Jela Duncan has carried 31 times for 209 yards and a TD.
“We don’t know what is going to happen; it is one week at a time,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “That what I told everybody, there are no guarantees, but you just go play as good as we can play this Saturday that is all we want to do. We will take the results one way or another and we will move on to the next football game. It is fun to play that way.
“Every game is a must win. I kind of like that feeling. I really do. If you can’t take that kind of heat, you are at the wrong level of football. That’s why I coach, the feeling in your gut and it’s a new test, and we have another test this week - a big one.”
Michael Rocco has completed 88 of 146 passes for 1116 yards and six TDs without an interception for Virginia, while Darius Jennings has 21 catches for 319 yards and a score.
UNC vs. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech has not lost a football game in North Carolina since the Hokies joined the ACC. UNC can’t go to a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, but still has a chance for an impressive season between the lines.
UNC beat hapless Idaho 66-0 last week, while the Hokies were losing 27-24 at Cincinnati. Tech leads the series 18-9-6, and UNC is a 5½-point favorite.
Bryn Renner has completed 104 of 163 passes for 1422 yards and 14 TDs with four interceptions for the Tar Heels. A.J. Blue has rushed 50 times for 257 yards and four TDs, while Eric Ebron has 17 catches for 277 yards and three TDs.
“The thing (Tech has) probably struggled with more than anything is just turning the football over,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “It doesn't matter who you are offensively, what type of offense you run, if you turn the football over, it's going to make it difficult for you. You're going to put your defense out on the field more often. It's something we're concerned with also, is starting fast. I know it's something that they put a lot of emphasis on.
“I think both teams will be working on trying to get out there and get after it from the beginning, not waiting to see what happens, but actually make something happen. What do we need to do? We need to play ball the way we play. We need to be good on our tempo and take care of the football.”
Logan Thomas has completed 78 of 148 passes for 1093 yards and eight TDs with six interceptions for the Hokies, also rushing 53 times for 129 yards and three TDs.
N.C. State vs. Florida State
FSU leads the series with the Wolfpack 22-10 including a 34-0 romp in Tallahassee last season, but NCSU won a 28-24 thriller in Raleigh in 2010.
The Wolfpack lost a 44-37 heartbreaker last week at Miami, while FSU was winning 30-17 at South Florida. NCSU is a 17-point underdog.
Mike Glennon has completed 109 of 176 passes for 1422 yards and 10 TDs with six interceptions for the Wolfpack.
Tony Creecy has rushed 50 times for 250 yards and three TDs, while Quinton Payton has 19 catches for 421 yards and a TD.
“Certainly Florida State presents all kinds of problems,” Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien said. “I think as far as our team is concerned, the main problem I'm concerned with is their legs and their health. I mean, we played basically a four-hour game in 90-degree heat with humidity astronomical, too.
“So right now I think the physical fact of getting our legs back, because certainly if we're not quick - if we're not as quick as we can be and as fast as we can be, it's going to be tough to stay up with the athletes that Florida State has.”
E.J. Manuel has completed 88 of 120 passes for 1147 yards and nine TDs with just one interception for FSU, also carrying 34 times for 197 yards and a score.
N.C. Central vs. S.C. State
SCSU leads the series with the Eagles 11-8 including a 49-38 win in Orangeburg last year. The Bulldogs have won seven straight in the series.
The Eagles were idle last week after topping Savannah State 45-33 on the road Sept. 22, while SCSU topped Norfolk State 14-0 a week ago. The Dunkel Index has NCCU as a 23-point underdog.
Jordan Reid has completed 44 of 74 passes for 532 yards and four TDs with four interceptions for the Eagles. Arthur Goforth has rushed 45 times for 240 yards and a TD, while Marvin Poole has 17 catches for 226 yards and two TDs.
“Hopefully we’re healthy,” NCCU coach Henry Frazier said. “We got really banged up after the Duke game. Reid is the starter now, and he played really well against Savannah State and is getting more and more confident after every day. We always said he had the complete package, but for me it’s good to see the composure piece.”
Richard Cue has completed 63 of 136 passes for 781 yards and four TDs with nine interceptions for the Bulldogs, also rushing 46 times for 149 yards.