Here's The Deal … NC State and North Carolina meet for the 100th time, with the Atlantic Division race certain to be impacted by the outcome. The Wolfpack is in the thick of a tight three-team race, knowing that it controls its own destiny over the final two weekends. If it can close out the regular season with road wins in Chapel Hill and College Park, Md. next Saturday, it'll meet either Virginia Tech or Miami on Dec. 4 for the ACC championship. Carolina reached its regular season peak following a 26-10 loss to the Hokies a week ago. With the Pack visiting this weekend and a trip to Durham coming up next week, the close of this tumultuous season for the Tar Heels will be all about Tobacco Road bragging rights and improving bowl position.
Why NC State Might Win: Although QB Russell Wilson and his talented corps of receivers are the signature players in Raleigh, the Wolfpack defense has been a quiet catalyst throughout this season. Fueled by the relentless pressure being provided by linebackers Nate Irving, Terrell Manning, and Audie Cole, NC State is second in ACC sacks and third in takeaways. Its frenetic pace and penchant for making the big play will cause problems for a Carolina offense that's failed against similarly constructed units from Miami and Virginia Tech this fall. It can't help that the Heels are weak up front and 11th in the conference in pass protection.
Why North Carolina Might Win: Every now and again, the Heels will put forth a complete effort for Butch Davis. Heck, it was just two weeks ago that they went into Tallahassee and stunned Florida State behind 439 yards and three touchdown passes from T.J. Yates. The Wolfpack can be soft in coverage, which will be a problem against WR Dwight Jones. Carolina sports its own collection of next-level linebackers, cutting off running lanes and batting away passes with the ensemble of Quan Sturdivant, Bruce Carter, Zach Brown, and Kevin Reddick.
What To Watch Out For: Wilson has been a little more careless than in the past with his throws, getting picked off an uncharacteristic 12 times. He better be extra studious when reading a grown-up Carolina secondary that's flush with talented defenders. While the Pack has a terrific collection of receivers, led by TE George Bryan and receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, they're going to have a difficult getting separation Saturday afternoon.
What Will Happen: NC State can almost see the finish line, but its chief rival is standing in the way. For different reasons, both teams want this one badly. The Pack is after the Atlantic Division. The Heels want to play spoiler. As has often been the case around Raleigh, Wilson will be the difference-maker, leading State to a thrilling come-from-behind win in what'll wind up being one of Week 12's more underrated and exciting match ups.
CFN Prediction: NC State 31 North Carolina 27 … Line: North Carolina -2.5
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