DG’s Week 5 College Football Preview:
Notre Dame-Duke, Louisville-NC State,
Huge FCS Matchup Lead “Three To See”

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 NCSportsNetwork.com features, known as “Three To See,” meaning three games that rank among those most worth watching over these next three days, with of course a heavy dose of “state of North Carolina” and ACC angles, as one might guess or expect.

Unlike last week, when it would have been ridiculous to ignore the Colorado-Oregon, Ohio State-Notre Dame and Florida State-Clemson games on the national schedule, which all ended up providing plenty of drama and produced absolutely enormous TV audiences, this week’s focus returns to some compelling matchups much closer to home.

Briefly, the best national matchups this week — besides Notre Dame-Duke (discussed in detail below) here in our backyard — include #1 Georgia (4-0) at 3-1 Auburn, #8 Southern Cal (4-0) at 3-1 Colorado (aren’t most still curious about that one?) and #24 Kansas (4-0) at #3 Texas (4-0). With each passing week, there will be fewer and fewer opportunities to see an unbeaten team go head-to-head against another unbeaten team, so while many expect the Longhorns to hammer the Jayhawks, their combined 8-0 records offer at least some intrigue.

OK, moving on, here are the “Three To See” here in Week Five of college football season:

“Three To See,” Game #1

4-1 Notre Dame (#11) at 4-0 Duke (#17), Sat., 7:30 pm, ABC

When Duke hosted Clemson in that Labor Day Night season opener on national TV, the Blue Devils were a 13-point underdog before posting a victory that stunned the college football world. Against Notre Dame, which just went toe-to-toe with #4 Ohio State before losing on the final play of the game, the Devils are only a six-point underdog.

That’s a massive sign of respect toward Duke football, and it’s a reflection of what coach Mike Elko has built, in a very short period of time, in Durham. Is Notre Dame the more talented team overall? Probably. Could the Devils win anyway? Sure they could.

Remember, Duke has posted a top-25 season only one time in the last 60 years, back in 2013 under coach David Cutcliffe. The 17th-ranked Blue Devils now have a legitimate chance to do that again this year, and a win over #11 Notre Dame obviously would be a huge step in that direction.

This game is worth watching, in part, because each team has a truly outstanding quarterback.

Former Wake Forest star Sam Hartman, a sixth-year senior who left the Demon Deacons in part because he wanted to run a pro-style offense to prepare him better for the NFL, leads the 4-1 Fighting Irish, who likely will try to run the ball down the Blue Devils’ throats and then get Hartman to complement that ground-and-pound approach with his well-developed passing prowess.

Riley Leonard, a Cutcliffe signee, is a junior in his second season as Duke’s starter. Hartman runs a little bit but is more of a thrower; Leonard is definitely a dual-threat QB, as he showed with some huge plays in the Devils’ win over Clemson. Through four games, Leonard actually has thrown for less than 200 yards per game, which ranks him only 12th in the ACC, but he also is among the top 12 rushers in the ACC, at about 60 yards per game, on a list that obviously is dominated by, you know, running backs!

Both Notre Dame and Duke have played truly great defense all season. Both teams have dominated their opponents in their four victories. Duke’s average score so far this year is a stunning 37-9. Duke even beat its toughest opponent, Clemson, by a 28-7 margin. Notre Dame lost 17-14 to Ohio State last week but beat its next-toughest opponent, NC State, pretty handily in Raleigh, 45-24.

If Duke has an edge in this game, it may be on special teams. Porter Wilson is an elite punter, Todd Pelino has kicked some long field goals, and veteran wide receiver Jalon Calhoun is really dangerous on punt returns.

The biggest challenge for the Blue Devils likely will be that Notre Dame has an absolutely enormous, athletic offensive line, including a future first-round NFL pick in left tackle Joe Alt. Running back Audric Estime, a 5-11, 225-pounder, is a really tough, rugged guy who ran for 134 yards against a very solid NC State defense, including an 80-yarder for a TD. One guarantee in this game is that the Irish will keep pounding Duke with their tailbacks unless and until the Devils can slow that down.

The big questions: How will Duke’s front seven hold up against the best offensive line they’ve faced this season, and maybe in their entire college careers? Can they pressure Hartman on passing plays? Can they slow Estime and the running game?

The Blue Devils have four very experienced guys on the defensive line, including our recent guest DeWayne Carter at one of the tackle positions, but they’re going to need their linebackers to make a lot of plays, too, if they’re going to pull another upset.

“Three To See,” Game #2

4-0 Louisville at 3-1 NC State, Fri., 7 pm, ESPN
OLD NORTH STATE TAILGATE (4-6:30 pm; Backyard Bistro)

The Wolfpack, which struggled against lowly Virginia before winning a 24-21 squeaker against the Wahoos in Charlottesville last week, is a three-point underdog at home against Louisville in this national spotlight game.

