Georgia Tech (5-3) at No. 18 North Carolina (6-2)
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
TV/Radio: ACC Network, 106.1 WTKK-FM
Georgia Tech’s strength: As always in coach Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense, the running game is the priority, and it has been successful. The Yellow Jackets are 17th nationally in rushing offense, which many teams would happily accept. But not many teams base their entire offense around the run, and so No. 17 is a relatively average ranking for Georgia Tech, which has consistently been among the top 10 teams nationally in rushing during Johnson’s tenure. The Yellow Jackets’ greatest strength is probably that it has Justin Thomas at quarterback. Now in his third season as the starter, Thomas knows the intricacies of the offense and he produces. In addition to what he’s doing as a runner (about 60 yards per game), he’s averaging a career-high 9.8 yards per pass attempt.
Key theme: Welcome to November, and the stretch run of the college football season. UNC enters the final month of the regular season with hope of winning the ACC’s Coastal Division. To make that goal a reality, the Tar Heels essentially can’t lose another conference game, and they need Virginia Tech, which beat UNC earlier this season, to lose at least once. The Tar Heels are healthier and should be well-rested after their off weekend last week. UNC on Saturday will attempt to put an end to an odd streak. Under coach Larry Fedora, the Tar Heels are 0-2 against Georgia Tech when UNC is coming out of an off week.
No. 23 Virginia Tech (6-2) at Duke (3-5)
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m., Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 620 WDNC-AM
Virginia Tech’s strength: Virginia Tech’s defense has been historically good. While Justin Fuente is a first-year head coach, defensive coordinator Bud Foster is in his 30th year with the team. The Hokies are ranked high in several ACC defensive categories. They have the fourth best defense in the conference, 15th in the nation. Virginia Tech is No. 1 in third-down defense, second in pass defense efficiency and fifth in rushing defense, allowing 3.2 rushing yards per attempt.
Key theme: The stakes are high for both teams for very different reasons. Virginia Tech wants to maintain some control of the Coastal Division, where it is undefeated. Duke hopes to keep its bowl dreams alive with a victory, which would be its first against Virginia Tech in Durham since 1981. The Devils have been to a school record four consecutive bowl games. Duke’s final stretch is a tough one, as it’s playing at Wallace Wade for the first time in nearly a month. The Blue Devils have already avoided a three-game losing streak once this season, going into Notre Dame, where they won, 38-35. They look to do the same thing Saturday against a ranked Hokies club.
No. 19 Florida State (5-3) at N.C. State (4-4)
Kickoff: 7 p.m., Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh
TV/Radio: ESPNU, 101.5 WRAL-FM
FSU’s strength: Junior running back Dalvin Cook leads the ACC with 1,069 rushing yards. He had 138 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-17 win over the Wolfpack last year in Tallahassee.
Key theme: Who wants to be here? FSU has three ACC losses – or the same number it had in the 2012, ’13 and ’14 seasons combined. So how interested are the Seminoles in beating N.C. State in an otherwise meaningless game?
N.C. State (4-4) can’t quite get back to the form that pushed Clemson to the brink of the biggest win of Dave Doeren’s tenure. A confounding home loss to Boston College followed a no-show loss at Louisville. Can the Wolfpack get it together to snap a nine-game losing streak to ranked teams?
East Carolina (3-5) at Tulsa (6-2)
Kickoff: 8 p.m., Skelly Field at H.A. Chapman Stadium, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
TV/Radio: ESPNews, 107.9 WNCT-FM
Tulsa’s strength: Tulsa can score in bunches, averaging 41.9 points per game. The Golden Hurricanes are a run first team, led by running backs senior James Flanders (899 yards) and junior D’Angelo Brewer (793). Both will likely finish the season with 1,000 yards rushing.
Key theme: East Carolina got a win against Connecticut last weekend to end a five-game slump. But to beat Tulsa, ECU must stop the run and find Zay Jones, who finished the last game with 19 catches for 185 yards and a touchdown. While Tulsa puts up a lot of points, it also gives up 31.9 points per game.
The Pirates have to take care of the ball. They did that last week against Connecticut and won 41-3. This game could be a shootout.
Jonathan M. Alexander
Other area games
N.C. Central (6-2) at Delaware State (0-8), 2 p.m., NCCU Sports Network, Alumni Stadium, Dover, Delaware: N.C. Central is coming off a bye week and has won six straight games. Delaware State has not been good this year. But Eagles quarterback Malcolm Bell was knocked out of the game two weeks ago with a head injury. It’s uncertain whether he’ll play, but N.C. Central coach Jerry Mack has faith in backup quarterback, freshman Naiil Ramadan, if Bell can’t go.
Shaw (1-8) at St. Augustine’s (2-7), 1 p.m., 88.9 WSHA-FM, George Williams Athletic Complex, Raleigh: This in-town showdown will be dubbed the “The Raleigh Classic.” These two teams have a lot in common. Both have first-year head coaches and are trying to turn their programs around. And both have yielded similar results this season. But Shaw has picked up steam in recent weeks. The Bears won their first game of the season two weeks ago against Johnson C. Smith, then gave CIAA powerhouse Winston-Salem State a scare. St. Augustine’s has won two games this year, but the Falcons are coming off a 34-8 loss to Johnson C. Smith.
Davidson (2-7) at Campbell (3-4), 4 p.m., 88.3 WUAW-FM, Barker-Lane Stadium, Buies Creek: What looked like a promising season for Campbell has turned sour. After winning three of their first four games, the Camels are now riding a three-game losing streak. The Wildcats won their first two games before losing their next seven. Campbell’s senior running back DeShawn Jones leads the team with nine touchdowns.