Early expectations unchanged as area teams exit preseason camps
Posted August 25
With opening week for area college teams about a week away, it’s interesting that early season expectations haven’t change much after a month of preseason camp work.
Here’s how the general overview breaks down:
NC State vs. South Carolina (Sept. 2, Charlotte, 3 p.m. ESPN): The Wolfpack opened as a six-point pick on most of the Las Vegas sports books about a month ago and remains a solid touchdown favorite a few days after three players were suspended and two other dropped from the program as a result of investigations into illegal behavior during an alleged party in July.
All five are all freshmen, and it’s not likely that anyone in the group would have been in an important position against the Gamecocks, who will start their second season with Will Muschamp at the wheel.
State begins its fifth season under Dave Doeren amid the coach’s brightest outlooks since arriving from Northern Illinois. The defense should be among the deepest and most talented in the ACC, and the Wolkpack has an established quarterback, as redshirt junior Ryan Finley begins his second season in the program.
The Gamecocks, on the other hand, will be among the youngest and least-experienced in the SEC. Muschamp told reporters and fans in Columbia this week that at least nine first-year defenders will play against State and others could be used in special teams situations.
The Pack is coming off three straight winning seasons and a 2016 bowl win over Vanderbilt of the SEC, but Doeren is only 9-23 in ACC games and 25-26 overall. He needs the win, and if State gets it, a 3-0 start is likely with Marshall and Furman up next, both in Raleigh.
California at North Carolina (Sept. 2, 12:20 p.m., ACC Network): It’s more or less a repeat of the lead-up to State and South Carolina in that the Tar Heels have been a two touchdown favorite through preseason camp.
Even though there will be a new quarterback working with a restocked backfield and a lot of inexperienced receivers, there’s little reason to expect big problems at the outset of Larry Fedora’s sixth season.
Justin Wilcox will be making his head coaching debut for the Golden Bears, who also will be breaking in a lot of new offensive personnel, including a quarterback.
Carolina needs a fast start, too. Fedora’s 2016 team dropped three of its final games, with losses to Duke and State and another to Stanford in postseason play.
My guess is LSU transfer Brandon Harris will get the start for Carolina, but it wouldn't be surprising if Fedora finds a way to get game snaps for two other quarterbacks.
Of more importance in the long run could be the new running back rotation in Fedora’s spread-option offense. It’s logical to assume the Heels will have a productive ground attack, but replacing T.J. Logan and Elijah Hood won’t be easy.
NC Central at Duke (Sept. 2, 6 p.m., ACCN Extra): The Blue Devils won 49-6 last season and should win easily again, but the Eagles will be tougher and deeper.
After four straight bowl appearances, David Cutcliffe and his Devils are coming off a disappointing season (4-8, 1-7 ACC). Even so, preseason camp has been marked by unabashed optimism from the coach and players. Starting with talented sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones, the offense should have above-average talent and depth.
The big key will be defensive improvement, especially up front where three starters graduated from a unit that got overwhelmed several times last year.
Eagles coach Jerry Mack has built a MEAC power (9-3, 8-0 in ’16) and needs to get through the night without extensive injuries before launching a bid for another conference title. Most of the preseason outlooks have NCCU picked for second, behind NC A&T, in the MEAC.
With Northwestern and Baylor up next in Durham, the Devils could make some early noise. NCCU hosts Shaw next.
James Madison at ECU (Sept. 2, 6 p.m., ESPN3): There’s no betting line, but the outset of Scottie Montgomery’s second season could be a bit more testy than some fans expect.
The Dukes lost only once in 15 games last season en route to the FCS national title and return several key players.
ECU (3-9, 1-7 AAC) needs improvement across the board, particularly on special teams and defense.
Junior Gardner Minshew has won the quarterback starting nod, but Duke transfer Thomas Sirk almost certainly will get his share of snaps.
With West Virginia and Virginia Tech just ahead, an 0-3 start probably would be catastrophic for Montgomery’s team.