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.
That would have to start today, when NCCU (4-6, 2-4 MEAC) hosts Norfolk State (3-7, 3-3) in the home finale on a warm, sunny Senior Day. Win today and then upset uber arch-rival North Carolina on the road next week, and it’s a pretty good finish for interim coach Dwayne Foster.
NCCU gets it done on a day when its special teams have a field day, winning at home against a Division I team for the first time all season in a 24-13 decision.
Over the past generation it has been common to see UNC and N.C. State zeroing in on bowl eligibility early and N.C. Central chasing a conference title and playoff berths while Duke is locking up yet another losing season.
Not this time.
Duke is the only team of the four that has assured itself of even a decent season, and is guaranteed its best finish since at least 1994 with a bowl bid already banked.
And today Duke will play its biggest game in a very, very long time.
The Blue Devils (7-2, 3-2 ACC) will take on No. 23 Miami (7-2, 3-2) today at 3:30 (ESPNU) at Wallace Wade Stadium, and would get the inside track toward winning the ACC’s Coastal Division title — and a likely spot in the Orange Bowl — with a win.
Everybody else needs to play desperate football. The only other home game has N.C. Central (4-6, 2-4 MEAC) hosting Norfolk State (3-7, 3-3) at 2 p.m. at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium in a game the Eagles have to win to have a chance for a .500 season.
UNC (4-5, 3-3) will try to keep its hopes for a winning season alive when the Tar Heels visit ACC newcomer Pittsburgh (5-4, 2-3) at 12:30 p.m. (WRAL), while N.C. State (3-6, 0-6) will visit Boston College (5-4, 2-3) at the same time (Fox Sports Carolinas) needing to win out for a .500 record and possible bowl spot.
That silliness ends today.
Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC) which still has a shot at its best season since the ACC was formed, will host N.C. State (3-5, 0-5) today at 4 at Wallace Wade Stadium in a game to be shown on ESPNU.
The matchup is one of two ACC games to be played in the Triangle today, as UNC (2-3, 3-5) will host reeling Virginia (2-7, 0-5) at 12:30 at Kenan Stadium in a game to be shown on WRAL.
N.C. Central (4-5, 2-3 MEAC) will travel to MEAC rival Hampton (3-6, 3-2) at 1 p.m.
And that’s rarely the case when North Carolina’s most anticipated college football game of the year kicks off.
But when UNC (2-5, 1-3 ACC) visits N.C. State (3-4, 0-4) today at 12:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium in a game to be shown on WRAL, it’s even more of a must-win game than usual on both sides.
The last time both teams came into this one with losing records was in 2007, when Butch Davis and Tom O’Brien was each in his first season at the helm. The loser of this one is going to have to struggle mightily to qualify for a bowl game, while the winner’s position is far, far, far from assured.
The State-Carolina game is not the only Division I game in the Triangle today.
N.C. Central (4-4, 2-2 MEAC) will take on MEAC leader Bethune-Cookman (7-1, 4-0) — ranked No. 12 in the FCS and consensus No. 1 team in Black College polls — at noon at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium in a game to be shown on ESPNews. An upset could help interim head coach Dwayne Foster’s bid to become the Eagles’ head coach next season.
Meanwhile Duke (6-2, 2-2 ACC), which will be in a bowl game and has a chance to lay a claim to be the best team in the state for the first time in a generation, is idle until next week’s home game with the Wolfpack.
That’s going to be the situation for UNC this afternoon, when the Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3 ACC) host Boston College (3-3, 1-2) at 3:30 p.m. at Kenan Stadium (Fox Sports Carolinas).
If UNC is the victim of an upset, the Tar Heels will have to win all five remaining games to get a sixth win and the bowl trip they missed out on last year because of the NCAA probation.
All six remaining games are winnable, but if the Tar Heels are going to save their season it HAS to start today.
UNC is the only Triangle Division I team at home this weekend. And the two other local ACC teams will be road underdogs.
N.C. Central (3-4, 1-2 MEAC), which is all but out of the MEAC race, will be favored to get to .500 when the Eagles visit Savannah State (1-7, 0-4) at 2 p.m. It’s a must-win game for NCCU interim head coach Dwayne Foster.
Oddly, all three local ACC teams are playing at the same time. Duke (5-2, 1-2), which needs one win to will look to pull off a shocker at No. 14 Virginia Tech (6-1, 3-0) in an ESPNU game. Meanwhile N.C. State (3-3, 0-3) will look for its first quality win under Dave Doeren and possibly the national upset of the year in a visit to No. 2 Florida State (6-0, 4-0).
But for UNC, the time to start winning is now. Urgently. Now.
The Tar Heels (1-4, 0-2 ACC) are going to have to win at least five of their last seven games to qualify for a bowl game, and it won’t be an easy task. That stretch run begins tonight at 7:45 at Kenan Stadium, when they host surprisingly good No. 10 Miami (5-0, 1-0) in an opportunity for a major upset — if they play by far their best game of this season.
The UNC-Miami showdown is one of three games involving Triangle squads this weekend. The other two games are Saturday.
N.C. Central (3-3, 1-1 MEAC) will look to get its ship righted when the Eagles host Morgan State (1-5, 1-1) at 2 p.m. at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
Duke (4-2, 0-2 ACC) is on the road at Virginia (2-4, 0-2) for a 3:30 p.m. contest on Fox Sports South, and if the Blue Devils can win it they’ll be on track for a second straight bowl game and their best season since 1994.
N.C. State (3-3, 0-3), which is licking its wounds after back-to-back ACC losses in winnable games, is idle until next Saturday’s trip to Florida State.
SCSU is on a pretty good roll, winning four straight since a loss at Clemson.
The Eagles won 40-10 last year in Indianapolis to end a seven-game losing streak in the series.
But this one is all Bulldogs, period. SCSU dominates the game from start to finish, ruining NCCU’s appearance on ESPNU in a 44-3 rout.
The next game will determine whether or not a squad will have a winning record at the halfway point.
And that’s the situation this weekend for the three of the Triangle’s four Division I college football teams who are taking the field in home games.
The answers start coming tonight at 7:45, when N.C. Central (3-2, 1-0 MEAC) hosts S.C. State (4-2, 2-0) at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium in a game to be shown on ESPNU.
And the ACC teams play Saturday, with Duke (3-2) hosting Navy (3-1) at Wallace Wade Stadium at 12:30 on WRAL and N.C. State (3-2, 0-2) entertaining Syracuse (2-3, 0-1 ACC) in the Orange’s first visit to the Triangle as an ACC member at 3:30 on Fox Sports Carolinas.
UNC (1-4, 0-2) has the day off before hosting Miami a week from tonight.
N.C. State (3-1, 0-1 ACC) and N.C. Central (2-2) both play their conference road openers as mild favorites, while UNC (1-3, 0-1) is an underdog in a game it desperately needs to win.
Duke (3-2, 0-2 ACC) got the ship righted on Saturday against Troy, and gets a week off before facing a must-win home game against Navy.
The Tar Heels will start the action at 12:30 p.m. at Virginia Tech (4-1, 1-0) in a game to be shown on WRAL.
The Eagles will visit Howard (1-3, 0-1) in NCCU’s MEAC opener at 1 p.m.