DG’s Week 13 College Football Preview:
UNC-NC State in Raleigh, FCS/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.

When #2 Ohio State (11-0) visits #3 Michigan (11-0) on Saturday (noon, FOX), it not only will be one of the biggest matchups of the entire 2023 regular season, it will be a collision of the two winningest programs in college football history. The Wolverines hit the 1,000-victory mark just last weekend, and Ohio State sits at #2 all-time, with 964 wins.

Fun fact: Immediately before Michigan’s sign-stealing scandal, which has Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh serving his second suspension of the 2023 season, Ohio State had defeated UM 15 times in 16 attempts from 2004 through 2019, including recent shellackings by scores of 62-39 and 56-27. Lo and behold, since the scandal started, the Wolverines have won two straight; last year’s victory in Columbus was the Wolverines’ first road victory in the rivalry in 22 years.

Michigan is a three- or four-point favorite in this game, and the Wolverines are typically very tough on their home field, but most of America may be recruiting for the Buckeyes in this one.

Although neither Michigan nor Ohio State would be automatically 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 that Wolverines-Buckeyes 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 13 of college football season:

“Three To See,” Game #1

UNC (8-3) at #22 NC State (8-3), 8 pm, ACCN
(Visit our Tailgate Tour at Backyard Bistro from 5:30-7:30 pm)

Only one of these schools can have a truly special season, meaning a quality bowl game and a shot at a 10-win season, which has happened only once in the entire history of NC State football and has happened only once in the last 25 years at North Carolina. So, essentially, the Wolfpack and the Tar Heels — who, you may have heard, don’t like each other very much, especially when it comes to their fan bases — are standing in each other’s way.

Although UNC has dominated this rivalry historically, since the creation of the ACC in 1953, it’s pretty close to even, with 37 wins for the Tar Heels and 33 victories for the Wolfpack, and the Pack has won five of the last eight matchups played at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

This year, the strengths and weaknesses of both teams are very obvious and out there, on video and otherwise, for all the world to see.

UNC (a two-point favorite) has one of the best offenses in the ACC, a true star at each of the skill positions, with Drake Maye at quarterback, Omarion Hampton at running back, Tez Walker at wide receiver, Bryson Nesbit at tight end, etc. The Tar Heels are averaging 38 points per game, but they’re coming off their lowest output of the season, a 31-20 loss to Clemson at Death Valley.

The Tigers are #1 in the ACC in total defense, and the Wolfpack — led by stud linebacker Payton Wilson, a guy who originally committed to UNC as a high school player — is #3, so this week’s matchup for Carolina is very similar to last week’s matchup: on the road, in a hostile environment, against a confident, dominating, fire-breathing defensive opponent that also can be very inconsistent offensively.

The Wolfpack has won four in a row and is playing with sky-high confidence, even after the midseason jolt of starting quarterback MJ Morris’ decision to take a redshirt season.

This year’s original starting QB for the Wolfpack, Brennan Armstrong, is a very experienced and very tough guy who just had his best game of the season — 200+ passing yards with two TDs through the air, and 21 carries for 89 yards and two scores on the ground — in the Pack’s 35-28 victory at Virginia Tech. Freshman wide receiver KC Concepcion has been an amazing weapon for the Pack all season.

How will Carolina’s beleaguered defense, which played well early this season but has fallen apart at times more recently, handle Armstrong as a dual-threat QB and Concepcion as a big-play threat? That’s probably going to be the key to this game, and lately it hasn’t been wise to bet on Carolina’s defense to deliver anything of importance.

This game feels like two ships passing in the night, and they’re moving in opposite directions. Either coach Mack Brown and the Tar Heels will save their season or the Wolfpack will take one more step toward at least the possibility of coach Dave Doreen’s highest win total and finest season of his 11 years in Raleigh.

(NOTE: For further analysis of the State-Carolina game, rivalry and recent recruiting results, including a side-by-side breakdown of the schools’ top in-state 2023 contributors, please click here.)

“Three To See,” Game #2

#13 NC Central (9-2) at #25 Richmond (8-3), 2 pm, ESPN+

This is a fun story for several reasons.

First, this is NC Central’s first appearance in the FCS playoffs in the history of the program. Central was an NAIA school for decades, then it was a Division Two school for decades, and after the Eagles jumped into the FCS ranks in 2011, their best seasons ended up in the Celebration Bowl, which matches the MEAC champion against the SWAC champion each year. That meant that, even when the Eagles were really good, they would — by conference rule — play in the only FCS bowl game rather than accepting an invitation to the FCS playoffs.

This time, Howard won the MEAC title in a tiebreaker scenario, so it’s the Bison headed to the Celebration Bowl, which left Central as an outstanding candidate for an FCS at-large bid. So, this is an exciting opportunity to see, for the first time, how Central will compete on the biggest possible FCS stage.

Second, the Eagles still have a chance to have their best finish as an FCS member. They ended up #17 in the final coaches poll last year, after going 10-2 and winning the HBCU national championship. They’re at #13 in the coaches’ poll right now, so a win at Richmond probably would guarantee the best FCS poll finish in program history.

