N&O’s college football picks for North Carolina schools and Tennessee vs Pittsburgh

There’s something to be said for qualified leadership, and while you can’t always count on the bosses to know what they’re talking about, it’s hard to argue with numbers. Our sports editor, Natalie Pierre, was the only member of our panel of experts to make it through Week 1 unscathed — setting a very high bar for her staff.

With a decided lack of potentially — what’s the word — interesting games this week after a dazzling start, we’ve added the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game in an attempt to build out the drama.

Charleston Southern at N.C. State: The Wolfpack playing a close game at East Carolina was not a surprise. The way the Wolfpack went about it – blowing a 14-point halftime lead and winning on a pair of missed kicks – was almost shocking. Still, a win is a win is a win, but it’ll be another week before we get a real sense of whether that second-half snooze was a fluke.

Speaking of snoozes, things should be sizzling under the half-past-noon sun at Carter-Finley but less exciting as the Wolfpack continues its run of privateering opponents against the Buccaneers. N&O consensus: Wolfpack holds no quarter.

North Carolina at (sic) Georgia State: You can very easily justify ACC teams playing road games against in-state Group of 5 opponents, even after a loss like Virginia Tech’s at Old Dominion. Look no further than what happened in Boone and Greenville on Saturday. It’s not good, it’s great for the sport, not a factor often considered these days in college athletics.

But this one? You can’t even justify this game by saying it’s a chance to play in fertile recruiting territory in Atlanta; North Carolina does that every other year anyway. Like UNC this season, there’s no defense at all. N&O consensus: UNC and the over, whatever it is.

Duke at Northwestern: The beginning of the Mike Elko era started with Duke picking up a very rare win in the Getting Off The Bus Challenge against Temple, which looked like a real Big South contender. Duke has also often won that battle against Northwestern, with the results to show for it on the field having won three straight over the Wildcats even as things started to fall apart under the previous regime last season.

The degree of difficulty certainly ramps up in Evanston, Illinois, but there’s enough history, both recent and recent past, to suggest the Blue Devils have a fighting chance in this one. N&O consensus: The Big Ten’s Northwestern with an edge over the ACC’s Duke.

Duke’s Jordan Moore (8) rushes for a touchdown during the first half of and NCAA football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, September 18, 2021.
Duke’s Jordan Moore (8) rushes for a touchdown during the first half of and NCAA football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, September 18, 2021.

Wake Forest at Vanderbilt: The Deacons were never really tested without Sam Hartman, although Mitch Griffis certainly looked fine against VMI (although you’d expect absolutely no less). Even before it was announced Hartman was ready to return, the Deacons were a double-digit road favorite, a statement of Vegas respect.

More to the point: While Vanderbilt is 1-0 against the Old North State after a win over Elon, the ACC is 1-0 against the SEC after Florida State’s win over that wily ol’ cajun Brian Kelly, so conference pride is very much on the line. N&O consensus: ACC! ACC! Mostly!

Old Dominion at East Carolina: While one of these teams won a home game over an in-state ACC opponent and the other was a kick away, it’s hard to argue that they faced the same degree of difficulty. If anything, the Pirates’ performance against N.C. State suggested they can hold their own against ACC teams far better than Virginia Tech and should be a cut above ODU, especially at home. N&O consensus: Pirates right the ship.

Winston-Salem State at N.C. Central: The real question is whether the Eagles can avoid a letdown after an emotional, no-doubt-about-it win over A&T in the Aggie-Eagle Classic. If NCCU is up for it, it shouldn’t have any trouble with another former CIAA rival from the Triad. N&O consensus: Fly Eagles fly.

Tennessee at Pittsburgh: Last year’s actual ACC champion against every year’s wait-until-next-year SEC would-be champion. Maybe next year is finally here for the Vols, favored by a touchdown? But the Panthers are at home and looked pretty good against West Virginia. With apologies to Wake-Vandy, the weeks’ biggest ACC-SEC showdown. N&O consensus: ACC! ACC! Mostly! Again!

Never miss a Luke DeCock column. Sign up at tinyurl.com/lukeslatest to have them delivered directly to your email inbox as soon as they post.

Luke DeCock’s Latest: Never miss a column on the Canes, ACC or other Triangle sports