ACC/NC College Football:
Looking Back At Week Two,
Looking Ahead To Week Three

By David Glenn

North Carolina Sports Network

College football’s Week Two provided plenty of fun and surprises, nationally and locally, starting with an impressive 34-24 win by #11 Texas at #3 Alabama, which lost both its 21-game home winning streak and its 57-game nonconference winning streak, which started all the way back in 2007.

The Longhorns, a four-time national championship program whose only title since 1970 came under current North Carolina coach Mack Brown in 2005, have only one top-10 finish since Brown led them to another national championship game appearance in 2009. After its win at Alabama, Texas (2-0) moved up to #4 in the Associated Press poll, behind only Georgia, Michigan and Florida State. Alabama dropped to #10 in the rankings.

“This was a test for us,” said Alabama coach Nick Saban, a seven-time national champion. “I told the players early in the week that this was going to be a test, that we were playing a really good team, and that we would find out where we were as a team. It was a test for everybody. It was a test for the coaches, it was a test for me, it was a test for all the players. And we obviously didn’t do very well.

“But it’s the midterm, it’s not the final.”

Closer to home, meaning the state of North Carolina and the Atlantic Coast Conference (which has four in-state members and its new headquarters in Charlotte), there also were lots of worthy candidates for Olympic-style medal honors.

With that in mind, we look back at the best of Week Two.

Week Two Gold Medal

Miami’s 48-33 victory over #23 Texas A&M

The Miami Hurricanes are on their sixth head coach during their 20-year tenure as ACC members, and under each of the previous five coaches — Larry Coker (2004-06), Randy Shannon (2007-10), Al Golden (2011-15), Mark Richt (2016-18) and Manny Diaz (2019-21) — there were occasional “Canes Are Back” declarations that ultimately proved premature.

The Hurricanes had “good” seasons in the ACC under all five of those coaches — Coker, Shannon, Richt and Diaz each posted one or two top-25 seasons, and Golden had a 9-4 campaign — but nobody has accomplished even a single top-10 finish in that stretch, and UM has played in the 18-year-old ACC championship game only once, a 38-3 landslide loss to Clemson under Richt in 2017.

Only time will tell if the Hurricanes’ 48-23 victory over #23 Texas A&M will prove to be just another peak in the program’s roller-coaster existence over the last two decades, after UM won five national championships (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001) over the previous 20 years, but second-year coach Mario Cristobal has another talented team off to a 2-0 start, after a dominating 38-3 win over Miami-Ohio, then last week’s 48-33 triumph over A&M.

Talent has rarely been the main problem at Miami, which has more players in the NFL right now than every ACC team other than Clemson, and Cristobal has much more of it on hand this year than he did in his disappointing 5-7 coaching debut at his alma mater a year ago.

A two-time national champion and All-Big East offensive lineman for the Hurricanes during his playing days, Cristobal already has dramatically improved the Canes’ blocking, a frequent weak spot during their time in the ACC.

Left tackle Zion Nelson (injured/unavailable thus far in 2023), left guard Javion Cohen (an Alabama transfer), center Matt Lee (a UCF transfer) and 6-6, 350-pound (and mobile!) right guard Anez Cooper all are considered among the best offensive linemen in the ACC this season, and five-star prep All-American Francis Mauigoa already has locked down the starting right tackle position, as a true freshman.

Against A&M, while the Hurricanes didn’t run the ball particularly well (24 attempts for 77 yards after sack yardage was deducted), fourth-year junior quarterback Tyler Van Dyke connected on 21 of 30 passing attempts for 374 yards and a career-high five touchdowns.

Van Dyke spread the ball around nicely versus the Aggies, with veteran wide receivers Xavier Restrepo (six receptions for 126 yards), Jacolby George (five catches for 94 yards and three TDs) and Colbie Young (six catches for 75 yards and a TD) all posting huge performances, and redshirt freshman wideout Isaiah Horton being on the receiving end of a perfectly thrown deep ball down the left sideline for a 52-yard score.

There’s a long way to go, of course, and Miami still must deal with road trips to (among others) Florida State, UNC and NC State, plus challenging home games against Clemson and Louisville, but the Hurricanes appear to be moving back in the right direction in Year Two under Cristobal, who posted three impressive campaigns (9-4, 12-2, 10-3), sandwiched around a 4-3 COVID oddity, during his four seasons as the head coach at Oregon.

Week Two Silver Medal

NC Central’s 30-16 victory over North Carolina A&T

It is not easy to tilt the scales of a heated rivalry in your favor when you inherit the underdog role, but that’s exactly what fifth-year NC Central coach Trei Oliver has done since taking over the Eagles program in December 2018.

