DG’s Week 12 College Football Preview:
UNC/NCSU/App Road Trips, D2 Playoffs
Top “3 To See” (National Highlights, Too!)

By David Glenn
North Carolina Sports Network

While everyone is encouraged to check out our weekly Old North State Tailgate podcast, which drops once a week during college football season and allows for a deeper dive into last weekend’s results and this week’s action, here is one of our weekly North Carolina Sports Network features, known as “Three To See,” meaning three games that rank among those most worth watching in the coming days, with a heavy dose of “state of North Carolina” and Atlantic Coast Conference angles, as one might guess or expect.

Nationally, at this time of year, the focus is mainly on the eight or nine programs that still have a credible chance to make the four-team College Football Playoff. This week’s schedule offers no head-to-head games between top-10 teams, but there are at least two intriguing matchups in which an undefeated team faces a challenging opponent on the road and thus risks falling from the dwindling ranks of the unbeaten.

As #5 Washington (10-0) heads to #11 Oregon State (8-2) on Saturday night, the Huskies actually are a one- or two-point underdog. As #1 Georgia (10-0) visits #18 Tennessee (7-3), the Bulldogs are a 10-point favorite. The only other Power Five teams with perfect seasons, #2 Ohio State (10-0), #3 Michigan (10-0) and #4 Florida State (10-0), face much less complicated challenges this week, against Minnesota (5-5), Maryland (6-4) and North Alabama (3-7), respectively.

Although neither Washington nor Georgia would be eliminated from the CFP race with a loss this weekend, it’s important to remember that the only way to essentially guarantee a playoff spot this year is to finish as a 13-0 conference champion. Right now, Georgia (SEC), Florida State (ACC), Washington (Pac-12) and the winner of next week’s Michigan-Ohio State showdown (Big Ten) remain in position to do exactly that.

In the previous nine years of the four-team CFP format, there was never a season with four undefeated Power Five champions, and that enabled many elite teams to have a regular-season “mulligan” loss without being eliminated. That may end up being the case this year, too, but for now every unbeaten team should assume that there’s no room for a “mulligan” this time.

Moving on, here are our “Three To See” during Week 12 of college football season:

“Three To See,” Game #1

#20 North Carolina (8-2) at Clemson (6-4), 3:30 pm, ESPN

Clemson has won five straight in this rivalry and 10 of the last 12 dating back to 1999, and it’s been 22 years since North Carolina won at Death Valley, where this week’s game is being played.

This is obviously not a vintage Clemson team, at 6-4, but the Tigers (a seven-point favorite this week) have played some of the best defense in the ACC all season long, and that’s what makes this such a fascinating matchup.

Carolina has the ACC’s highest-scoring offense, at approximately 40 points per game, and the Tar Heels have big-time talent everywhere you look at the skill positions on that side of the ball, from quarterback Drake Maye (likely a high first-round NFL pick) to running back Omarion Hampton (#2 nationally with 124 rushing yards per game) to wide receiver Tez Walker (sensational since becoming eligible at midseason) to tight end Bryson Nesbit (the ACC’s top pass-catcher at that position) and even others.

However, the Tigers’ front seven on defense is significantly better than Carolina’s offensive line, so there’s gonna be a lot of NFL-caliber talent on the field when UNC has the ball. Maye’s job is likely to be very difficult unless the Tar Heels somehow can provide some balance with their running game.

The harder-to-predict aspect of this game is how Clemson’s talented but inconsistent offense, led by talented but inconsistent young quarterback Cade Klubnik, will perform against a Carolina defense that started this season very well but has been gradually falling apart as the season has progressed.

The four teams that have beaten Clemson this season — Duke, FSU, Miami and NC State — all did it, in large part, by confusing and/or flustering Klubnick, and this UNC defense just hasn’t been making life difficult for opposing ACC quarterbacks over the last four weeks.

“Three To See,” Game #2

NC State (7-3) at Virginia Tech (5-5), 3:30 pm, ACCN

While it’s been easy for everyone in North Carolina to see that NC State has been playing its best football of the season lately, it may not be as obvious locally that Virginia Tech also is playing its best football of the season right now.

The Hokies have won four of their last six games, with the only losses being at Florida State and at Louisville, the two teams that likely will play each other in the ACC championship game. Tech has demolished Pittsburgh (38-21), Wake Forest (30-13), Syracuse (38-10) and Boston College (48-22) in its last four wins.

