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By Thomas Gessner
Everyone has returned to college and that means that college football season is upon the world. As the gridiron games begin to take place, the North Carolina Division I football teams need their respect, and it is vital that everyone knows out of the fourteen football teams in the state of North Carolina, which schools are the best, and which are the worst. This list will be updated weekly once games begin for the schools, and will continue until the end of the season. To start, the teams will be divided into four categories: Most Likely to Succeed, Dead on Arrival, Anything is Possible, and No Idea.
Most Likely to Succeed
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Even though the Tar Heels came up short at the Orange Bowl last season, and lost a few key offensive players to the NFL, this Carolina team makes the top of the list because it contains one of the favorites to win the Heisman trophy, Sam Howell, along with a more experienced offensive line and defense than last year, which could lead to some great success for the Heels if all goes well.
Appalachian State University
Last year saw a slight skid for App State, finishing with a 9-3 record and ending their streak as Sun Belt champions, as well as only briefly appearing in the AP top 25 poll, something the program did for seven weeks in 2019. A big question for the mountaineers will be the production of quarterback Chase Brice, but a strong receiver core will bolster him nicely. The defense will be the sticking point for Appalachian State, and it is likely the team will still excel like they have for multiple seasons, and that consistency will keep the mountaineers as contenders for the top spot in the Sun Belt conference.
North Carolina State University
The Wolfpack was another team to barely participate in the AP poll, with the team’s season high being 23rd, but last season was a sign of upward trajectory for NC State football and coach Dave Doeren, who recovered from a 4-8 record in 2019 to improve to 8-4, as well as becoming much more competitive in the ACC conference, jumping from a .125 percent winning percentage in the conference to .700. The squad kept a lot of their valuable players, and improved their recruiting from last year, and while NC State might not blow anyone away, they will have a positive record and bowl game to add to the books.
North Carolina A&T State University
Now, North Carolina A&T might be a little hard to judge for two reasons. One, they played no games last season because their conference cancelled football due to covid, and two, they are no longer in that conference, and now reside in the more competitive Big South conference. That information might mean that the Aggies are not deserving of being classified as “Most Likely To Succeed”, but the team’s seven Black College Football National Championships, two of which came from 2018 and 2019, boosts confidence that the team will continue to excel in their division, even if it is no longer the MEAC, but that year off could either work for or against the school.
Dead on Arrival
Duke University posted its worst SRS (Simple Rating System) in over a decade last season with a 2-9 record against a -1.60 strength of schedule. This season is not looking much more positive; Duke has no five or four star recruits and is not making any significant personnel changes, so a similar record is the expectation, especially in a conference improving this year.
The Campbell Camels only played four games in 2020, but they did an exceptional job at losing those games, with the worst loss being against the middling Wake Forest 14-66, only to follow it up with a 21-52 loss to App State. Even if the program were to have a sudden turnaround, that turnaround would not be great enough to overcome such poor football from last year.
Six games is a better sample size than Campbell’s four, and Elon was fortunate enough to win a game against Davidson, but did not ride that win any further, dropping the next four games to the likes of Gardner-Webb, James Madison, Richmond, and William and Mary, none of which were very successful themselves. The Phoenixes also played in the spring instead of the fall; that change in schedule could have effects on the season, but the record is so sour that Elon lands firmly in the Dead on Arrival category.
Western Carolina University
The Catamounts do not have a strong football program, and they have not done much to show that they have improved.
Gardner-Webb had the best 2020 record out of all the Dead on Arrival teams with 2-2 in their shortened Covid season, but the last three seasons for the team, the Runnin’ Bulldogs have failed to crack four wins, and last finished above .500 in win percentage in 2013.
Anything is Possible
Wake Forest University
The Wake Forest Demon Deacons do not have a consistent history in the coaching seasons of Dave Clawson, but overall their defense has been impressive and they might have had a mediocre 2020, but this Clawson era has seen success that Wake Forest has not experienced since last decade. If not for 2020, the Deacs football team would be in the “Most Likely to Succeed” section, but that past year puts into question the idea that Wake will continue its streak.
These last four teams could potentially fall into any of the three other categories, or none at all. They are volatile, play in rapidly fluctuating conferences, and lack a lot of significant information that the other schools have. These are those four schools:
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UNC Chapel Hill
NC State University
NC A&T State University