DG’s Week 8 College Football Preview:
Duke-Florida State, #4 Furman-#8 WCU
Top “3 To See” (Penn State-Ohio State, 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 of course a heavy dose of “state of North Carolina” and Atlantic Coast Conference angles, as one might guess or expect.

While the best national matchup this week is truly a sight to behold in Big Ten country, the focus below is on several ACC tilts and other games closer to home.

There is only one contest this week between top-10 FBS opponents, and it’s a whopper: #7 Penn State (6-0) at #3 Ohio State (6-0). There are only eight undefeated FBS teams remaining, and these are two of them, going head-to-head in Columbus. Obviously, this heavyweight clash carries with it major repercussions for both the Big Ten championship game and the four-team College Football Playoff picture.

The Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes have at least a few things in common, beyond their perfect records: elite defenses, lots of NFL prospects, truly dominant resumes (average scores this season: OSU 36-9, PSU 44-8) and a down-the-road matchup with Big Ten rival Michigan (also 6-0). Penn State will host the Wolverines in mid-November, while Ohio State will visit Michigan in the regular-season finale for both teams.

When the Buckeyes have the ball Saturday, they’ll have two probable future first-round NFL picks just at wide receiver, with Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka, and one of the guys covering for Penn State will be likely future first-round NFL cornerback Kalen King. When the Nittany Lions have the ball, they’ll have a probable future first-round NFL pick at left tackle in Olu Fashanu (6-6/317), and the Buckeyes have a likely future first-round pick in edge rusher in JT Tuimoloau. The possible man-to-man matchups here are fascinating.

P.S. The Buckeyes (a four-point favorite Saturday) have won 10 of the last 11 games in this rivalry, and Penn State hasn’t won in Columbus since 2011.

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

“Three To See,” Game #1

#16 Duke (5-1) at #4 Florida State (6-0), 7:30 pm, ABC

In the history of Duke football, which dates to 1888, there are only two opponents the Blue Devils have played at least a half-dozen times without posting even a single victory. Michigan is 6-0 all-time against Duke, and Florida State is — wait for it — 21-0 all-time against the Devils.

You read that correctly. Duke has never defeated Florida State, a fellow ACC member since 1992, on the gridiron. In fact, of those previous 21 matchups, 20 were blowouts, including the teams’ most recent clash, a 56-35 FSU win in Tallahassee. The only exception came in 2017, during the David Cutcliffe era at Duke, when the Blue Devils fell 17-10 in Durham to coach Jimbo Fisher’s final FSU team, which finished 7-6.

On both sides of the ball, there are intriguing angles in this year’s Duke-FSU tilt, which will be broadcast nationally in prime time on ABC.

When FSU has possession, it will be strength versus strength to an extreme degree. The Seminoles, who have a legitimate All-ACC candidate at every offensive skill position (QB Jordan Travis, RB Trey Benson, WR Keon Coleman/Johnny Wilson, TE Jaheim Bell) this season, have scored at least 30 points in 12 straight games; that’s the longest active streak in the ACC and the second-longest active streak in the nation. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, are one of only four teams in the entire country (along with #2 Michigan, #3 Ohio State and #7 Penn State) giving up fewer than 10 points per game.

When Duke has possession, will the Blue Devils’ star quarterback, Riley Leonard, even play? If so, could he possibly be close to 100 percent, after the nasty ankle injury he suffered Oct. 1 against Notre Dame, which caused him to miss the Devils’ game against NC State last week? Leonard is exactly the kind of dual-threat QB who can give the FSU defense fits, but he can cause those sorts of headaches for the Seminoles only if his ankle allows him to be as nimble as he was in Duke’s shocking, season-opening win over a Clemson team that since has shown it has one of the best defenses in the nation.

Leonard’s backup, strong-armed redshirt freshman Henry Belin IV, ran a little (five carries for 28 yards), threw a little (4-12 passing for 107 yards) and had two touchdown passes (along with an interception) in Duke’s 24-3 win over the Wolfpack, but Duke (a 14-point underdog) obviously is going to have to complete a lot more than four passes to have any chance of beating the Seminoles … for the first time ever.

“Three To See,” Game #2

#4 Furman (5-1) at #8 Western Carolina (5-1), 2:30 pm, ESPN+

This is arguably the biggest regular-season game in the history of Western Carolina football, and it’s definitely going to be a packed house in Cullowhee on Saturday afternoon.

(Quick side note, Part One: We hope folks will visit Mike Waddell and me at our Old North State Tailgate and Traveling Sports Circus setup next to Whitmire Stadium from noon-2 pm, in the hours leading up to this 2:30 kickoff, to talk football and perhaps throw some pigskins and win some cool prizes.)

When Western hired coach Kerwin Bell, the Catamounts were coming off a 2020 season in which they won only one game, and they hadn’t had a top-25 season since 1984. That’s almost 40 years ago now.

Nevertheless, legendary Duke and Florida coach Steve Spurrier — who once hired Bell as a graduate assistant with the Gators, where Bell was the SEC player of the year and an SEC champion in 1984 — not only recommended Bell for the Western head coaching job, he said at the time: “Kerwin will bring championships to Western Carolina.”

Keep in mind: Western has been a member of the Southern Conference since 1976, and the Catamounts have never won the SoCon championship in football. So talking about “championships,” in this particular context, is a pretty wild statement. But Spurrier knew that Bell won championships at Jacksonville, a non-scholarship FCS program, and he knew that Bell won championships — including the D2 national title in 2018— at Valdosta State, too.

Like Spurrier, Bell favors a precision passing game that’s complemented by an effective running game, and that’s exactly what the Catamounts have right now, in Year Three under Bell. They lead the Southern Conference and rank among the top five in the FCS ranks in scoring offense, at 41 points per game.

Three of the Catamounts’ key guys on offense are sophomores Bell signed straight out of the Florida high school ranks two years ago, before WCU’s turnaround: quarterback Cole Gonzales (the SoCon’s most efficient passer, with 255 yards per game, 14 TD passes and only two interceptions), running back Desmond Reid (the SoCon’s rushing leader with 141 yards per game and a league-leading 12 TDs) and wide receiver Censere Lee (22 receptions for 421 yards and six TDs).

Furman has won more SoCon football titles than any other school: 14, including six in eight seasons under former coach Dick Sheridan, who left for NC State after the 1985 season. Under seventh-year coach Clay Hendrix, who has taken the Paladins to three FCS playoff appearances, three top-25 finishes and one SoCon title during his tenure, this year’s Furman team has the #3 scoring offense (32 ppg) and the #1 scoring defense (22 ppg) in the league.

(Quick side note, Part Two: We hope our readers, viewers and listeners will check out my full interview with Coach Bell, our featured guest this week on the David Glenn Show. We delved into all sorts of topics related his playing days, Spurrier, his current team, his Florida recruiting pipeline, the transfer portal, many of his veteran players (who now have seen the worst of times and the best of times in Cullowhee) and how Bell has managed to put together this dramatic turnaround in just a three-year period. It’s an amazing, exciting, fascinating story, one we’ve thoroughly enjoyed covering here at the NC Sports Network.)

“Three To See,” Game #3

Charlotte (1-5) at East Carolina (1-5), 2 pm, ESPN+

Obviously, this matchup wasn’t selected for the same reasons that these other games are being featured this week. Both of these teams are struggling, especially on offense, where the quarterback play has been very poor, and both teams are almost certainly going to miss the postseason.

But right now there are at least three interesting and important contrasts between the circumstances of Charlotte coach Biff Poggi and East Carolina coach Mike Houston, who will enter Saturday’s game as a seven-point favorite:

#1-Poggi is in his first season with the 49ers, whereas Houston is in his fifth season with the Pirates.

Obviously, first-year head coaches deserve and typically receive lots of leeway, and most fans and almost all administrators give the new coach the benefit of the doubt when things go poorly at the beginning of his tenure.

