Juston Burris defends as the Tar Heels' Mack Hollins tries to catch a pass.
KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL Even for the losers, it was probably going to be a decent season.
Everybody was already going to a bowl game and both teams were heading in the right direction when 6-5 UNC hosted 6-5 N.C. State in their 140th meeting on a sunny but chilly Saturday afternoon.
And bowl scouts from the preferred Belk Bowl as well as the Military and Independence were in the house.
Each team was coming in off a convincing win over its other ancient natural rival, the Wolfpack a 42-13 rout over Wake Forest two weeks ago and the Tar Heels a surprisingly comfortable 45-20 win over then-No. 24 and defending Coastal Division champion Duke nine days ago.
Maybe the old cliche about a team "wanting it more" applied this time, but it was definitely the Wolfpack's day as State rolled to a shockingly easy 35-7 victory. Shockingly easy.
The Wolfpack finished with 454 yards total offense - 388 on the ground - to 207 for the Tar Heels, and ran 69 plays without a turnover.
UNC's Romar Morris breaks the tackle attempt by Duke's Jamie Cockey while Jonathan Jones follows the play. The Blue Devils' 95 is Jamal Wallace.
It's Rivalry Week, Part II.
All across the country, about half of the biggest college football teams are playing their most despised rivals. And with cooperation from the SEC, the ACC is right in on the act today.
It was always the day for those big cross-conference rivalry games like South Carolina at Clemson and Georgia Tech at Georgia and Florida at Florida State. And now there's Kentucky at Louisville. And in the conference there was Virginia at Virginia Tech last night.
It's the same deal in the Triangle, where N.C. State (6-5, 2-5 ACC) will visit UNC (6-5, 4.3) - with both teams already guaranteed bowl trips. Duke (8-3, 4-3) will try to improve on its bowl standing - for the third straight year - when the Blue Devils host long-time in-state rival Wake Forest (3-8, 1-6.)
N.C. Central's season is over, but it ended up on a great note last week as the Eagles held off uber-rival North Carolina A&T to earn a 7-5 winning season and a share of the MEAC title for first-year coach Jerry Mack.
This time the "Battle for the Victory Bell" is big enough for national TV.
It's Triangle Rivalry Week!
Or at least it's Part One.
And this time it's going to start a little bit early.
There are only two games, as N.C. State gets a week off, coincidentally to celebrate its bowl eligibility, but they're both monsters.
Tonight at 7:30, UNC (5-5, 3-3 ACC) will visit No. 25 Duke 8-2, 4-2) in a game to be shown on ESPN. Of course they don't like each other too much, and there's plenty at stake. If UNC beats either Duke tonight or the visiting Wolfpack on Nov. 29, the Tar Heels will be bowl eligible. Duke, meanwhile, has to beat UNC tonight and visiting Wake Forest on Nov. 29 to claim its second straight Coastal Division title and play Florida State for the ACC Championship again.
Now, on Saturday at 2, N.C. Central (6-5, 5-2 MEAC) will host North Carolina A&T (9-2, 6-1). Of course they don't like each other too much, and there's plenty at stake. If the Aggies win they're the outright MEAC champions and headed to the NCAA playoffs. But if the Eagles pull off the upset, there could be a three-, four- or five-way tie for the title; in three of the eight scenarios NCCU will be in the playoffs next week.
N.C. State's Jacoby Brissett escapes a tackle against Florida State. The Wolfpack's No. 50 is Tony Adams.
The magic number remains six.
That's the number of wins an FBS football team needs to play in a bowl game, and for any college football team to assure it won't have a losing regular-season record.
So far only one Triangle team has made it, as Duke (8-1, 4-1 ACC) is assured a winning season and a bowl game and is still in the race for the ACC's Coastal Division championship.
That race means every game is a "must" win for the Blue Devils, and actually every game left on the schedule is a must win for every Triangle Division I team as well.
All three ACC teams are at home today.