Two quick side notes: #1-Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren is 75-55 in his 11 years at NC State, and he’s only two wins away from tying legendary coach Earle Edwards as the program’s all-time wins leader; #2-NFL legend Bill Cowher, the only former NC State player in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, will be on hand at Carter-Finley Stadium, as he’ll be officially inducted into the Wolfpack’s Ring of Honor between the first and second quarters of this game.

The Cowher angle is worth mentioning, in part, because it’s crystal-clear how much virtually everyone in Wolfpack Nation admires, respects, reveres and loves him. The Pack fans in attendance are going to be very loud and supremely supportive as Cowher officially joins the school’s other gridiron immortals.

That same Wolfpack Nation — one of the loudest and most passionate fan bases I’ve seen in my 37 years covering college sports — may have to be part of the solution during live action, too, if the Pack is going to beat the unbeaten Cardinals. This week’s visitors to Raleigh have been absolutely scorching their opponents offensively under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, the former Louisville quarterback lured back home after some successful years as the head coach at Purdue in the Big Ten.

There’s no getting around Louisville’s offensive numbers. They’re just crazy-good. Louisville is averaging 43 points per game through its 4-0 start against Georgia Tech (a 39-34 win), Murray State (a 56-0 blowout), Indiana (a 21-14 grinder) and Boston College (a 56-28 demolition).

Statistically, for now, the Cardinals actually have the best rushing offense in the ACC (led by brilliant running back Jawhar Jordan, who is averaging an ACC-best 120 yards per game and — get this — almost 10 yards per carry) and the best passing offense in the ACC. The latter is led by sixth-year senior quarterback Jack Plummer, a guy who spent four years learning Brohm’s system at Purdue before starring last season at Cal, and Georgia State transfer wide receiver Jamari Thrash, who is #2 among all ACC pass-catchers at 100 yards per game.

As one might have guessed by now, Louisville leads the ACC in total offense, at 542 yards per game, and the Cardinals rank among the top 10 teams nationally in both points per game and yards per game.

Obviously, it’s a lot harder to run your offense when you can’t hear each other — that’s where Wolfpack Nation comes in — and it’s a lot harder to run your offense against a strong defense. While State has had plenty of problems and complications offensively, it’s actually been a pretty solid team on defense, and the Wolfpack may present the toughest defense Louisville has faced so far this season.

One possible equation for an NC State victory goes this way: Wolfpack Nation + Tony Gibson’s Defense = create turnovers, plant a seed of doubt in your opponents’ heads (this is just Louisville’s second game away from home; the first was the nail-biter against Georgia Tech at the Atlanta Falcons’ NFL stadium), give Pack quarterback Brennan Armstrong decent field position, and maybe even score on defense to take some pressure off an offense that hasn’t been able to “click” consistently so far this year.

State has a really solid starting defensive line in Davin Vann, CJ Clark and Savion Jackson. The Wolfpack also has a heat-seeking missile at linebacker in Payton Wilson, an All-ACC caliber player, and another star in cornerback Ayden White. The Pack has had an unfortunate number of injuries, especially at safety, which complicates things, but it’s a talented and pretty effective group overall.

The Wolfpack has won 17 of its last 19 games at Carter-Finley Stadium. Friday night’s game versus Louisville is being called a “BLACK OUT” game for the Pack, whose players will wear black uniforms with glow-in-the-dark numbers, cleats and gloves. Maybe that, like Cowher’s honor, also will add to the electricity and noise at Carter-Finley.

Last thing: Louisville is not a great defensive team.

Clearly, Armstrong needs more help from every direction on the Wolfpack’s struggling offense right now. In a traditional offense, it’s never a great sign when your quarterback leads the team in rushing, as Armstrong does for now.

Other than right tackle Timothy McKay, the line hasn’t been great. At tailback, original starter Jordan Houston already has left the team, apparently over playing-time issues. His successor, freshman Kendrick Raphael, then went down with an injury. Can sophomore Michael Allen be part of the solution? Someone else? At wide receiver, freshman KC Concepcion, a talented guy who opened many eyes in the preseason, had a break-out game at UVa, with six catches for 116 yards and two TDs. WR/KR Julian Gray also has made some big plays in recent weeks.

It likely would take the proverbial team effort, but the Wolfpack has a great chance to put an end to Louisville’s winning streak.

