Saturday's Atlantic Coast Conference showdown between the 14th-ranked Seminoles (8-3, 7-0 ACC) and fading North Carolina State (9-3, 4-3) offers a number of entertaining subplots.
For openers, FSU will march into Carter-Finley Stadium to claim its 10th ACC championship in 11 years and the league's berth in a Bowl Championship Series game. The Seminoles have won their past three games and say they are hitting all cyclinders after suffering consecutive losses to Miami and Notre Dame last month.
The Wolfpack, meanwhile, is in a free fall, losers of three straight and unraked after barrelling into November 9-0 and ranked eighth in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll and 10th in the Associated Press media poll. No N.C. State team has won 10 games in a season. There's also the bowl situation. Beat FSU, and the Wolfpack could end up with some high-profile bowl options.
Last, but not least, there's N.C. State coach Chuck Amato.
The fiery Amato spent 18 years on FSU's coaching staff before he left after the 1999 season for his alma mater. Last year Amato relied on his knowledge of the Seminoles and helped his team become the first in the ACC to beat FSU in Doak Campbell Stadium. Amato knows the Seminoles like a book, and has been often linked by FSU fans as coach Bobby Bowden's succesor.
FSU says it's being spelled out in bold letters.
"With Chuck, No. 1, forget the signals. He's going to know all of our signals," FSU offensive coordinator Jeff Bowden said Tuesday.
"If he doesn't know them, he filmed them last year and he's got them this year. He will know most of our line calls. He will know us. He will communicate what he knows about our defense to their coaches on the other side of the ball. His familiarity worries you a good bit. But, he still can't go on the field.
"Still, just that knowledge, it's a good advantage for them."
The Amato factor has the Seminoles concerned - with good reason.
Amato readily admits he mirrors Bowden's approach as he builds the Wolfpack program. Twenty percent of the players who dressed out for N.C. State last week against Virginia hail from the state of Florida. Sophomore cornerback Marcus Hudson is the younger brother of FSU linebacker Jerel Hudson. Two of Amato's assistant coaches - Chris Demarest (safeties) and Manny Diaz (linebackers) spent time at FSU. One other thing. Amato still calls Bowden once a week to talk.
"Knowing Chuck, he's going to know some things (about FSU defense) since he helped design this defense," said FSU linebacker Kendyll Pope, the team's leading tackler with 102. "He'll use flare passes, quick slants, try to spread us out. Just go back and look at the things they did last year."
Amato surprised FSU with a switching-motion offense fueld by short-yardage plays en route to a 34-28 victory. Quarterback Philip Rivers, six in the ACC in career passing yards (8,594), is adept at quickly finding the open receiver, though he has struggled of late. The Wolfpack defense, meanwhile, leads the ACC (336.4 yards per game).
Amato is the first to speak of his passionat feelings for Bowden and FSU. However, Amato needs a victory.
"I really think we've reacted well, even though we're 0-3 [in the last three games]," Amato said. "It's not like we've gone out and laid a dozen eggs and have been flat, with no emotion, with a lot of loafing. [The players] have given everything they have."