On the other hand, fifth-year coaches get a lot less benefit of the doubt, for understandable reasons. By Year Five, all of a coach’s players are guys he and his staff recruited; especially in the transfer portal era, coaches need to evaluate their own talent level accurately, anticipate any gaping holes on their depth chart, and find transfers to fills those gaps while also continuing to sign and develop players from the high school ranks.

Houston probably deserves the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his on-field coaching. Just look at his track record at Lenoir-Rhyne, The Citadel, James Madison and even ECU, where he inherited a train wreck from coach Scottie Montgomery but has taken the Pirates to back-to-back bowl games. Even this season, the Pirates’ defense and special teams look pretty solid; their horrific offense is just dragging the rest of the program down in every possible way.

However, this is the first time in Houston’s entire head coaching career that he’s been at the same place for five seasons, and the results here in Year Five in Greenville are extremely disappointing so far. When the worst season on your entire resume comes with the first team you’ve ever had that’s comprised almost entirely of your own recruits, that’s definitely a red flag.

#2-Perception can be as important as reality in many contexts, and this is one of them. Even if this season continues in a bad direction, which is likely, the perception of Charlotte football is that it is pointed in the right direction. The perception of ECU football is that it has stalled or is even in a long-term decline.

The Charlotte football program was rebooted only 10 years ago, the 49ers have been to only one bowl game in their entire existence, and yet the school got a nice football-related promotion this year, jumping from Conference USA into the American Athletic Conference.

East Carolina, on the other hand, has been bypassed repeatedly by the Big 12 and all other major conferences during the expansion/realignment era. Yes, the Pirates jumped from CUSA to the American in 2014, but now they’re in the process of posting their seventh losing record in their 10 years as an AAC member. When you compare that slide to ECU’s peaks in 1991 and 1995, or even coach Skip Holtz’s back-to-back Conference USA titles in 2008 and 2009, everything feels even worse in Greenville, relatively speaking.

#3-Poggi, at his press conference this week, basically threw himself on the proverbial sword, stating clearly that everything with Charlotte football starts with him, and he feels as if he’s let everyone down, and he’s doing some soul-searching, and he admires the attitude and effort of his players even through this ugly 1-5 start, etc. Poggi is a bold, aggressive, in-your-face talker most of the time, and he has a very hard-nosed persona, but he really looked genuinely apologetic this week, and that sort of public humility may allow the Charlotte fan base to see a different side of him, in a good way.

Meanwhile, Houston spent part of this past week trying to explain his way out of punting on fourth-and-two late in the Pirates’ loss to SMU last Thursday night in their national TV game on ESPN.

Did that decision cost him the game? No. ECU’s offense is so bad that there was no way the Pirates were going to come back and win that game. But the optics of that punt, at a school where coach Steve Logan famously screamed, “At East Carolina, you go for it every time,” just left Houston in a backpedaling mode with the media and his fan base that doesn’t do him any favors, especially when the backdrop to it all is a 1-5 start and likely his third losing season in five years.

Also Worth Noting

Virginia (1-5) at #10 North Carolina (6-0), 6:30 pm, CW

Nobody in the ACC is upset-proof, as Louisville (previously 6-0) reminded everyone with its 38-21 loss at struggling Pitt last week, but North Carolina has a few things going for it that haven’t been the case with other recent UNC teams that started well, including last year’s Tar Heels, who were 9-1 in mid-November but finished 9-5.

First, Carolina hasn’t just been defeating opponents; the Tar Heels have been gradually squeezing the hope out of almost all of their opponents (Appalachian State was the exception), such that by the start of the fourth quarter, there’s virtually no doubt who is going to win the game. Last year, UNC posted the first 6-0 record in true road games in program history, but all six of those wins were in one-possession, nailbiter-type games. This year, the Heels are the only team in the country that has posted double-digit victories over five Power Five conference opponents.

Second, this Carolina team has at least one legitimate first-team All-ACC contender in virtually every position group, including Drake Maye (ACC-best 317 passing yards and 348 total offense yards per game) at quarterback, Omarion Hampton (ACC-best 110 rushing yards per game and ACC-best nine touchdowns) at running back, Kent State transfer Tez Walker (six receptions for 132 yards and three TDs versus Miami) at wide receiver, Bryson Nesbit (17 catches for 182 yards and two TDs) at tight end, Kaimon Rucker (ACC-best 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks) at defensive end, both Cedric Gray (#3 among ACC tacklers, countless big plays) and Power Echols (Associated Press midseason All-American team; Pro Football Focus’ #2 ACC LB) at linebacker, and East Tennessee State transfer Alijah Huzzie (strong tackling, impressive coverage skills, multiple big plays and infectious confidence) in the secondary. The Tar Heels have much more quality depth than they did last year, too.

Third, the Tar Heels are much more balanced between offense and defense here in 2023. Last year, Carolina’s offense ranked among the ACC leaders by averaging 34 points per game, but its defense was mostly horrible, yielding a league-worst 31 points per game. This season, the Heels again rank near the top of the conference by scoring 37 points per game, but they also have soared all the way up to sixth in scoring defense, at 21 just points per game.

Virginia (a 23-point underdog) had the best of this rivalry from 1983-2009, during which the Cavaliers posted a 20-6-1 record against the Tar Heels, but Carolina has won nine of the last 13 against the Wahoos and appears to be the much better team again this year.
Week 8 ACC/NC College Football Schedule
(Saturday Unless Otherwise Indicated)


Boston College (3-3) at Georgia Tech (3-3), noon, ACCN
Charlotte (1-5) at East Carolina (1-5), 2 pm, ESPN+
Pittsburgh (2-4) at Wake Forest (3-3), 3:30 pm, ACCN
Virginia (1-5) at #10 North Carolina (6-0), 6:30 pm, CW
Appalachian State (3-3) at Old Dominion (3-3), 7 pm, NFLN
#17 Duke (5-1) at #4 Florida State (6-0), 7:30 pm, ABC
Clemson (4-2) at Miami (4-2), 8 pm, ACCN
Open Week: #21 Louisville (6-1), NC State (4-3), Syracuse (4-3), Virginia Tech (3-4).


#10 NC Central (5-1) at Morgan State (1-4), 7:30 pm, ESPNU (Thurs.)
Valparaiso (1-5) at Davidson (4-2), 1 pm
Richmond (4-3) at North Carolina A&T (1-5), 1 pm, FloSports
Monmouth (3-3) at Elon (3-4), 2 pm, FloSports
#3 Furman (5-1) at #14 Western Carolina (5-1), 2:30 pm, ESPN+
Maine (2-5) at Campbell (3-3), 4 pm, FloSports
Eastern Kentucky (3-3) at Gardner-Webb (2-4), 6 pm, ESPN+

Division Two

Mars Hill (5-1) at Carson-Newman (3-4), 1 pm
UNC Pembroke (4-3) at West Virginia Wesleyan (0-6), 1 pm
Saint Augustine’s (0-7) at Winston-Salem State (3-4), 1:30 pm
Johnson C Smith (5-2) at Fayetteville State (5-2), 2 pm
Wingate (4-3) at Barton (5-2), 2 pm
Catawba (3-4) at Limestone (4-3), 2 pm
Elizabeth City State (1-6) at #20 Virginia State (7-0), 2 pm
#10 Lenoir-Rhyne (7-0) at Newberry (4-3), 4 pm
Shaw (2-5) at Livingstone (2-5), 4 pm
Chowan (0-7) at Mississippi College (2-4), 7 pm

Division Three

Southern Virginia (1-5) at North Carolina Wesleyan (2-4), noon
Methodist (1-5) at Belhaven (6-0), noon
Huntingdon (5-2) at Greensboro (0-7), noon
Guilford (2-4) at Ferrum (2-4), 3:30 pm
Open Week: Brevard (4-3).