Duke (1-2) at Notre Dame (1-2)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Notre Dame Stadium, Notre Dame, Ind.
TV/Radio: NBC, 99.3-WDNC, 620-WDNC
Notre Dame’s strength:
Here’s a hint: It’s not the Irish defense. Defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder has been under fire for the Irish’s 1-2 start. Notre Dame ranks 104th in total defense, has given up 32 points a game and six yards per play, and does not have a quarterback sack.
The offense, on the other hand, has been a strength, averaging 38 points. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, big and mobile, has passed for nine touchdowns and scored another four rushing. Sophomore running back Josh Adams is averaging 5.9 yards a carry and receiver Equanimeous St. Brown has 15 catches, averaging 16.2 yards a reception, and three TDs in the first three games.
Key theme: The Blue Devils are hoping to catch the Irish still stressing over a disappointing start that has all but ended their chances of reaching the college playoffs. Both teams have played sloppy football, their coaches say, and need to clean things up.
Duke played at Northwestern last Saturday, so has gone through the travel routine and has an earlier starting time this week. The Blue Devils have seen the game video of Michigan State winning at Notre Dame Stadium last week and how it was done. It’s a must-win game for the Irish, but sometimes that can work against a team. A win for Duke could be a season-changer.
Pitt (2-1, 0-0 ACC) at UNC (2-1, 0-0)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 106.1-WTKK
Pitt’s strength: The Panthers are strong where UNC is weak. Pitt averages 239 rushing yards per game, which ranks 20th nationally. UNC, meanwhile, has allowed 226.7 rushing yards, which ranks 106th. The return of Pitt running back James Connor, who missed last season while underdoing treatment for cancer, is among the best stories in college football this season. He could create havoc for the Tar Heels, who will also be challenged by Pitt’s reliance on the jet sweep with receiver Quadree Henderson.
Key theme: And so it begins, UNC’s defense of its ACC Coastal Division championship. Last year the Tar Heels’ victory at Pitt represented a significant step toward winning the division. The circumstances are no different this season: this is important to UNC’s hope of winning the Coastal. UNC hasn’t played particularly well -- and has struggled on defense, especially -- but there has been a sense that this, the ACC opener, represents a new start. The Tar Heels likely have to be at least decent against the run to emerge victorious.
ECU (2-1) at Virginia Tech (2-1)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
TV/Radio: ACCN Extra
Virginia Tech’s strength: Virginia Tech boasts the best passing defense in the country, giving up only 80 yards per game. And in all three games this season, the Hokies have held opposing quarterbacks to under 100 yards in the air, including nationally ranked Tennessee. Meanwhile, pass defense is what ECU does best. It ranks seventh in the country with 370 yards per game in the air. Virginia Tech is also good at forcing turnovers, which is a key reason ECU lost last week.
Key theme: It’s not often that a wide receiver catches 22 passes for 190 yards and his team still loses. But Zay Jones did that last week in ECU’s 20-15 loss against South Carolina. Although ECU racked up more than 400 passing yards, it couldn’t convert those yards into points. This week’s game against Virginia Tech could be much of the same. One of the nation’s top passing attacks versus one of the nation’s top passing defenses. Who knows how this one shake out.
Jonathan M. Alexander
Other area games
N.C. Central (1-2) at Norfolk State (1-2), 2 p.m., NCCU Sports Network, Price Stadium, Norfolk: N.C. Central will have another tough test on the road, but this one should be a little more manageable for the Eagles. Last year’s games against the Spartans in Durham was even until the fourth quarter when N.C. Central pulled away to win 24-16. N.C. Central’s strength is in its running game, led by running back Dorrel McClain. When that happens, it opens up the field for senior quarterback Malcolm Bell. The numbers don’t tell the story. Both teams have played teams that were either significantly better than them or they were significantly better than.
Bowie State (1-2) at Shaw (0-3), 1 p.m., Durham County Stadium, Durham: Bowie State high-power passing offense helped them finish first in the CIAA last year. The only game conference game they lost was the CIAA championship game. Shaw, which is still looking to get its first win under first-year head coach Adrian Jones, will have a tough game ahead of them.
Lincoln (1-2) at St. Augustine’s (0-3), 1 p.m., Durham County Stadium, Raleigh: St. Augustine’s did not have its best showing in its 65-7 loss against N.C. Central last week losing. But Lincoln isn’t N.C. Central. Lincoln finished towards the bottom of the CIAA last year with a 1-6 conference record. Its only win was against Shaw 20-10.
Butler (2-1) at Campbell (2-1), 6 p.m., 88.3-WUAW, Barker-Lane Stadium, Buies Creek: After losing to Presbyterian 31-14, Campbell will be looking to get back on track as it heads into conference play. But Campbell will have to stop the run to win. Something they struggled with against last week. Butler averages 211 rushing yards per game and has scored 11 touchdowns on the ground in three games.