Here's The Deal … Raise your hand if you had this one pegged as a pivotal game before the season started. Didn't think so. Instead of bidding for bowl eligibility at this time, as most expected, a spot in the ACC title game will hang in the balance. If NC State wins in College Park, it'll represent the Atlantic Division next week in Charlotte. If the Pack loses, Florida State will face Virginia Tech for a shot at an automatic BCS berth. Maryland's bid to control its own destiny in the Atlantic went away with last week's emotional 30-16 loss to the Seminoles. The Terrapins were driving for the game-tying score with less than a minute left before a 96-yard Nick Moody interception return put the game on ice. Now, instead of playing for a divisional title, they'll simply be playing the role of spoiler.
Why NC State Might Win: While QB Russell Wilson is the undeniable face of the program, the defense has been the unsung hero of this surprise eight-win team. The Wolfpack loves to attack opponents, a particular problem for a Maryland team that has a rookie quarterback and an average offensive line. LB Nate Irving is playing like a man possessed, busting through the line and making his presence felt all over the field. He's a force, who'll also get plenty of support from fellow linebackers Terrell Manning and Audie Cole, a couple of frenetic defensive playmakers.
Why Maryland Might Win: Yeah, NC State is going to make a lot of big plays, but it also takes chances, which can leave the pass defense naked. The Pack is No. 78 nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing twice as many touchdowns as picks made. If it sells out, it could create man situations for Torrey Smith, which the receiver is going to win the majority of times. Despite last week's awkward performance, QB Danny O'Brien has a great future and enough moxie to bounce back in a hurry. In one of the weekend's best games for linebackers, the Terps will arrive well-fortified with Alex Wujciak, Adrian Moten, and Demetrius Hartsfield.
What To Watch Out For: Can either team establish the run in the face of all of those talented linebackers? Whoever does will probably get out of Byrd Stadium with a well-earned victory. While the Terps rank eighth in the ACC on the ground, the Pack is a dismal tenth. The underlying issue has been the play of the two lines, which collectively have done poor jobs of creating daylight for Mustafa Greene in Raleigh and Davin Meggett in College Park.
What Will Happen: With neither team able to establish the run, the game will hinge on the play of the quarterbacks, giving an edge to NC State. Although Wilson has been more mistake-prone this season, he's the guy you want under center when a critical game hangs in the balance. Plus, you have to wonder about the psyche of Maryland, which left a lot on the field a week ago. The Terp D will keep things cozy throughout, but Wilson is going to will the Pack to a win and a spot in next week's title game.
CFN Prediction: NC State 28 … Maryland 23 … Line: NC State -2.5
Must See Rating: True Grit – 5 … Dennis Miller: The Big Speech -1 … 4