Here's The Deal … NC State and Cincinnati clash for the second time in two years, and just the second time ever, in front of a national television audience. The Bearcats will be seeking redemption for last September's 30-19 loss that was even worse than the score indicated. In three games, Cincy has spanked undermanned Austin Peay and Akron, yet was no match for Tennessee in Knoxville. In other words, the program is going to be a mystery until it starts playing a broader swath of competition.
The Wolfpack is actually in a very similar situation as this week's opponent, wrapping meaningless blowouts of Liberty and South Alabama around a telling loss to Wake Forest. Its 2-1 mark is currently overstated by a weak schedule that includes a pair of FCS visitors. With the need for a quality win evident on both sidelines, the winner will get some wind in its sail. The loser will continue living a lie.
Why NC State Might Win: Yeah, the other team was South Alabama, but the Pack finally has some confidence on offense. Talented QB Mike Glennon has actually played well in consecutive games, throwing seven touchdown passes to one pick over that time. He'll remain hot against an average Cincinnati secondary, teaming up with speedster T.J. Graham and the steady Tobias Palmer. The NC State defense will allow some yards, but compensate with a slew of big plays. The team leads the ACC in sacks and turnover margin behind the all-around disruptive play of LB Audie Cole, DE Darryl Cato-Bishop and CB David Amerson.
Why Cincinnati Might Win: While the Pack defense is opportunistic, it's also missing two of its best players, DT JR Sweezy and LB Terrell Manning, to injury. At some point, depth will become an issue. The Bearcats have the weapons to capitalize on the ground and through the air. They're multi-dimensional and unpredictable, riding the running of Isaiah Pead as well as the accurate throws of Zach Collaros. The senior has thrown seven touchdown passes without an interception, gradually getting more in sync with primary targets D.J. Woods, Anthony McClung and Kenbrell Thompkins. Almost identical to NC State, Cincinnati has been piling up the takeaways to lead the country in turnover margin.
What To Watch Out For: Cincinnati does not have a great defense, but it is making things happen … consistently. Remarkably, the Bearcats have seven fumble recoveries, six interceptions and just one turnover of their own. The catalysts on D have been familiar veterans of the program, DT Derek Wolfe, LB JK Schaffer and hybrid pass rusher Walter Stewart. The key will be which of the quarterbacks cracks under the pressure. Collaros has thrown no picks on 69 attempts, while Glennon has been intercepted just once on his 92 passes.
What Will Happen: This is going to be a key matchup for both schools, which have enough talent and weak spots to go in either direction. While the pair is similar in many ways, Cincinnati holds an important edge in the backfield. The combination of Collaros and Pead will be better on this night than Glennon and the committee of Curtis Underwood and James Washington. The Bearcats' catalysts will lead the charge in a game that'll be dictated by the offenses and turnovers.
CFN Prediction: Cincinnati 34 … NC State 24