The long awaited month of football is finally here. It has been a miserable 200 or so days since Tua Tagovailoa led the second half comeback against Georgia in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium to give Alabama its fifth national title of the Nick Saban era.
Now, the rest of the country looks to play catch up to the Crimson Tide, and while the state of North Carolina does not have any teams inside the preseason top 25, there are a number of local squads looking to climb their way back into contention. Here is a look at the four teams from our state that will be competing for an ACC Championship.
The one team from our state with the most potential may be N.C. State. The Wolfpack return their brightest star in junior quarterback Ryan Finley. The Boise State transfer got off to a nice start last year, passing for 3,518 yards in his first season in Raleigh.
With his offensive line remaining intact, along with his top three receivers returning, things are looking up for this year’s team to possibly get to double-digit wins for the first time since 2002.
It won’t take long to see exactly what this year’s squad is made of, as they face West Virginia in the third weekend of the season. It certainly helps that the game will be played in Carter-Finley Stadium. Conference-wise, the Wolfpack is predicted to finish third in the ACC Atlantic Division.
Down the road in Durham, Duke is hoping that one of the nation’s top linebacking units can lead the Blue Devils to a high finish in the ACC. Joe Giles-Harris returns as possibly the best linebacker in the country.
Last season, Giles-Harris finished as Pro Football Focus’ top player at his position in the entire FBS, and was on almost every second- or third-team All-American Team selection. It helps that the Blue Devils’ two toughest games are at home, but it will be a tall task for Duke to upset Miami or Clemson. The Blue Devils are predicted to finish fourth in the ACC Coastal.
Wake Forest will look to go to a third straight bowl game under Head Coach Dave Clawson, and they have the combination of talent and experience to do it. However, as always, there is a small margin of error for the Deacs simply due to the lack of depth when it comes to NFL-caliber players.
Kendall Hinton is expected to take over as quarterback after he serves a three-game suspension. Hinton has more running ability and a bigger arm than his predecessor, John Wolford. Although there is optimism coming from players and coaches speaking in the media this preseason, experts have picked Wake Forest to finish sixth in the ACC Atlantic Division.
Prediction have not been kind to UNC in the preseason as the Tar Heels have been picked sixth in the Coastal Division. 2017 saw the Heels struggle to a record of 3-9, and while there is talent in Chapel Hill, the first half of their schedule could prove difficult.
After an opener on the road against Cal, the Tar Heels will face a four-game stretch that includes home games against UCF and Virginia Tech, and a road trip to Miami. It will be up to Larry Fedora to patch together an offense that resembles some of his earlier teams to help what should be a talented and experienced defense.
Outside the ACC, Appalachian State looks to contend for a third straight Sun Belt title and hope that Head Coach Scott Satterfield doesn’t get too much attention from a bigger program.
While East Carolina has been a disaster for the past two seasons, there is hope for a big turnaround in Greenville, as the ESPN FPI ranking sees the Pirates improving to eight wins this season.
Cases can be made for any of the teams in this preview to improve or fall apart, but one thing that everyone can agree on is the fact that it is awesome to have football back.