What changed for the Hokies? Everything, really. Dual-threat quarterback Kyron Drones has energized the Tech offense, and coach Brent Pry — formerly a very successful defensive coordinator at Penn State — has the Hokies playing as well on that side of the ball as at any other time in his two-year tenure in Blacksburg.

The keys to this game likely will be 1-whether State QB Brennan Armstrong and star wide receiver KC Concepcion can continue to make big plays for an often mediocre Wolfpack offense, and 2-how State’s recently dominant defense handles Drones. As well as the Wolfpack has played defensively this season, it hasn’t faced many dual-threat quarterbacks, the guys who can run for 100-plus yards one week but throw for 250-plus the next against a different opponent/alignment.

“Three To See,” Game #3

App State (6-4) at James Madison (10-0), 2 pm, ESPN+

ESPN’s College GameDay is in Harrisonburg, Va., for this one!

About a decade ago, Appalachian State was the prominent FCS program that made an incredibly successful transition to the FBS ranks, as the Mountaineers quickly became the most dominant program in the Sun Belt Conference, with four straight league titles in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Now James Madison is 10-0, 6-0 in Sun Belt play, in just its second season as an FBS/Sun Belt member. During their final eight years in the FCS ranks, the Dukes made eight straight playoff appearances and played in three national championship games, winning it all in 2016 under coach Mike Houston, who’s now the head coach at East Carolina.

Under fifth-year coach Curt Cignetti, a former NC State assistant (2000-06) under Chuck Amato who led Elon to back-to-back top-25 FCS finishes in 2017 and 2018 during his two seasons as the head coach of the Phoenix, JMU holds stunning records of 51-8 and 30-3 in conference play.

The 2023 Dukes have played several close games, including a 36-35 win at Virginia (now 2-8) early this season, before the Wahoos started playing better, so they are not perceived by most as an unstoppable, runaway freight train. They are, however, extremely well-coached, and they are among the Sun Belt’s leaders in both scoring offense (34 ppg/third) and scoring defense (18 ppg/second).

It’s certainly not going to be easy, and the Mountaineers are 10-point underdogs on the road, but it’s an incredibly exciting opportunity for App, which had its own thrilling College GameDay experience in Boone just last year.

P.S. Fourth-year coach Mike Jacobs has Lenoir-Rhyne 10-1 as it hosts 9-2 Shepherd on Saturday at Moretz Stadium in Hickory. With a victory, the Bears would reach the Sweet 16 and a second-round matchup against #1 seed Benedict (11-0), an HBCU program based in Columbia, S.C. That would be a reasonable road trip, as the two campuses are only about 120 miles apart (two-plus hours by car).

For a more thorough discussion of the best 2023 college football seasons (so far) among North Carolina’s 32 NCAA programs, including those of UNC, NC State, Duke, NC Central, Western Carolina, Gardner-Webb and Lenoir-Rhyne, please click here.

Week 12 ACC/NC College Football Schedule
(Saturday Unless Otherwise Indicated)


Boston College (6-4) at Pittsburgh (2-8), 7 pm, ESPN (Thurs.)
#9 Louisville (9-1) at Miami (6-4), noon, ABC
East Carolina (2-8) at Navy (4-5), noon, ESPNNews/ESPN+
Appalachian State (6-4) at James Madison (10-0), 2 pm, ESPN+
Rice (4-6) at Charlotte (3-7), 2 pm, ESPN+
Duke (6-4) at Virginia (2-8), 3 pm, CW
Wake Forest (4-6) at #18 Notre Dame (7-3), 3:30 pm, NBC
#20 North Carolina (8-2) at Clemson (6-4), 3:30, ESPN
NC State (7-3) at Virginia Tech (5-5), 3:30 pm, ACCN
North Alabama (3-7) at #4 Florida State (10-0), 6:30 pm, CW
Syracuse (5-5) at Georgia Tech (5-5), 8 pm, ACCN


#18 Western Carolina (7-3) at VMI (4-6), noon, ESPN+
Charleston Southern (4-6) at Gardner-Webb (6-4), 1 pm, ESPN+
Hampton (5-5) at Elon (5-5), 1 pm, FloSports
Campbell (4-6) at North Carolina A&T (1-9), 1 pm, FloSports
Delaware State (1-9) at #14 NC Central (8-2), 2 pm, ESPN+
Dayton (3-7) at Davidson (7-3), 7 pm

Division Two Playoffs

Shepherd (9-2) at #11 Lenoir-Rhyne (10-1), 1 pm, Hudl TV