UNC vs. Georgia
Kickoff: 5:30 p.m., Georgia Dome, Atlanta
TV/Radio: ESPN, 106.1-WTKK
Georgia’s strength: Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel comprise one of the nation’s best running back duos, though both are working their way back from injuries and Michel’s status is unclear. Chubb, who suffered a serious knee injury last October, will start. If he’s as good as he was pre-injury, that’d be bad news for UNC’s rushing defense, which is a significant question entering the season. Michel sustained a broken arm earlier in the summer and his status is in doubt. Regardless, expect Georgia to run and run some more until the Tar Heels prove they can slow it down.
Key theme: This is unquestionably UNC’s most important season-opener in years, and arguably among the most important in school history. Coming off of an 11-win season, UNC seeks to keep the momentum going and earn a signature victory that could extend well beyond the scope of this team and season. Mitch Trubisky is making his first (and long-awaited) start at quarterback and the Tar Heels’ offense should be able to put up points. Can UNC’s run defense, though, keep the Bulldogs in check? That could determine the outcome.
N.C. Central at Duke
Kickoff: 6 p.m., Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
TV/Radio: ESPN3, WDNC 99.3 FM, WDNC 620 AM
Central’s strength: The Eagles are 0-4 in the “Bull City Gridiron Classic” against Duke and were beaten 55-0 last year. Central, 8-3 last season after winning its last seven games, has 15 returning starters and is expected to contend for a third straight MEAC championship under fourth-year coach Jerry Mack. Eagles running back Dorrel McClain was the 2015 MEAC rookie of the year, rushing for 958 yards and eight touchdowns. Quarterback Malcolm Bell, a redshirt senior, started 11 games last season and is called the Eagles’ “trigger man” by Mack.
Key theme: The Blue Devils will play their first game in renovated and enlarged Wallace Wade Stadium, which has a new look that running back Jela Duncan called “big-time.” Duke will have a redshirt freshman, Daniel Jones, at quarterback but should rely on a strong running game and balanced offense to lessen the pressure on Jones to make big plays. Duke coach David Cutcliffe, looking ahead to a challenging schedule, hopes to get a lot of players into the game.
Western Carolina at East Carolina
Kickoff: 6 p.m., Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville
TV/Radio: ESPN3, WNCT-107.9
Western Carolina’s strength: Linebacking unit. The Catamounts have a pair of stud tacklers returning from last year’s 7-4 team in Daniel Riddle, who ranked among the top 10 linebackers in the FCS last season, and senior Tyson Dickson, who finished last season with 96 tackles, an average of 8.7 tackles per game. Together they pose a stiff challenge for ECU running back James Summers.
Key theme: The East Carolina debut for maligned journeyman quarterback Philip Nelson could be complicated by an experienced Western Carolina defense and sloppy weather conditions in Greenville. Nelson, a Minnesota transfer who was kicked out of Rutgers and hasn’t played in a real game since 2013, will quickly need to develop a rhythm with star receiver Zay Jones.
Other area games
St. Augustine’s at N.C. A&T, 6 p.m., Aggie Stadium, Greensboro: A remade St. Augustine’s team loaded with transfers will take on an N.C. A&T team that went 10-2 last year and has hammered Division II teams in the past.
Limestone at Shaw, 1 p.m., Durham County Memorial Stadium, Durham: Shaw’s new group of freshmen, including Bunn running back product Tevin Perry, will have an opportunity to start the season with a victory as they face a Limestone program sporting only four wins in their two years of existence.
Bluefield (0-1) at Campbell (0-0), 4 p.m., Barker-Lane Stadium, Buies Creek, WUAW-88.3: Campbell running back De’Shawn Jones, the leading rusher in the school’s history, sets off to reach his goal of a 2,000-yard season. Campbell’s Thursday night season opener against Bluefield was postponed until Saturday due to the weather. General admission tickets are free, excluding sections 103 and 104.