by Mike Potter
Everybody has a game with more meaning to it than usual.
The biggest of all is for Duke, which will win the ACC’s Coastal Division if it can finish 10-2 by beating rivals Wake Forest on the road and UNC in Chapel Hill next week.
But UNC is playing for bowl qualification today. N.C. Central is playing its biggest rival of all — North Carolina A&T — and with a win would finish .500.
And N.C. State, where the season is already ruined, can leave the field feeling pretty good if the Wolfpack can upset non-conference rival East Carolina at Carter-Finley Stadium.
To sum it up UNC and N.C. State are at home while the two Durham schools are making short trips to the Triad. Since all four kickoffs are within an hour of each other, should we pity those who are traveling I-40 between Durham and Greensboro this afternoon and not heading to a football game?
UNC (5-5) will entertain Old Dominion (8-3) at noon at Kenan Stadium (FOX Sports Carolinas). And State (3-7) will entertain ECU (8-2) at 12:30 (WRAL).
Duke (8-2, 4-2 ACC) will visit Wake (4-6, 2-5) at noon at BB&T Field (ESPN2), while NCCU (5-6, 3-4 MEAC) will visit A&T at 1.
UNC vs. Old Dominion
The Tar Heels will lock up their sixth straight non-losing season if they can top the Monarchs, who are seeking the biggest football win in their school’s history as they transition from FCS to FBS.
The Tar Heels have won four straight games, all against ACC foes, after a rough first half of the season. It’s the first meeting with the Monarchs, who are undefeated in FCS games this season but have lost at ECU, Maryland and Pitt.
UNC is a 17½-point favorite.
Marquise Williams has completed 70 of 121 passes for 895 yards and eight TDs with four interceptions for the Tar Heels, also carrying 81 times for 326 yards and four TDs. Eric Ebron has caught 49 passes for 763 yards and three TDs.
“We’re looking forward to our next game and really excited about coming back to Kenan Stadium and the Tar Pit in front of our fans and our students and getting on with our season,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “We have an opportunity to be 1-0 (this week) and that’s where our focus is going to be to work extremely hard this week to make sure we’re prepared.
“I haven’t talked about (bowl eligibility) in the last four weeks so I’m not going to talk about it now. These guys know what’s going on, they understand. They know when they come in this building where our focus is going to be. That’s very important that it’s consistent and that we’re not all over the place. Week-to-week our focus stays the same for the staff and everybody. That’s the way we’ll get it done.”
Taylor Heinicke has completed 326 of 455 passes for 3892 yards and 32 TDs with eight interceptions for the Monarchs. Colby Goodwyn has carried 94 times for 426 yards and 11 TDs, while Larry Pinkard has caught 65 passes for 972 yards and nine TDs.
N.C. State vs. East Carolina
First-year Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren is trying to avoid the dubious distinction of losing to all four of the other FBS teams in the state in the same season.
ECU is trying for what is always a glorious accomplishment for any Pirate football team, and that’s beating both UNC and N.C. State in the same season. On the road, no less.
State leads the series 16-11, but ECU won the last meeting two years ago in Greenville 33-27.
The Pirates are listed as 6 ½-point favorites.
Pete Thomas has completed 149 of 247 passes for 1667 yards and four TDs with nine interceptions for the Wolfpack. Shadrach Thornton has carried 127 times for 606 yards and four TDs, while Rashard Smith has caught 36 passes for 359 yards and a TD.
“ECU is a very good football team,” Doeren said. “Coach (Ruffin) McNeill and I have known each other for a long time. I have a lot of respect for him. I know him from when I was a G.A. at USC and he was the D-Line coach at Fresno State. When I was at Kansas, he was at Texas Tech. We’ve crossed paths a lot there.
“I like Ruffin a lot as a person. I’ve been on that side of it in the MAC, you’re playing a Big Ten team when you are in the MAC and an ACC team in their situation. I understand what is going on in their campus, their locker room and in their meetings. It’s a ‘chip on your shoulder’ game, for us and them.”
Shane Carden has completed 306 of 422 passes for 3320 yards and 29 TDs with seven interceptions for the Pirates. Vintavious Cooper has carried 163 times for 754 yards and nine TDs, while Justin Hardy has caught 87 passes for 1047 yards and seven TDs.
“I have a lot of respect for North Carolina State and their tradition there,” ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. The first person who called me when I got the job here was (then-Wolfpack coach Tom) O'Brien. … I know Dave and I have a lot of respect for their program. They're all big games right now. We have to make sure we play well. It's a big game for Dave and it's a big game for us.”
Duke at Wake Forest
Duke has a huge opportunity just about every time the Blue Devils take the field now.
And this time it’s an even bigger one. Win today and the Blue Devils have their first nine-win season since 1941.
Duke leads the series 54-37-2, but had lost 11 in a row to the Deacons before a 34-27 decision last year in Winston-Salem. The Blue Devils are 5½-point favorites.
Brandon Connette has completed 88 of 140 passes for 1209 yards and 13 TDs with six interceptions for the Blue Devils. Jela Duncan has carried 91 times for 485 yards and three TDs, while Jamison Crowder has caught 73 passes for 956 yards and three TDs.
“I think there’s no question we’re focused on Wake Forest,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “This is an intense rivalry game. It’s been an intense game all five previous games that we’ve coached here. From day one in 2008, I’ve understood it. They’ve got a veteran team; we’ve got a veteran team. These guys have played against each other so there’s a lot at stake for Duke-Wake Forest.
“I don’t feel very hunted, I really don’t. We’re still establishing who we want to be and the standards we expect. I don’t think our players feel that way and I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Tanner Price has completed 178 of 319 passes for 1954 yards and 12 TDs with eight interceptions for the Deacons. Josh Harris has carried 99 times for 368 yards and four TDs, while Michael Campanero has caught 67 passes for 803 yards and six TDs.
"I think Coach David Cutcliffe has done a great job,” Wake coach Jim Grobe said. “Obviously they've done a great job. They are a program right now that's got talented kids, and they're doing a great job coaching them. They found a way to win. Any time you win that breeds confidence.
“Right now we're seeing a very talented, well-coached, confident football team in Duke. Certainly, in this league, I think everybody has good talent and they found a way to get it done and that's the most important thing. They're winning games and playing well.”
N.C. Central at N.C. A&T
There’s no better way for an NCCU season to end than with a victory over the arch-rival Aggies, particularly one on the road that would avoid a losing season.
The Aggies lead the series 48-31-5, and won 22-16 in overtime last season.
The Dunkel Index has A&T as an eight-point favorite.
Jordan Reid has completed 131 of 257 passes for 1486 yards and four TDs with eight interceptions for the Eagles. Idreis Augustus has carried 75 times for 333 yards and three TDs, while Adrian Wilkins has caught 34 passes for 405 yards and two TDs.
“It’s a great rivalry and will be a great game,” NCCU coach Dwayne Foster said. “You’re talking about two great, cutting-edge universities and two fine football programs. We’re going to scrape and claw and scratch it out until the very end. The atmosphere will be awesome.”
Lewis Kindle has completed 120 of 206 passes for 1526 yards and nine TDs with six interceptions for the Aggies. Tarik Cohen has carried 164 times for 1023 yards and eight TDs, while Desmond Lawrence has caught 35 passes for 383 yards and three TDs.
Last week’s three stars:
1. Ryan Switzer, PR, UNC. The freshman returned two punts for touchdowns in the Tar Heels’ 34-27 win at Pitt, earning ACC specialist of the week honors.
2. C.J. Moore, S, NCCU. The junior returned a blocked field goal for a 70-yard touchdown and had an interception in the end zone in the Eagles 24-13 win over Norfolk State.
3. Kelby Brown, LB, Duke. The senior was in on 16 tackles in the Blue Devils’ 38-20 rout of Miami, earning ACC linebacker of the week honors.