Duke got a reality check, North Carolina got a kick in the teeth and N.C. State dodged a trap last week, all of which certainly adds some spice to this week’s games, starting Thursday night when the Wolfpack hosts Louisville.
All three games altered the vectors of each team’s season. Duke (4-1) learned it isn’t quite talented enough to compete with what may be the best team in the Coastal Division, and this week it’ll find out if it’s in the division’s upper tier by playing lower-tier-but-above-.500 Virginia (3-1). North Carolina (1-4) has a season-salvager against Notre Dame (4-1), and N.C. State (4-1) and Louisville (4-1) will battle for Atlantic Division positioning under the Thursday night lights.
I went 3-0 again last week to move to 13-2 on the season. Just for kicks, I went back and crunched all the numbers, and I’m 9-6 against the spread. For entertainment purposes only, obviously.
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Last week: “A win over the Hurricanes puts the Devils in 9/10-win territory.”
This week: And a loss, especially the way Duke lost, puts the Devils in 6/7/8-win territory. Duke’s clearly good enough to win enough games to get back to a bowl game; that much is clear at this point. The big question facing the Blue Devils is whether they can protect Daniel Jones well enough to allow their offense to function. The offensive line was supposed to be better than this, and its underperformance in the passing game will determine whether Duke wins six games or eight or nine, as will Saturday’s result against Virginia.
Saturday prediction: Duke 27, Virginia 17.
Last week: “You have to figure North Carolina still has more talent than Virginia, Pittsburgh or Western Carolina. But it might take some doing to get a fifth win at this rate.”
This week: Maybe North Carolina doesn’t have more talent than Virginia or Pittsburgh. The performance in Atlanta certainly called that into question. An upset over Notre Dame would go a long way to revising the forecast upward, but right now four wins looks like the Tar Heels’ ceiling.
Saturday prediction: Notre Dame 45, North Carolina 20.
Last week: “The main challenge for N.C. State is staying focused with Louisville looming on the horizon.”
This week: That hurdle successfully cleared, a win over Louisville would open the door to a 10-win season. That’s likely to be the maximum for N.C. State anyway, since it doesn’t look like anyone’s beating Clemson. The Tigers are that good. But taking care of business against Syracuse was crucial, because even with a loss on Thursday, the Wolfpack still should be able to get to eight wins. One note: The Wolfpack is 0-4 against the spread as a favorite and 1-0 as an underdog this season ... and N.C. State is a 3 1/2-point underdog at home on Thursday.
Thursday prediction: N.C. State 35, Louisville 28.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock