Here's The Deal … First place in the ACC Atlantic will be at stake when Florida State makes the trip north to Raleigh on Thursday. The Seminoles come out of their break among the nation's hottest teams, winners of five straight by an average of 22 points going back to the Week 2 debacle at Oklahoma. They were a little sluggish in their most recent victory over Boston College, but will essentially punch a ticket for Charlotte on Dec. 4 with a sixth straight win this week.
NC State is looking to recover from its worst game of the year, a 33-27 loss at East Carolina. At least the Pirates don't count as a conference loss, the lone silver lining from two weeks ago. This is a huge moment in the season for the Pack, which cracked the Top 25 at 4-0, but will squander most of its equity with a third loss in the last four games.
Why Florida State Might Win: Cracks have begun to appear in the NC State defense, which was battered on the ground by Virginia Tech and through the air by East Carolina. The Pack has talent on that side of the ball, but just not enough consistency. The ‘Noles possess the balance and the veteran O-line to capitalize, sporting the league's third-best running game and a well-rested Christian Ponder at quarterback. They'll run right at the defense with fresh legs, courtesy of Jermaine Thomas, Chris Thompson, and Ty Jones. When State has the ball, it'll worry more than normal about a sub par offensive line. That star-less unit must find a way to corral DE Brandon Jenkins and the rest of a Florida State defense that leads the country in sacks.
Why NC State Might Win: Ponder isn't at full-strength, which means the Wolfpack will have an edge at the most important position on the field. No, Russell Wilson has not been flawless over the past month, throwing too many picks, but he tends to emerge at key moments and loves the national spotlight. If he can get the ACC's top-rated offense going, it'll feed a few extra volts of energy into the Carter-Finley crowd. Wilson has done a nice job of spreading the ball around, getting TE George Bryan and receivers Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and T.J. Graham involved in the action. As good as the Florida State line has been, it hasn't been air-tight in pass protection. Ponder will have to be wary at all times of linebackers Nate Irving, Audie Cole, and Terrell Manning coming hard on the blitz.
What To Watch Out For: Just how bad is Ponder's elbow? He injured the bursa sac in his throwing arm and was in obvious pain in the Boston College game. While the time off has helped, no one knows for sure how close to 100% he'll be or how much zip he'll have on his passes. With the heat that NC State can bring from the second level, don't be shocked to see backup QB E.J. Manuel at some point on Thursday night.
What Will Happen: Remaining hot is going to be a huge challenge for Florida State this week. It always is when a team goes on the road on a Thursday night, especially when a divisional lead hangs in the balance. The difference for the Seminoles will be their advantage at the point of attack, which is significant. They'll run the ball to take heat off Ponder and flush Wilson from the pocket, escaping with a well-earned win against a motivated host.
CFN Prediction: Florida State 34 … NC State 27 … … Line: FSU -4
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