“Three To See,” Game #3

4-0 William & Mary (#4 FCS) at 2-2 Elon, Sat., 2 pm, FloSports
OLD NORTH STATE TAILGATE (11 am-1:30 pm; Rhodes Stadium)

Both of these teams are undefeated in Coastal Athletic Association play. The Phoenix was a top-25 squad and an FCS playoff team last year and may prove to be exactly that again this season. The Tribe, given its #4 ranking, obviously is considered among the top FCS teams in the nation as it visits Rhodes Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

When Elon made the FCS playoffs last year, that was just its fourth trip there in school history, and now the Phoenix is 13-5 in its last 18 CAA games, which is a tribute to coach Tony Trisciani and his staff. Trisciani has been a part of three of Elon’s four all-time FCS playoff appearances — two as the Phoenix’s defensive coordinator under Curt Cignetti (now the head coach at James Madison, which has made the jump to the FBS ranks), then last year as the Phoenix’s head coach.

Last season, under former UVa head coach Mike London, William & Mary went 11-2, won the CAA, made the FCS playoff quarterfinals and finished #8 in the national FCS rankings. This summer, the Tribe was named the preseason favorite in the CAA, in a vote of the league’s head coaches.

London is in Year Five at William & Mary. Trisciani is in Year Five as the head coach at Elon, again after serving as its defensive coordinator for the previous two seasons.

Jalen Hampton, a Virginia Tech transfer, clearly has found a home at Elon. He was third-team All-CAA last season, and he’s been outstanding again this year, including with 33 carries for 169 yards and four touchdowns in the Phoenix’s 28-24 win at Campbell last week. Senior wide receiver Jordan Bonner (formerly of Purdue), tight end Johncarlos Miller II (from Greensboro Dudley High School), WR/KR Chandler Brayboy and senior S/PR Bo Sanders are among the other key guys to watch for the Phoenix.

William & Mary has a dual-threat quarterback in Darius Wilson, a big-time running back in Bronson Yoder and nine starters back from an offense that was third in the FCS ranks in rushing and averaged 34 points per game last year. Defensively, during its 4-0 start, the Tribe gave up only 10 points per game.

Here’s a probable Key To The Game in this one: William & Mary likely will stack the line of scrimmage defensively against Elon, knowing the damage that Hampton and that Phoenix rushing attack can do. Will Elon quarterback Matthew Downing or one of his backups be able to make the Tribe pay for that tactic?

We’ll find out on Saturday afternoon.

ACC/NC Week Five Football Schedule
(All games Saturday unless otherwise noted)


Louisville (4-0) at NC State (3-1), 7 pm, ESPN (Fri.)
Clemson (2-2) at Syracuse (4-0), noon, ABC
Virginia (0-4) at Boston College (1-3), 2 pm, CW
Bowling Green (1-3) at Georgia Tech (2-2), 3:30 pm, ACCN
East Carolina (1-3) at Rice (2-2), 7 pm, ESPN+
#11 Notre Dame (4-1) at #17 Duke (4-0), 7:30 pm, ABC
Charlotte (1-3) at SMU (2-2), 7:30 pm, ESPNU
Pittsburgh (1-3) at Virginia Tech (1-3), 8 pm, ACCN
Appalachian State (2-2) at Louisiana-Monroe (2-1), 8 pm, ESPN+
Open Week: Florida State, Miami, North Carolina, Wake Forest


San Diego (1-3) at Davidson (2-2), noon
North Carolina A&T (0-3) at Norfolk State (2-2), 2 pm, ESPN+
#4 William & Mary (4-0) at Elon (2-2), 2 pm, FloSports
#21 Western Carolina (3-1) at The Citadel (0-4), 2 pm, ESPN+
Campbell (2-2) at #13 NC Central (3-1), 4 pm, ESPN+
Open Week: Gardner-Webb.

Division 2

Wheeling (3-1) at UNC Pembroke (2-2), noon
Mars Hill (3-0) at Limestone (2-2), noon
Virginia State (4-0) at Shaw (1-3), 1 pm
Virginia Union (3-1) at St Augustine’s (0-4), 1 pm
Fayetteville State (2-2) at Bluefield State (1-3), 1 pm
Johnson C Smith (3-1) at Elizabeth City State (1-3), 1 pm
Valdosta State (4-0) at Chowan (0-4), 1 pm
Winston-Salem State (2-2) at Lincoln-PA (1-3), 1 pm
Barton (3-1) at Tusculum (2-2), 2 pm
UVa-Wise (1-3) at #15 Lenoir-Rhyne (4-0), 2 pm
Bowie State (3-1) at Livingstone (0-4), 4 pm
Erskine (0-4) at Wingate (2-2), 6 pm
Emory & Henry (2-2) at Catawba (2-2), 6 pm

Division 3

Belhaven (3-0) at UNC Wesleyan (0-3), noon
Randolph-Macon (3-0) at Guilford (2-1), 1 pm
Methodist (0-4) at Huntingdon (3-1), 1 pm
Brevard (1-3) at Greensboro (0-4), 2 pm