It turns out there’s a whole lot riding on this final week of games for everyone, to the point where it’s going to be impossible to make a full assessement of anyone’s season without these results. The exception to that might be North Carolina, which has endured a difficult, disappointing season, but a win over N.C. State would certainly give the Tar Heels something to feel good about when they look back.
For N.C. State, the difference between 8-4 and 7-5 is massive, given the potential this team had at midseason to do something special, to say nothing of the rivalry with North Carolina. And Duke still has a chance to get to 6-6, which was really the most important thing for the Blue Devils this season, to get back to bowl eligibility, even though it won’t be easy.
With all that on the line, now’s the time to look back at Week 1 and see how things panned out for everyone based on where they started the season.
With one week to go, I still have a chance to finish above .500 against the spread after going 2-1 last week and 2-1 overall. On the season, I’m 27-9 straight up, 19-15-2 against the spread. Today’s bonus prediction, Memphis 48, East Carolina 21.
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Week 1 best-case scenario: “Given an offseason to prepare, quarterback Daniel Jones emerges as the fulcrum of a high-powered offense and the Blue Devils are once again a threat in the topsy-turvy Coastal Division at 8-4.”
Week 1 worst-case scenario: “A difficult start to the season leaves the Blue Devils weary and battered in the winnable late going. Early losses to Northwestern and Baylor could drop Duke to 4-8, again.”
Week 1 most likely scenario: “There are enough coin-flip games on the schedule for the Blue Devils to get back to a bowl game at 6-6, but they may have to sweep Army, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest at the end to do it.”
The verdict: Turns out, Northwestern and Baylor weren’t the problem and Duke only needed to go 2-1 in its final three games to get to 6-6 -- and the Blue Devils still have a chance against Wake Forest on Saturday. Duke could still potentially get into a bowl game at 5-7 thanks to its academic standing, but 6-6 would be more meaningful.
Saturday prediction: Wake Forest 27, Duke 21
Week 1 best-case scenario: “Despite all the new faces, there’s enough talent to give the Tar Heels an explosive offense to go with a veteran defense and get to 9-3 with no Clemson or Florida State on the schedule.”
Week 1 worst-case scenario: “A patchwork offensive line, a lack of playmakers and quarterback problems leave North Carolina punchless with predictable results: 4-8.”
Week 1 most likely scenario: “The inexperience will make this an erratic, mercurial team, capable of beating almost anyone and losing to anyone. Equal numbers of upset wins and bad losses will leave the Tar Heels 7-5.”
The verdict: It was the worst-case, no matter what happens against N.C. State. But it wasn’t just a punchless offense. The defense performed below expectations from the start, even before the improbable wave of injuries that made things nearly impossible for the Tar Heels. But they salvaged something by winning at Pittsburgh, and an upset of N.C. State today would give them something to look back on with pride.
Saturday prediction: see below...
Week 1 best-case scenario: “The Wolfpack beats Clemson and Louisville at home, pulls at least one upset on the road and takes care of business otherwise to finish 10-2 with a chance at the Atlantic Division title.”
Week 1 worst-case scenario: “A season-opening loss to South Carolina is a harbinger of things to come, with the Wolfpack unable to reach its potential and falling to 6-6 … or worse.”
Week 1 most likely scenario: “This team has the talent and experience to challenge the ACC’s heavyweights, although it’s unrealistic to expect N.C. State to beat them all. A solid 8-4, maybe even 9-3, is well within reach.”
The verdict: The gap between 8-4 and 7-5 is yawning for the Wolfpack, especially since the latter would mean losing four of its final five including a home loss to North Carolina. N.C. State feels like a better team than that, but it hasn’t proven it is: it missed opportunities against South Carolina and Wake Forest, never mind Clemson. Meanwhile, the early wins over Florida State and Louisville don’t look quite as impressive now as they did then. Still, this was a team that was a few narrow losses away from being 10-1 right now, and yet the entire perception of N.C. State’s season may hang on this result.
Saturday prediction: N.C. State 35, North Carolina 24
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock