Tar Heels and Wolfpack both look to be improved this season.
There won't be "great football weather" - that's a few weeks away. And if you want to see a really big game that could go either way, you may need to watch an out-of-state game on TV.
But college football in the Triangle does open today, with a collection of the kinds of games in which the home team is a heavy if not prohibitive favorite.
The three local ACC teams will write hefty checks and hope to win big, while N.C. Central will get its money on the road.
N.C. State starts today's show at 12:30 p.m. (WRAL), when brand new Football Bowl Subdivision member Georgia Southern visits Carter-Finley Stadium.
The other two Triangle home games are at 6 p.m. Duke takes on Elon at Wallace Wade Stadium and UNC entertains Liberty at Kenan Stadium in those teams' first meeting.
Then at 8 p.m. (ESPNews), NCCU visits East Carolina in their historic first football meeting at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
N.C. State vs. Georgia Southern
The Wolfpack is looking to improve on a 3-9 mark from Dave Doeren's first season, and most observers will be shocked if it doesn't happen. State is picked to finish fourth in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will start at quarterback for the Wolfpack, which is looking for a return to the type of better days when a Mike Glennon or Russell Wilson was calling the signals.
"Our guys have worked hard, and put in a lot of hard work and effort this summer," Doeren said. "Our strength staff did a great job getting the guys ready, and look forward to playing at home with our fans. We're (expecting) a great atmosphere for the game and play against a team that has won six National Championships as a program and they're coming off a year where they upset Florida at Florida. So we know we're getting a very good football team, and look forward to the opportunity to play them."
The Wolfpack's Indy All-Triangle returnees include junior RB Shadrach Thornton and seniors DT Thomas Teal and kicker Niklas Sade.
GSU, which will face the Wolfpack for the first time, will be playing in the debut of new coach Willie Fritz. The Eagles were 7-4 last season.
The Vegas line has the Wolfpack favored by 22 1/2.
Duke vs. Elon
David Cutcliffe's squad went 10-4 last season and won the ACC's Coastal Division title last sesson. The Blue Devils are picked second in the Coastal this time, but suffered two huge blows earlier this month when LB Kelby Brown and TE Braxton Deaver were lost for the season with injuries.
Duke should still be good, with six All-Triangle returnees in are seniors QB Anthony Boone, RB Josh Snead, WR Jamison Crowder and G Laken Tomlinson on offense and juniors S Jeremy Cash and P Will Monday on defense.
The Blue Devils lead the series 6-0-1.
"Elon has got a new staff (so) we're not really sure what we're going to see schematically," Cutcliffe said. "We have some general ideas, but they've got a bunch of returning football players, we've got a bunch of returning football players, and it's going to be a matter of how well we go out and execute, how hard we can play, how consistent we can play. I think that's the biggest thing I'm looking for in the first game is see if the game is clean and see if we can be as consistent as possible in all three phases."
Elon (2-9 last season) is playing its first season in the Colonial Athletic Association under new coach Rick Skrosky.
The Dunkel Index has the Blue Devils favored by 47.
UNC vs. Liberty
Larry Fedora has led the Tar Heels to back-to-back winning seasons, including a 7-6 mark and a Belk Bowl championship last season. They're picked fourth in a balanced Coastal but ranked No. 23 in the preseason AP poll. The Tar Heels' four straight winning seasons are matched in the conference only by Florida State, Clemson, Miami and Virginia Tech.
UNC has had a quarterback battle all spring and fall between junior Marquise Williams and redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky, and the coach may not reveal tonight's starter until game time.
Junior WR Quinshad Davis was All-Triangle last season.
"I think for one thing, we prepare for every game the same way," Fedora said. "We really don't talk about the strengths or weaknesses of our opponents. We really try to put in a game plan and work exactly the same way each and every week. I mean, we have respect for every team that we play. It really doesn't matter who it is, where we're playing, what time we're playing, what the weather's like, any of those things. We want to go out and play our best ball every week."
UNC will play today without four players including starting cornerbacks Desmond Lawrence and Brian Walker, suspended for an off-campus incident involving a teammate.
Big South member Liberty, coached by Turner Gill, went 8-4 last season.
The Dunkel Index has the Tar Heels favored by 33 1/2.
NCCU at East Carolina
N.C. Central, 5-6 last year, is picked eighth in the 11-team MEAC under new coach Jerry Mack.
Mack has named transfer Quinn Billerman as the Eagles' starting QB.
The Eagles' All-Triangle returnee is junior return specialist Adrian Wilkins.
"We're excited," Mack said. "Our football team, our coaching staff and our support staff are fired about the opportunity to play at East Carolina. It's an exciting time for me and my family. I really think we had a successful fall camp and the guys improved as a football team. We've developed the chemistry that we need. ... East Carolina is consistent. They've been able to build a quality program and that's the direction we want to go. They can score fast, so we need to try to slow that down play a quality defensive game."
ECU, in coach Ruffin McNeill's fifth year, is coming off a 10-3 season that included a win in the Beef O'Brady's Bowl and marked the first time the Pirates had ever beaten UNC and N.C. State in the same season.
Pirates QB Shane Carden and WR Justin Hardy make up one of the most accomplished catch-and-throw combinations in the country.
The Dunkel Index has ECU favored by 43.
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File photo by Chris Baird
Duke will try for its third straight bowl bid this season, while NCCU breaks in a new coach.