Finally, since Richmond is a member of the newly renamed Coastal Athletic Association, it’s worth mentioning that the Eagles already have played three CAA members this season … and they defeated all three! The Old North State Tailgate was there for the Aggie-Eagle Classic, when Central beat long-time rival North Carolina A&T 30-16 in Greensboro. The Eagles also edged Campbell 49-48 and won 34-23 on the road against a really tough Elon team.

As always, the main man to watch for Central is record-setting senior quarterback Davius Richard, one of the best players in school history. The Spiders (a six-point favorite), ranked #25 nationally, have won six games in a row, including against A&T, Campbell and Elon, and tied for first in the CAA standings with a 7-1 record.

“Three To See,” Game #3

Gardner-Webb (7-4) at #20 Mercer (8-3), 3 pm, ESPN+

Since Gardner-Webb made the jump from Division Two to the FCS level in 2000, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have won four Big South Conference championships, including these last two in a row, with the league in a gridiron partnership with the Ohio Valley Conference.

Gardner-Webb is led by 34-year-old Tre Lamb (please see his recent visit with the North Carolina Sports Network here), one of the youngest head coaches in the country, who 11 years ago was a three-year starter at quarterback for Tennessee Tech, as a player in the Ohio Valley Conference.

In 2020, Lamb took over a Gardner-Webb program that hadn’t won the league since 2003 and had never been to the FCS playoffs, and now he’s a Big South Coach of the Year (2022), and he has the Runnin’ Bulldogs in the postseason for the second year in a row.

Key players for the Runnin’ Bulldogs include fifth-year senior running back Narii Gaither, who has more than 3,000 career rushing yards, and senior defensive end Ty French, who is among the FCS leaders in tackles for loss.

Mercer (a three-point favorite), which is located in Macon, Ga., is making its first appearance in the FCS playoffs. The 20th-ranked Bears, who tied for second place in the Southern Conference, won a 45-38 shootout against a really exciting Western Carolina team in Cullowhee in late October.

“Three To See,” Bonus Game

#11 Lenoir Rhyne (11-1) at #4 Benedict (11-0), 1 pm, Hudl TV

First, let’s offer a shout-out to Lenoir-Rhyne coach Mike Jacobs, a former Ohio State offensive lineman and the 2023 South Atlantic Conference coach of the year. Over the course of his four years in Hickory, Jacobs gradually has turned the Bears back into the nationally prominent program they have been at times in the past. Remember, a decade ago, Lenoir-Rhyne played in the Division Two national championship game under coach Mike Houston, who’s now at East Carolina.

This year’s Bears are 11-1, their only loss was by four points to Wingate, they destroyed Tusculum 48-7 at their place in the South Atlantic Conference championship game, they opened this year’s trip to the playoffs last week with a 63-17 home annihilation of Shepherd, and their average score this season is an eye-popping 40-11.

Five of Lenoir-Rhyne’s many stars are defensive tackle Andre Jefferson, middle linebacker Jon Ross Maye, running back Dwayne McGee, offensive lineman Shane Wells and return specialist DeAree Rogers. All five were named to the All-SAC first team earlier this month.

Although the Bears have to go on the road this week, Benedict College is located only two and a half hours away from Hickory, in Columbia, S.C. An HBCU institution, Benedict () is 11-0 this season against almost entirely HBCU competition and ranked #4 nationally, although Lenoir-Rhyne has won both games in this rivalry, more than a decade ago, by lopsided margins.

For a more thorough discussion of the best 2023 college football seasons (so far) among North Carolina’s 33 NCAA programs, including those of UNC, NC State, NC Central, Gardner-Webb and Lenoir-Rhyne, please click here.

Week 13 ACC/NC College Football Schedule
(Saturday Unless Otherwise Indicated)


Miami (6-5) at Boston College (6-5), noon, ABC (Fri.)
Kentucky (6-5) at #10 Louisville (10-1), noon ABC
Pittsburgh (3-8) at Duke (6-5), noon, ACCN
Wake Forest (4-7) at Syracuse (5-6), 2 pm, CW
Tulsa (3-8) at East Carolina (2-9), 2 pm, ESPN+
Georgia Southern (6-5) at Appalachian State (7-4), 3:30 pm, ESPNU
Virginia Tech (5-6) at Virginia (3-8), 3:30 pm, ACCN
#5 Florida State (11-0) at Florida (5-6), 7 pm, ESPN
#1 Georgia (11-0) at Georgia Tech (6-5), 7:30 pm, ABC
#24 Clemson (7-4) at South Carolina (5-6), 7:30 pm, SECN
Charlotte (3-8) at South Florida (5-6), 7:30 pm, ESPNU
North Carolina (8-3) at #22 NC State (8-3), 8 pm, ACCN


#13 NC Central (9-2) at #25 Richmond (8-3), 2 pm, ESPN+
Gardner-Webb (7-4) at #20 Mercer (8-3), 3 pm, ESPN+

Division Two Playoffs

#11 Lenoir Rhyne (11-1) at #4 Benedict (11-0), 1 pm, Hudl TV