The underrated No. 19 Blue Devils will host disappointing Virginia Tech (4-5, 1-4) at noon (ESPNU). UNC (4-5, 2-3) will host Pittsburgh (4-5, 2-3) at 12:30 in a game between teams desperately seeking bowl spots. And N.C. State (5-5, 1-5) will qualify for a bowl if the Wolfpack can repel Wake Forest (2-7, 0-5) at 3 p.m.
N.C. Central (5-5, 4-2) visits Norfolk State (4-6, 4-2) at 2.
In an upset, all four local teams are favored to win.
The Wolfpack wants to be the third Triangle team to beat Georgia Tech this season.
Today is a very big day for N.C. State football.
And it's very important for Duke, while it's still meaningful for N.C. Central.
UNC has the day off before its uphill stretch run.
The Wolfpack (5-4, 1-4 ACC) picked up its first conference win for second-year coach Dave Doeren last week in a squeaker over Syracuse. And if State can become the third Triangle team to beat No. 24 Georgia Tech (7-2, 4-2) today at 12:30 (WRAL) at Carter-Finley Stadium, the Wolfpack is going bowling!
NCCU (4-5, 3-2 MEAC), which is still looking for a winning season, plays its annual homecoming game against Hampton (2-7, 1-4) at 2 p.m. at O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
And the No. 22 Blue Devils (7-1, 3-1 ACC) travel to the Carrier Dome to take on Syracuse (1-4, 3-6) at 12:30 (Fox Sports Carolinas) and continue their quest for a second straight Coastal Division crown.
N.C. State vs. Georgia Tech
State got its biggest win of the Doeren era by holding on for a 24-17 road win last week over the Orange. And the Wolfpack would certainly like to claim a mild homecoming upset before its final two regular-season contests against in-state rivals.
“We were excited to come home from a great road win for our team against a very opportunistic defense," Doeren said. "We knew that taking the ball away for us defensively and protecting it against them offensively would be the key to win that game. Our key to victory was turnover margin and rushing offense versus rushing defense, and
when you break those two things down we had three takeaways in the football game which were huge."
The Yellow Jackets lead the series 18-10, and have won on their last four trip to Raleigh, the most recent in 2011. Tech is a four-point favorite.
N.C. Central vs. Hampton
NCCU has won its only two home MEAC games under first-year coach Jerry Mack, and could finish above .500 by winning out. And homecoming is, as always, a really big deal.
"I thought our young men competed hard against Bethune-Cookman," Mack said. "We just have to learn how to finish games and improve on that. I think we're heading in the right direction. We've got to do a better job of running in critical situations as well as stopping the run. We still want to win seven football games and close the season on a winning note."
Hampton leads the series 18-6, with the only NCCU win since 1983 coming two years ago in Durham. The Dunkel Index has the Eagles by five.
Duke at Syracuse
Duke will likely have to win out to play in its second straight ACC title game, but everything is headed in the right direction as the Blue Devils have won three straight. All their victories have been my seven points or less.
"Our focus has been on preparation," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "Syracuse is an interesting team. They’ve got a lot of veteran players in the locker room. They’ve got some depth and they play a lot of people in a lot of areas on offense and defense. They’ve got some people that can run; this is another big, physical offensive and defensive front. They pose matchup challenges. I think they’re extremely well-coached. I’m impressed by what their coaches are getting done in every aspect. They’re good in the kicking game; they’ve got good specialists. It’s one of those games that I look at it and our team looks at it that you know you have to focus on Duke and our preparation."
The Blue Devils have won their only two meetings with the Orange, but the last was in 1939. Duke is a 3 1/2-point favorite.
Last week's three stars
1. Jamison Crowder, WR, Duke. He caught nine passes for 165 yards and two TDs.
2. DeVon Edwards, DB, Duke. He had a 99-yard kickoff return for a TD and was in on 10 tackles.
3. Jacoby Brissett, QB, NCSU. He completed 20 of 32 passes for 186 yards and a TD.
Duke looks to clinch a second straight winning season today.