When Oliver played at NC Central (1994-97), he was an all-region and all-conference punter and defensive back, but the Eagles lost all four of their head-to-head matchups to A&T during that period. All-time, the Aggies hold a 53-36-5 advantage in the rivalry. Even recently, A&T won four straight games in the series, from 2017 to 2021 (COVID led to the cancellation of the 2020 season), including by embarrassing scores of 45-0 and 54-0.

Now the Eagles, led by Oliver, the 2022 MEAC coach of the year, and star quarterback Davius Richard, the 2022 MEAC player of the year, have won two straight against the Aggies, and they were clearly the better team in both matchups (28-13 and 30-16).

Last season, NC Central had one of the best campaigns in program history, winning the HBCU national championship for the fourth time (the others were in 1954, 2005 and 2006) and posting its best end-of-season national ranking (#17) ever in the FCS coaches poll. As they head to UCLA this week (see below), the Eagles also are ranked #17 in this year’s poll, and they again are among the favorites for the HBCU national title.

Week Two Bronze Medal

Western Carolina’s 30-7 victory over FCS #7 Samford

Western Carolina coach Kerwin Bell is perhaps best-known among most fans for his exploits long ago as a player, especially his stunning rise as a Florida Gators quarterback (1983-87) from walk-on status to team captain, conference champion and the prestigious SEC player of the year honor. He also played 13 years of professional football, including several stops in the NFL and the Canadian Football League.

More recently, the 58-year-old Bell has made big headlines as a coach and offensive guru, including a successful three-year run at Division 2 Valdosta State that culminated with a 14-0 season (during which his team averaged 52 points per game) and the 2018 national championship. Charlie Strong, then the head coach at South Florida, hired Bell as the Bulls’ offensive coordinator, but the entire USF staff was dismissed after the 2019 season, and Bell was out of coaching during the COVID-complicated 2020 season.

Hired at Western Carolina in April 2021, Bell appears to have a legitimate chance at posting back-to-back winning seasons, which the Catamounts have accomplished only once (7-5/7-4 under Mark Speir in 2014-15) since way back in 1994. After a 4-7 debut in 2021, Bell led WCU to a 6-5 record last year, and his 2023 Catamounts just posted one of the most impressive victories of Week Two, with the program’s first victory over a top-10 FCS opponent since 2005.

The 2022 Southern Conference champion, Samford visited Cullowee on Saturday with a #7 FCS national ranking and preseason co-favorite status (with Furman) in the SoCon, which the Catamounts have never won, despite being a member of the league since 1976.

WCU absolutely dominated the game, winning 30-7, holding the Bulldogs to only 46 yards on 23 rushing attempts, and sacking Samford QB Michael Hiers (the 2022 SoCon offensive player of the year) six times.

While the Catamounts have a solid nucleus of proven upperclassmen (e.g., senior tight end Ajay Belanger, junior safety Andreas Keaton, senior kicker Richard McCollum, junior defensive end Micah Nelson, senior left tackle Tyler Smith) this season, their biggest stars against Samford were Bell’s own recruits: sophomore quarterback Cole Gonzalez (29-of-35 passing for 262 yards and two touchdowns; 13 carries for a career-high 68 rushing yards), sophomore running back Desmond Reid (27 rushing attempts for 170 yards and a TD) and sophomore wide receiver/return man AJ Colombo (five receptions for 79 yards and a TD).

Gonzalez and Reid are among a whopping 43 WCU players from Bell’s home state of Florida, which is known for its top-level high school football and where Bell has countless connections from his childhood, playing days and various coaching stops.

“Three To See” In College Football (Week Three)

As we encourage you to check out our weekly Old North State Tailgate podcast, which drops every Friday night or Saturday morning during college football season and allows for additional discussion of last weekend’s results and this weekend’s upcoming action, we move on to one of our weekly features.

I call it “Three To See,” meaning three games that rank among those most worth watching this weekend, with of course a heavy dose of “state of North Carolina” and ACC angles, as you might guess or expect.

Believe it or not, there is not a single game — in all of college football this weekend — that matches a Top 25 team against another Top 25 team.

There were actually two Top 25 vs. Top 25 matchups last week, with #11 Texas going to Alabama and knocking off the #3 Crimson Tide, 34-24, in what turned out to be, unsurprisingly, the most-watched game of the entire college football weekend, with an average audience of 8.8 million viewers. Elsewhere, #20 Ole Miss beat #24 Tulane 37-20.

In Week One, #8 Florida State stomped #5 LSU in a head-to-head battle of teams ranked in the national top 10, which is always a rare treat, at least during college football’s regular season.

Again, this week, there are no such truly highest-profile games nationally.

Quick side note: If you’re curious about which CFB games — and which CFB teams — are drawing the largest TV audiences, an increasingly important category that has become a significant sort of currency, if you will, in major college athletics these days, please check out my weekly summaries of that topic. In those articles, you’ll see all the actual Nielsen TV and streaming numbers that show, for example, how the FSU-LSU, Clemson-Duke and UNC-South Carolina games made the ACC a huge national TV success story in Week One this season.

Moving on, here are our “Three To See” this week in college football, beyond the East Carolina-App State matchup in Boone, which we’ll discuss more thoroughly on our weekly Old North State Tailgate podcast, which again drops every Friday night or Saturday morning on our YouTube channel, which you can always find by simply clicking the “Watch” button here at

#1 — Minnesota (2-0) at #20 North Carolina (2-0), Sat., 3:30 pm, ESPN

Although Carolina barely survived App State last week, 40-34 in double overtime, the Tar Heels deserve credit for starting 2-0 even without seeing the best of their star quarterback, Drake Maye.

The primary reason UNC beat South Carolina in the opener was its defense, with the Heels sacking Gamecocks QB Spencer Rattler nine times, for Carolina’s best sack total in almost a quarter-century. The primary reason UNC beat App State last week was the Tar Heels’ running game, led by an offensive line that often dominated the Mountaineers, helping running back Omarion Hampton to various national and ACC accolades with his 26-carry, 234-yards, three-touchdown performance, which included a 68-yard TD run in the first quarter and, with the game on the line, a 17-yard TD run in the first overtime.

One of the reasons UNC coach Mack Brown and former Carolina offensive coordinator Phil Longo often clashed in recent years was that, from Brown’s perspective, Longo often called passing plays too frequently, even when the opposing defense was essentially daring the Tar Heels to run the ball. When Longo left Chapel Hill after last season to take the Wisconsin OC job, the move raised questions about why any offensive assistant would want to leave Carolina with Maye, a prominent NFL prospect at the most important position on the field, going into his final college season. In reality, though, neither Brown nor Longo was disappointed that their relationship came to an end last winter.

New UNC offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey, a product of the Gus Malzahn coaching tree and most recently the OC at Central Florida, is less “Air Raid”-minded than Longo and more in favor of a run-pass balance and “taking what the defense gives you.” Sure enough, Lindsey’s way ultimately paid off against App State, as the Tar Heels gained 319 yards and scored five touchdowns on their 45 rushing attempts, although it obviously was a very close call in a game that easily could have gone the other way.

Against 2-0 Minnesota, a well-coached team under PJ Fleck that has gone to four bowl games in the past five seasons and has won all four of those games, the Tar Heels (a seven-point favorite) likely will need another all-hands-on-deck performance to get to 3-0, and they likely will need the best performance yet from Maye, who is completing 73 percent of his passes but has only two TD throws so far this season.

Minnesota’s defense, which was a truly dominating unit two years ago, has started this season in that same vein, yielding an average of only eight points per game in its low-scoring victories over Nebraska (13-10) and Eastern Michigan (25-6).

If the Golden Gophers can limit the Tar Heels’ offense, it will be up to Carolina’s resurgent defense — brilliant against South Carolina but only so-so against App State — to exploit a Minnesota offensive unit that has a big-time tight end in Brevyn Spann-Ford and a big-time wide receiver in Chris Autman-Bell (who has been limited by injuries so far this season) but hasn’t found much chemistry overall through the Gophers’ defensively oriented 2-0 start.

#2 — Northwestern (1-1) at #21 Duke (2-0), Sat., 3:30 pm, ACC Network

These two schools are a lot alike — small, private, academically elite universities trying to compete in a sport that’s dominated mostly by large public institutions with, frankly, far less challenging academic standards such as Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Michigan, Ohio State, etc. — and right now the Wildcats have fallen on hard times on and off the field, while the Blue Devils (an 18-point favorite) are competing at a level college football fans haven’t seen from them often in, really, the last 60 years.

Duke has finished in the national Top 25 only once since 1962, and that was a decade ago, in 2013, under David Cutcliffe. If the Devils are going to do that again this year, they’re almost certainly going to have to beat Northwestern, because among their remaining opponents this season are more difficult opponents such as Notre Dame, NC State, Florida State, Louisville, Wake Forest, UNC and Pittsburgh. Duke could be a pretty good football team and still finish 8-4 or 7-5, which obviously wouldn’t be enough for a Top 25 finish.

