The college football season opens next week for the Carolinas’ 10 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision programs, with Wake Forest traveling to Tulane on Thursday to open things up.
Here are 10 bold predictions that may or may not actually happen during the upcoming season:
This season’s Heisman Trophy winner likely won’t come from a Carolinas school, but it might be one of two players who grew up in the Carolinas. Stanford senior running back Bryce Love, a Raleigh native who played at Wake Forest High, was a Heisman finalist last season, as well as the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year and a consensus All-American. West Virginia quarterback Will Grier, who played at Davidson Day and transferred from Florida, threw for 3,490 yards and 34 touchdowns for the Mountaineers last season.
The Bronko goes to …
The nation’s top defensive player is awarded the Bronko Nagurski Trophy each December by the Charlotte Touchdown Club. The winner this season could come from just down the road in Clemson, and it could be any one of four defensive linemen — ends Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, or tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence. The nod goes to Wilkins.
It’s Clemson, again
The College Football Playoff has been very good to the ACC, especially Clemson. The Tigers, who have won three consecutive ACC titles, will make it a fourth and go on to the CFP. There, the Tigers will beat Wisconsin in one semifinal and Alabama will knock off Penn State in the other. And, a year after Alabama beat Clemson in the semifinals, the Crimson Tide and Tigers will face off again for the national championship. Thanks to Clemson’s dominant defense, the national title returns to Death Valley.
Game of the year
N.C. State has come close to beating Clemson in each of the past two seasons. The Tigers eked out an overtime victory in 2016 after the Wolfpack missed a short field goal at the end of regulation that likely would have won it. In 2017, a late Clemson interception halted a potential game-winning drive by N.C. State. This year, the Wolfpack — with perhaps the ACC’s top quarterback in Ryan Finley and a playmaker in receiver Kelvin Harmon — heads to Death Valley on Oct. 20.
Charlotte’s Brad Lambert and East Carolina’s Scotty Montgomery will be coaching for their jobs. Lambert, the only coach the 49ers have had, needs to turn around a program that sank to 1-11 last season (its fifth of existence and third on the FBS level). Montgomery, a Shelby native, has a 6-18 record in two seasons at East Carolina, and Pirates fans are getting impatient. North Carolina’s Larry Fedora might want to be careful, too. The Tar Heels are coming off a 3-9 season and are picked to finish sixth in the ACC’s Coastal Division. A tumultuous offseason (Fedora’s controversial concussion comments, UNC players suspended for selling shoes) has him under a microscope.
ACC title game = Charlotte
The ACC announced in April that its championship game will remain in Charlotte through 2030. And for good reason: The game often sells out as uptown Charlotte becomes a pre-holiday college football mecca. It won’t be any different this year, when Atlantic Division winner Clemson faces Coastal champion Miami on Dec. 1 — a rematch of last season’s game won by the Tigers. The result is the same.
Charlotte’s Belk Bowl — set for Dec. 29 at Bank of America Stadium — pits an ACC team against an SEC team. The Belk Bowl is a “Tier 1” bowl, meaning it gets ACC and SEC teams that don’t play in the College Football Playoff or other New Year’s bowls. This season, watch the Belk Bowl land an attractive regional matchup between N.C. State and South Carolina.
Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium won’t be the only spot in the Carolinas where a conference championship game is played. The Sun Belt is holding its first title game this season, and the division champion with the best record will host the game on Dec. 1. That means Appalachian State will face Arkansas State for the title in Boone’s Kidd Brewer Stadium.
Who’s going bowling, and where?
Clemson wins the ACC championship and lands in the Orange Bowl for a College Football Playoff semifinal. South Carolina and N.C. State face off in Charlotte’s Belk Bowl. Duke faces the Big 10’s Iowa in Detroit’s Quick Lane Bowl. After winning the Sun Belt championship, Appalachian State heads to a bowl for a fourth consecutive season, playing in the Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Ala., against Ohio of the Mid-Atlantic Conference.
Best fan-friendly moves
Clemson has slashed prices for selected menu items at concession stands, including hot dogs (from $4 to $2), a tub of popcorn ($6 to $4) and 44-ounce fountain drinks ($8 to $5). The Charlotte 49ers have teamed with Tailgate Guys, a premium tailgating service that will make it easier for fans to tailgate after arriving on the new light rail service to campus.