College football previews: State’s football teams riding high early

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2022

By Steve Reed

AP Sports Writer

The basketball-crazed state of North Carolina has something other than college hoops to get excited about.

It turns out its football teams are pretty good, too.

For the first time ever, the state’s “Big Four” Atlantic Coast Conference schools — North Carolina, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Duke — have all started the season at least 2-0. They’re a combined 9-0 with five road wins so far.

Then there’s Appalachian State of the Sun Belt Conference. The Mountaineers are riding high after a 17-14 win at then-No. 6 Texas A&M on Saturday, another eye-catching upset coming 15 years after the former Championship Subdivision team stunned No. 5 Michigan at the Big House.

This year’s win sent App State students racing onto King Street in the rain in Boone and jumping into Duck Pond on campus to celebrate.

“It was crazy seeing that on Twitter and Instagram,” Mountaineers quarterback Chase Brice said. “I wanted to be there celebrating and enjoying that moment with the students. It’s great to see that passion and love for our school. For us to be able to bring that back to Boone was pretty cool.”

It also prompted ESPN’s College GameDay to call an audible. Instead of going to College Station for Miami-Texas A&M, the show will make the trek up the mountain to Boone for the first time as the Mountaineers host Troy on Saturday.

“It’s a very big win for our program,” said coach Shawn Clark, who received more than 400 text messages after the Texas A&M win. “And this is a great opportunity to show off Boone and the culture and tradition that we have.”

The impact wasn’t lost on N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, whose eldest son, Jacob, is an Appalachian State student.

“He was so excited during that game,” Doeren said. “Really tremendous amount of respect and love for that staff, and the experience my son’s had there as a student has been very, very positive. So (it’s) great for Boone and that community.”

The Mountaineers (1-1) have already had a crazy season. They lost at home to North Carolina 63-61 in arguably the wildest game of the season so far in front of a record crowd of 40,168 at Kidd Brewer Stadium. There were 62 points scored in the fourth quarter. It marked UNC’s first trip to Boone.

In a game going on simultaneously, N.C. State needed a little luck to escape at East Carolina 21-20 in another emotional matchup that generated statewide buzz.

“Why we don’t play these in-state football games every single year blows my mind,” Clark said, calling the environment at Kidd Brewer Stadium “electric.”

N.C. State (2-0) is ranked No. 16 in the AP Top 25, while Wake Forest (2-0) is 19th.

Just last year, the Wolfpack and Demon Deacons met as ranked teams in a November matchup that largely determined the ACC’s Atlantic Division race. They’re at it again behind experienced quarterbacks, with preseason league player of the year Devin Leary at N.C. State and Sam Hartman at Wake Forest, which won 11 games and reached last year’s ACC title game.

At UNC, first-year starter Drake Maye is off to a fast start (930 yards, 11 TD throws) in replacing record-setting quarterback Sam Howell for a 3-0 team.

And Duke’s Mike Elko is bringing excitement back to Durham in his first year as a head coach. He was entrusted with revitalizing a program that had seen its long run of success under David Cutcliffe fizzle in the past two seasons.

One of Elko’s tasks has been meeting with student groups in attempt to bring some of the rabid energy from the “Cameron Crazies” student section at men’s basketball games to Wallace Wade Stadium on football Saturdays. The Blue Devils opened with a 30-0 win against Temple in front of more than 20,000 fans for their first shutout of a Bowl Subdivision opponent in nearly 33 years, followed by last weekend’s win at Northwestern.

“I think as we try to sell what Duke football can become in the community, on campus, in the Durham area, I think every success we have is critical,” Elko said “So to that respect for sure, 2-0 is not lost on me. I know that was a huge win from a momentum standpoint for our program.”

If this keeps up, it could be a memorable season long before basketball tips off.

“It’s great to guys are going on the road and getting the job done,” Doeren said. “… I’m glad to see that the league is doing well on the road and the teams in the state are doing well on the road.”

No. 19 Wake Forest hosts Liberty

Wake Forest reached the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last year and is a week away from getting a shot at preseason league favorite Clemson as one of this year’s top contenders.

Coach Dave Clawson just needs his players to make sure they’re focused on beating Liberty at home on Saturday to keep the 19th-ranked Demon Deacons in the national conversation.

“To me, I’m not all about the eight (regular-season) ACC games,” Clawson said. “The non-conference games are really important. If we want to continue to be relevant nationally, we need to win these games.

“And I always tell the team that the reward for winning a big game is another big game.”

The Demon Deacons (2-0) haven’t lost a home non-conference game since falling to Notre Dame in September 2018 and have won 10 straight home games overall dating to early in the 2020 season.

They had an easy home win against VMI in Week 1, then won at Vanderbilt last week to mark the return of veteran quarterback Sam Hartman to the lineup after missing time due to a blood clot.

That gave Hartman a chance to shake off some rust since he was sidelined early in preseason camp, and he went on to throw for 300 yards and four touchdowns. He needs just 197 yards against the Flames (2-0) to become the Demon Deacons’ career passing leader, while also giving him another week of work before the Tigers visit on Sept. 24.

Liberty is hoping for its second win in six tries against a ranked Bowl Subdivision opponent, and its first in the regular season. This is the first of three games against power-conference opponents this season for the football independent.

“You’re not going to win all the games when you play Power Five opponents at a Group of Five school, but I think it’s been proven on the last few weekends that it certainly is possible,” Liberty coach Hugh Freeze said. “And I think we’ve proven it’s possible here a few times. So I think that does breed some confidence that you can go in and enjoy the opportunity and kind of see where it leads you in the fourth quarter.”

LIBERTY VS. THE ACC

The Flames are 2-10 all-time against ACC opponents, through both wins came recently. Liberty won at Syracuse and Virginia Tech in 2020.

STRONG STARTS

The Demon Deacons have started 2-0 or better six times in seven seasons, including last year’s 8-0 start that carried them to a No. 10 ranking. The Flames are trying to hit 3-0 for the third straight season, which has never happened in program history.

FOLLOW-UP ACT

Liberty quarterback Kaidon Salter won his first career start last week against UAB. The second-year passer who transferred from Tennessee threw for 202 yards and ran for 79 yards with a short touchdown.

Salter took over when opening-game starter Charlie Brewer suffered a hand injury.

FINDING PERRY

Hartman’s return strengthens the potential for one of the nation’s top offenses last season. It also led to a huge game for receiver A.T. Perry.

The fifth-year receiver had a quiet opener against VMI with Mitch Griffis at quarterback, finishing with three catches for 47 yards. But he had five catches for 142 yards with a 68-yard score against Vanderbilt.

SERIES HISTORY

Wake Forest has won both meetings in the series.

The Demon Deacons won the first meeting 34-14 in 2006 before going on to win the ACC title that year. The Demon Deacons won the second meeting 20-17 to open the 2012 season.

 Liberty (2-0) at No. 19 Wake Forest (2-0), Saturday, 5 p.m. (ACC Network)

Line: Wake Forest by 16 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: Wake Forest leads 2-0.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Liberty: QB Kaidon Salter. The second-year transfer from Tennessee won his first career start against UAB last weekend. He threw for 202 yards and ran for 79 yards with a touchdown.

Wake Forest: WR A.T. Perry. The fourth-year wideout had a quiet opener but erupted with five catches for 142 yards and a touchdown in last week’s win at Vanderbilt.

FACTS & FIGURES

Wake Forest has won its last six games against Virginia-based programs. … The teams haven’t met since Wake Forest’s 20-17 win in the 2012 opener. … The Flames are 1-4 against ranked Bowl Subdivision teams. … Liberty’s two wins against ACC teams came in 2020 at Syracuse and at Virginia Tech. The Flames are 2-10 all-time against the ACC. … Wake Forest scored 89 points through the first two games. That was the program’s third-best total ever, trailing 2010 (107) and 1940 (91). … This will mark Hugh Freeze’s 40th game as Liberty coach. He is 28-11 with the Flames.

 

No. 16 NC State’s defense faces test from Texas Tech attack

RALEIGH — North Carolina State’s defense has experienced talent. The 16th-ranked Wolfpack will need that to handle Texas Tech’s national-best passing attack on Saturday.

The Red Raiders (2-0) are averaging 411 yards passing under first-year coach Joey McGuire. They’re coming off a win against then-No. 25 Houston despite losing its top quarterback to an opening-game injury. That presents a test for the Wolfpack’s defense, which has surrendered 23 points in two games.

“The only thing that I can’t do for these players is make them more experienced, right?” Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said. “I can do everything else: I can help them get stronger, I can do motivational things with them. … But I can’t give them game reps. They’ve got to accumulate that through time. And we have a lot of that, so it helps.”

N.C. State (2-0) brought back 10 starters from a unit that ranked 14th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring defense (19.7) and 21st in total defense (331.6 yards), production that came despite losing multiple starters for the season to injuries.

One was top linebacker Payton Wilson, an all-ACC pick while ranking among the top FBS tacklers in 2020. He left early against East Carolina with an upper-body injury and missed last week’s Charleston Southern win but is expected to be back Saturday.

For Texas Tech, third-year passer Donovan Smith completed 14 of 16 passes for 221 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener after starter Tyler Shough re-injured his left shoulder. Before his game-winning, 9-yard TD run in the second overtime against then-No. 25 Houston, Smith had completed 36 of 58 passes for 351 yards and two touchdowns, though he also had three interceptions.

“He prepared the week before to play in a game, and then he had the opportunity and played well,” McGuire said. “And then he prepared to be the starter. I think he would be the first one to tell you that he’s got to prepare even more, especially this week because we’re going to see a lot of pressure.”

RED RAIDERS vs. RANKED

Texas Tech’s double-overtime win against Houston was its first against a ranked non-conference foe in the regular season since beating No. 20 Arizona in the 1989 opener. Since the AP poll debuted in 1936, Tech has never defeated multiple ranked non-conference opponents in the same season.