Mike Elko, last year’s ACC coach of the year (and deservedly so, after the Blue Devils’ 9-4 campaign) is now 11-4 to begin his tenure in Durham, and that is the best start for any coach in Duke football history. That’s impressive, in part, because a very long time ago, Duke was actually a national power in football, so one might have guessed that Bill Murray, Eddie Cameron, Wallace Wade or another old-timer would have that particular record.

At #21 in the national rankings, the Blue Devils are back in the national Top 25 for the first time since 2018, which proved to be the program’s final winning season under Cutcliffe.

The Devils have an elite quarterback in Riley Leonard, two big-time offensive linemen in left tackle Graham Barton and guard/center Jacob Monk, quality depth at wide receiver (led by Jalon Calhoun) and running back, and a well-coached defense led by tackle DeWayne Carter and safety Jaylen Stinson. They’re flat-out better than Northwestern right now, and it would be surprising if they don’t show exactly that this weekend against the Wildcats.

#3 — #17 FCS NC Central (2-0) at #24 UCLA (2-0), Sat., 5 pm, Pac-12 Network

Should the Eagles of NC Central be expected to travel all the way across the country and beat UCLA at Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena? Of course not, but it could be a lot of fun to see them try.

The Old North State Tailgate stopped last Saturday in Greensboro, where Central’s dominating 30-16 win at North Carolina A&T in the annual “Aggie-Eagle Classic” did not require the Eagles to get too creative on offense, mainly because their defense limited the Aggies to only 207 total yards and 12 first downs. A kickoff return for a touchdown kept A&T in the game, and Central led only 17-16 at halftime, but it was clear all along that the Eagles were the better team.

It may be a challenge just to be competitive against the Bruins, who have been pretty good — and a bowl team — these last two years, and again early this season, under former NFL head coach Chip Kelly.

These two schools have never played in football, and it will be exciting for these Central players — and coach Trei Oliver — to get a chance to play in the Los Angeles area, and at one of college football’s most famous venues. Remember, too, that the Eagles have one of the greatest quarterbacks in school history on their side — the reigning MEAC player of the year, Davius Richard, who’s on the radar of NFL scouts — and they’re the defending HBCU national champions.

Our State’s Fascinating FCS-FBS History

While it’s usually hard to predict exactly when these upsets will happen, it’s important to remember that FCS teams beat FBS teams literally every year. In 2018, for example, right here in our backyard, North Carolina A&T beat East Carolina, 28-23.

This same FCS-over-FBS phenomenon already has happened three times this season, although not yet to any of the FBS teams in what can still be called the “Power Five” conferences for one more year, with the Pac-12 now in its final season as a top-tier league. However, that scenario — an FCS team beating a Power Five team — also happens every year.

In 2022, Southern Illinois beat Northwestern of the Big Ten. In 2021, Montana beat Washington of the Pac-12, and Jacksonville State beat Florida State of the ACC. The list goes on and on, with examples going all the way back to the 1970s, when the FCS level was known as the Division I-AA ranks.

Another important thing to remember is our state’s history, in particular, with these FCS-over-FBS stories.

The starting point, of course, is that a North Carolina-based team was responsible for the most famous victory ever by an FCS team over an FBS opponent. App State went to #5 Michigan and beat the Wolverines at the Big House in 2007, well before the Mountaineers made the jump to the FBS ranks.

Our state also is responsible for another of the most intriguing FCS-over-FBS stories in modern college football history. One must be of a certain age or older to remember this story, but anyone can appreciate it.

In 1984, Furman — a I-AA (now FCS) team from South Carolina — beat NC State of the ACC, 34-30. The very next year, in 1985, Furman not only beat the Wolfpack again, the Paladins stomped the Pack, 42-20.

The NC State administration, obviously disgruntled by those back-to-back losses but also inspired by the coach on the opposite sidelines, fired coach Tom Reed (whose career in Raleigh consisted of three consecutive 3-8 seasons) at the end of the 1985 season and almost immediately hired Furman coach Dick Sheridan, who after those back-to-back upsets victories over NC State went on to become one of the greatest head coaches in Wolfpack history.

The moral of that story? if you can’t beat him, hire him!

Finally, for anyone wondering, yes, the long-standing members of the FBS ranks in our state all have been bitten by the FCS bug at least occasionally in recent decades.

Duke has lost to Richmond three times in the last 20 years. The Wolfpack lost to East Tennessee State in the early years of the Sheridan era. UNC got trounced by Furman, 28-3, in 1999, during the Carl Torbush era, immediately after the incredible run by Brown’s teams for most of the 1990s. App State beat Wake Forest six times from 1983 to, most recently, 2000, more than a decade before the Mountaineers jumped to the FBS ranks.