Five questions (minus three) to ponder before kickoff

UNC quarterback Sam Howell gets stopped on a two-point conversion by Clemson’s James Skalski (47) and Xavier Thomas (3) in the final minutes of the Tigers’ win Saturday in Chapel Hill. (Chris Seward / AP Photo)

It would be an understatement to say that this is a slow weekend for football in the Old North State.

NC State, Wake Forest, Appalachian State and Charlotte all have open dates. East Carolina has already played, having lost a hard-fought 27-17 decision to American Athletic Conference rival Temple on Thursday night.

That leaves North Carolina and Duke as the only state teams with games today. Both of their matchups have important big picture implications, so as we wait for kickoff — and the wait will be a lengthy one with the Blue Devils not starting until 8 p.m. — here are five questions (minus three this week) to think about and consider:

1. Can UNC avoid a post-Clemson letdown at Georgia Tech?

The Tar Heels expended a lot of emotion and energy in their near miss against the defending national champions last Saturday. Even with the loss, coach Mack Brown’s team regained some of the mojo it lost after its surprising 2-0 start. The danger, however, is that UNC is due for a letdown going from taking the best team in the ACC down to the wire to playing on the road against the league’s worst team in the very beginning stages of a total rebuild. Brown expressed his concern about such a possibility earlier this week. “I think the thing that you look at is if we lay down and don’t play after this, then we didn’t learn,” he said. “If we use it again to continue to grow and build, then we really learned something.” For the first time this season, the Tar Heels will be by far the more talented team on the field. The Yellow Jackets are 1-3 and have lost to The Citadel, while Sam Howell and the Tar Heels are still in position to have a successful season and earn a bowl bid for the first time in three years. For that to happen, this is a game UNC absolutely, positively has to win. It doesn’t matter how or by how many. Just win.

2. Is this the year Duke finally beats Pittsburgh?

The ACC Coastal is an interesting exercise in balance, with five different teams winning the division title in each of the past five years. One of the few constants over that stretch — other than UNC beating Pittsburgh — is the Panthers’ domination of Duke. Coach Pat Narduzzi’s team has won four straight against the Blue Devils, And Pitt would have a five-game winning streak against Duke if not for a missed field goal in overtime in 2014. Pitt is 3-2 with its only losses coming to this year’s Coastal favorite Virginia and perennial national power Penn State. Duke is coming off its best effort in recent memory with a 45-10 demolition of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. It’s a matchup that figures to be a tight one and, given recent history, a high-scoring one. The Panthers won last year’s shootout 54-45. A win would improve coach David Cutcliffe’s team to 2-0 in the ACC with both victories coming against divisional rivals and would put the Blue Devils squarely into the conversation for a Coastal championship. Maybe this is the year.

That’s all there is for this week. Enjoy the games!