The Red Raiders haven’t won consecutive games against Top 25 teams since 2008, when over a four-game span the Red Raiders beat No. 19 Kansas, No. 1 Texas and No. 8 Oklahoma State before losing to fifth-ranked Oklahoma.

The Red Raiders last had multiple wins over ranked teams in the same season when going 2-3 in such games in 2013. They are 3-27 against Top 25 teams since that season.

INHOSPITABLE

N.C. State has won 11 straight home games since November 2020, including last season’s win against Clemson and a wild comeback against rival North Carolina.

STAYING UP TOP

N.C. State offensive coordinator Tim Beck worked the Charleston Southern win from the coaching box instead of calling plays from the field. Doeren said it was a trial run afterward, then said Monday he expected Beck would stick with it.

PALS

McGuire and Doeren have a relationship going back to 2003 when McGuire was a high school coach in Texas and Doeren was a Kansas assistant. Doeren recruited receiver Marcus Herford as the first coach to make a Division I scholarship offer to one of McGuire’s players at Cedar Hill High.

“I remember eating a pregame meal with his team,” Doeren said. “He had the best chicken fried steak and gravy you’ve ever had before the game. I was crushing that with him.”

McGuire said: “I can’t wait to see him. I can’t wait to play them.”

Texas Tech (2-0) at No. 16 North Carolina State (2-0), Saturday, 7 p.m. (ESPN2)

Line: N.C. State by 10 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: N.C. State leads 4-1.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

This is a nonconference power-conference matchup with the Wolfpack as one of the Atlantic Coast Conference favorites and the Red Raiders from the Big 12. N.C. State has won 11 straight home games since November 2020 and is facing a Texas Tech team that was picked to finish ninth in its 10-team league, but upset then-No. 25 Houston last week under new coach Joey McGuire.

KEY MATCHUP

N.C. State’s defense against Texas Tech’s offense. The Wolfpack returned 10 defensive starters from last year’s team, which ranked 14th in scoring defense (19.7). The experience in that unit will be tested against a Red Raiders team that has the country’s top passing attack (411.0 yards per game).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Texas Tech: QB Donovan Smith. The third-year passer took over the starting job after a strong relief performance in the opener against Murray State after starter Tyler Shough went down with a shoulder injury. Smith threw for a career-best 350 yards and a pair of TDs to go with a rushing score in the Houston win.

N.C. State: LB Payton Wilson. Wilson was an all-ACC performer and one of the nation’s top tacklers in 2020, but he missed most of last season due to a shoulder injury. Then he exited the opener against East Carolina early with an upper-body injury and missed last week’s win against Charleston Southern, though coach Dave Doeren said Wilson should be ready to go this week.

 

Duke goes for 3-0 start against NC A&T

Duke is looking for a 3-0 start under new coach Mike Elko as it hosts North Carolina A&T on Saturday. The Blue Devils are coming off a win at Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference. North Carolina A&T is a Championship Subdivision program from the Big South Conference. The Aggies lost last week at North Dakota State, the No. 1-ranked FCS team. Duke has gotten a boost from receiver Jordan Moore with touchdown grabs in each of the first two games. The Blue Devils are also off to a good start in reversing recent turnover troubles.

North Carolina A&T (0-2) at Duke (2-0), 6 p.m. (ACC Network Extra)

Series record: Duke leads 2-0.

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

Duke’s Mike Elko is off to an unbeaten start as a first-time head coach, including last week’s win at Northwestern of the Big Ten Conference. That has built some momentum and energy around a program that had seen a long run of success under David Cutcliffe fizzle in the past two seasons. The Aggies are hunting for their first win.

KEY MATCHUP

N.C. A&T’s defense against Duke’s offense. It hasn’t been an easy start for the Aggies, who lost to North Carolina Central in the Duke’s Mayo Classic and then lost at North Dakota State — the No. 1-ranked team in the Championship Subdivision. That unit faces a Duke offense averaging 480.5 yards through its first two games behind quarterback Riley Leonard.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

N.C. A&T: LB Jacob Roberts. The preseason all-conference pick has six double-figure tackle games in his career, including a career-best 16 last year against Kennesaw State.

Duke: WR/QB Jordan Moore. Moore has thrived at receiver after battling for the starting quarterback job in preseason. He has had a touchdown grab in each of the first two games.

FACTS & FIGURES

Duke is off to a good start in reversing its turnover troubles in recent years. The Blue Devils are tied for fifth in the Bowl Subdivision with six takeaways against one turnover. … The Aggies of the FCS’ Big South Conference are 0-2 in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2006-07. … N.C. A&T is 0-4 against Atlantic Coast Conference teams. … With a TD on its first drive last week, Duke improved to 12-1 when reaching the end zone on its opening series dating to the start of the 2017 season. … The two previous meetings have been decided by similar scores, with Duke winning 45-13 in 2019 and 45-17 last year.

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