It's a rare fall Saturday when there's no Division I football game in the Triangle, but today is one of those days.
And of the area's four teams, still no one can say how the seasons of three will be perceived at the end. And all four are underdogs.
No. 24 Duke (6-1, 2-1 ACC) is going to have another happy finish barring a monumental collapse.
But UNC (4-4, 2-2), N.C. State (4-4, 0-4) and N.C. Central (4-4, 3-1 MEAC) can all still go in either direction.
The Blue Devils will travel to Pittsburgh (4-4, 2-2) in a key ACC Coastal Division battle at 12 p.m. (ESPNU) at Heinz Field. The Tar Heels will visit Miami (5-3, 2-2) at 12:30 (WRAL), while the Wolfpack will go to Syracuse (3-5, 2-2) for a 3 p.m. contest (Fox Sports Carolinas). The Eagles visit Bethune-Cookman (6-2, 3-1) at 4.
Marquise Williams runs for daylight during his record-setting night.
KENAN STADIUM/CHAPEL HILL UNC had its collective back to the wall when the game with Georgia Tech kicked off Saturday night.
And the Tar Heels' backs were to the wall again with just three minutes to play.
But Marquise Williams proved to be too much for the Yellow Jackets.
Williams completed a UNC record 38 of 47 passes for 390 yards and four TDs with one interception, adding a rushing TD while carrying for 75 yards on 16 totes as the Tar Heels beat the Yellow Jackets 48-43 to break a five-game losing streak in the series.
UNC improved to 3-4 and 1-2, while the Yellow Jackets - who have lost two straight - fell to 5-2 and 2-2. The loss marked the first time since 1994 Tech has lost to both Duke and UNC in the same season.
Duke will try to stay perfect at home this afternoon.
The Triangle's college football season is passing its halfway point, and exactly how the season is unfolding for the local Division I squads is coming into focus.
Duke is having a second straight very good season and could play in some really interesting December games if it keeps winning.
And N.C. Central, which has yet to lose to an historically black college this season, still has a shot at the MEAC championship.
But N.C. State coach Dave Doeren is still looking for his first ACC win, and UNC's Larry Fedora needs to get things turned around quickly if the Tar Heels want to make another bowl trip.
Today's contests present some pretty big challenges all around, with two teams at home and two on the road.
Duke (5-1, 2-1 ACC), which somehow still is not in the Top 25 after a huge 31-25 win at Georgia Tech seven days ago, will host Virginia (4-2, 2-0) in a battle for first place in the Coastal Division at 12:30 p.m. (WRAL). The other home game is at 7 (ESPNU), with UNC (2-4, 0-2) entertaining Virginia Tech (4-3, 1-2) at Kenan Stadium.
NCCU (3-3, 2-0 MEAC) will go to Morgan State (3-3, 2-1) at 1 p.m., while N.C. State (4-3, 0-3) will visit Louisville (5-2, 3-2) at 3:30 (FOX Sports Carolinas).
UNC's Sam Smiley breaks up a pass against San Diego State.
College football has been played in some form for the last 146 seasons, and no team from the Triangle has ever really played for a national championship.
After last week's results this won't be the year.
It's not that anyone can't still have a great season, but there are only about 20 schools than could have a loss and make the new FBS Final Four and none of them are in North Carolina.
Three of the four local Division I teams are in action today, and two of them are at home. Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC), coming off a 22-10 loss at Miami, is idle.
The show starts at 12:30 (WRAL) at Kenan Stadium, when UNC (2-2, 0-1 ACC) hosts Virginia Tech (3-2, 0-1). And at 2 p.m. at O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium N.C. Central (1-3) will entertain Howard (1-4, 0-2 MEAC) in the Eagles' MEAC opener.
N.C. State (4-1, 0-1 ACC) will visit Clemson (2-2, 1-1) at Death Valley at 3:30 (ESPNU).
UNC vs. Virginia Tech
The Tar Heels are on a two-game losing streak after giving up a total of 120 points to East Carolina and then Clemson.
They have a chance to get the ship righted today in what is probably a must-win situation in the ACC's Coastal Division race.
The teams did not meet last year, but UNC beat the Hokies 48-34 two seasons ago in Chapel Hill.
"We're going to have to play better, there's no doubt about it," UNC coach Larry Fedora. "Virginia Tech is very well coached. ... You know they're going to be very sound in everything they do on special teams. There are not going to be any mistakes there. And offensively I think they've evolved and they're throwing the ball much better than they have in the past. They've got some big receivers and tight ends, and the quarterback is doing a great job for them. We're going to have to play a really good,
complete football game."
Tech leads the series 19-11-6.
The Tar Heels are 2 1/2-point underdogs.
NCCU vs. Howard
First-year Eagle Jerry Mack will make his MEAC debut, still looking for his first win over a Division I opponent.
The Eagles were idle last week.
NCCU beat the Bison 37-28 last year in Washington.
"We talk to our guys all the time about how this is the second season," Mack said. "This is where it all begins and where it really counts. So we're going to try to put together a great game plan in offense and defense and special teams and go compete on Saturday. We grew fundamentally during the bye week. Offensively we've got to do a great job of executing and convert on third downs. Defensively, when a team gets into the red zone we've got to stop them from scoring touchdowns."
Howard leads the series 9-8-1.
The Dunkel Index lists the Eagles as 3 1/2-point underdogs.
N.C. State at Clemson
The Wolfpack lost to one of the traditional powers in the ACC's Atlantic Division last week in a respectable 56-41 result against Florida State.
This time they'll take on the other one in the Textile Bowl, and again won't be favored.
The Tigers won 25-14 last season in Raleigh.
"We move on to a really good Clemson team," State coach Dave Doeren said. "They've had two tough losses against two great opponents and a senior class that is 21-2 at home. A really impressive group of leaders at Clemson and a freshman quarterback that's lighting it up against a defense that has a bunch of seniors and graduate students on it. It's going to be a great challenge. It's an awesome atmosphere, I've been told, to play in.
For us to have to play the top two teams in our league back to back, it's going to be a great challenge for our football team this week. We look forward to the opportunity."
Clemson leads the series 53-28-1.
The Wolfpack is a 14-point underdog.
Last week's three stars
1. Jacoby Brissett, QB, N.C. State. Brissett threw for 359 yards and three TDs in the loss to FSU.
2. Jeremy Cash, S, Duke. Cash was in on 10 tackles and forced two fumbles in the loss to Miami.
3. Jerod Fernandez, LB, N.C. State. Fernandez intercepted two passes and knocked down another in the loss to the Seminoles.
Jacoby Brissett runs for daylight as FSU's Reggie Northrup (5), Terrence Smith (24) and Desmond Hollin (43) give chase. NCSU's 50 is Tony Adams.
CARTER-FINLEY STADIUM/RALEIGH N.C. State isn't undefeated any more and isn't going to vault into the Top 20, but the Wolfpack - and especially quarterback Jacoby Brissett - proved it was ready for prime time on Saturday.
It was the first time a No. 1 team in the nation had ever visited the Wolfpack's home stadium. NCSU came in with victories over the Seminoles in five of their last seven trips to Raleigh, including 17-16 two seasons ago with Mike Glennon under center and 28-24 in 2010 with Russell Wilson calling signals.
Shadrach Thornton added 85 yards and a pair of TDs for the Wolfpack, while Bo Hines caught eight passes for 103 yards and a TD.
The Seminoles' Jameis Winston, the oft-troubled Heisman Trophy winner who was suspended for last week's Clemson game for an obscene outburst in the FSU student center, was back at quarterback and completed 26 of 38 passed for 365 yards and four TDs, but was intercepted twice.
Karlos Williams rushed for 126 yards and three TDs for FSU.
The Wolfpack finished with 520 yards total offense to FSU's 531, and had a chance to win until Williams' final TD with 2:07 to go.