Here's The Deal … NC State and UCF both won by big margins last week, but what did we really learn? Not much considering their victims were Western Carolina and South Dakota, respectively. We should get a much better handle on both schools this week in Orlando. In the case of the Wolfpack, the level of competition wasn't particularly relevant.
After starting the last three seasons with a loss, it was just happy to get out of the blocks quickly and have star QB Russell Wilson and LB Nate Irving back in the fold. The Knights are cautiously optimistic that it's found stability in a backfield that's been unsettled at quarterback and lost RB Brynn Harvey to a knee injury. In very early returns, Rob Calabrese was sharp behind center and RB Jonathan Davis ran with authority. Stay tuned.
Why NC State Might Win: UCF can unpredictable in pass defense, which is especially bad news when the Wolfpack is visiting BrightHouse Networks Stadium. Wilson is one of the country's most underrated playmakers at quarterback, a terrific athlete and improving passer. He opened the new year with four touchdown passes and 306 yards on 21-of-31 passing, picking up where he left off at the end of 2009. Almost as troubling is his wave of receivers, spearheaded by Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and TE George Bryan. Go ahead and include backup WR T.J. Graham, who was on the same page with Wilson, catching a game-high six balls for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
Why UCF Might Win: The Wolfpack offense will hum, provided the line does its job. That's far from a sure thing, especially against this Knight front seven. UCF has a bunch of live defenders, headed sack-happy DE Bruce Miller and linebackers Lawrence Young and Derrick Hallman. If they can pressure the pocket and silence an average running game, Wilson's chances for success diminish. NC State's pass defense is very raw and skittish, which will open up opportunities for UCF receivers A.J. Guyton, Kamar Aiken, and Quincy McDuffie to make plays downfield.
What To Watch Out For: Keep an eye on No. 56 in the white jersey, Wolfpack LB Nate Irving. A non-factor in the opener, he'll be looking to make up for it. He missed all of last season following a car injury, but when healthy, he's a predator, who'll go to any lengths to hit the man with the ball. Pack fans want to know when the old Irving will start asserting himself. It could happen this weekend in Orlando.
What Will Happen: This is going to be a close and interesting game that could create a crossroad for both schools. When it's difficult separating teams, lean toward the one with the most dynamic player, the one you'd want with the ball in his hands late in the game. That guy is Wilson. He's a transformational figure, with enough quality receivers to pull this one out with a defining drive for six in the final quarter.
CFN Prediction: NC State 30 … UCF 27 … Line: UCF -3
Must See Rating: Boardwalk Empire – 5 … Going the Distance - 1 … 2