It’s a quieter week in the Triangle, with Duke (2-0) hosting the mysterious Baylor (0-2) mess in Saturday’s biggest game. N.C. State (1-1) and North Carolina (0-2) should enjoy a step down in competition against Furman (0-2) and Old Dominion (2-0) respectively, and while the Tar Heels needed that more than the Wolfpack they’ll have to play the Monarchs on the road, which could be tricky. I went 3-0 last week (straight up, not against the spread) to move to 4-2 on the season.
Last week: “Still on course for 6-6 or better after the expected big-play bonanza against N.C. Central – which didn’t alter the Eagles’ position as MEAC favorite, although Howard’s win at UNLV certainly shifted the landscape. Northwestern is a mild favorite in Durham so this will be a perfect barometer of where the Blue Devils really stand and say a lot about how their season is going to go.”
This week: Did it ever. Duke’s complete domination of Northwestern suggested the Blue Devils have a little more in the tank than some might have suspected. Baylor has lost to Liberty and Texas-San Antonio but there’s no question there’s some talent on that roster. If Duke moves to 3-0, the Blue Devils could potentially think about getting to seven or eight wins, maybe even the Coastal title.
Saturday prediction: Duke 35, Baylor 10.
Last week: “ UNC will presumably be better on offense with Chazz Surratt taking most of the snaps. The Tar Heels can get themselves back on track with an upset, but more likely they’re looking at 1-2 going into the Duke game and hoping to get somewhere in the 6-6 neighborhood.”
This week: If the Tar Heels don’t get their defense straightened out, they’re going to be lucky to get to 6-6. The good news: They won’t see Lamar Jackson again unless it’s in the ACC title game. The defense wasn’t supposed to be this much of a concern this season, and if it doesn’t get to at least semi-mediocre the Tar Heels are going to end up 5-7. This week may not say much about that, but it is a chance for the defense to build some confidence – or lose whatever it still has.
Saturday prediction: North Carolina 40, Old Dominion 21.
Last week: “Based on the way N.C. State actually played, score notwithstanding, the situation isn’t that dire, but beating South Carolina certainly was supposed to be the first step toward a breakthrough season. The Wolfpack ramped up the degree of difficulty considerably. Putting up the same kind of giddy offensive numbers while excising the silly mistakes on both sides of the ball against Marshall would go a long way toward restoring confidence in an 8-4 or 9-3 finish.”
This week: After a dicey first half, the Wolfpack pulled away in the second half for a solid win. There are still issues with that need to be addressed, but N.C. State made plays when it needed to make plays to avoid the upset, and that has to be considered progress. All of that means 9-3 still remains within reach for the Wolfpack.
Saturday prediction: N.C. State 49, Furman 6.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock