Clemson (9-1) at NC State (5-5) Nov. 19, 3:30, ABC/ESPN
Here's The Deal … Now that Clemson has wrapped up the Atlantic Division, how will the coaching staff keep the kids motivated over the next couple of weeks? The Tigers rallied heroically in the second half of last week's pivotal game with Wake Forest, erasing a two-touchdown deficit, and winning on a Chandler Catanzaro field goal as time expired. However, injuries aside, there's not much that can happen this week in Raleigh or next week in Columbia, S.C. that will impact the program's goal of winning the ACC and playing in a BCS bowl game.
It's going to be a challenge to keep the players focused on the task at hand, and not a probable rematch with Virginia Tech in Charlotte on Dec. 3. N.C. State actually has more hanging in the balance this week than Clemson. The Wolfpack remains a win away from postseason eligibility after inexplicably losing to 3-7 Boston College last Saturday. The Pack has been a streaky bunch, though it's clearly been far more consistent at Carter-Finley Stadium this fall than on the road.
Why Clemson Might Win: The Tigers possess too many weapons for a stagnant Wolfpack offense that's scored just 23 points over the last three games. The unit is regressing as the season wears on, making too many physical and mental mistakes.
N.C. State can't survive in a low-scoring game against a high-powered Clemson team that's averaging 478 yards and 37 points a game. Now that RB Andre Ellington has returned from his ankle injury, the Tigers have their full complement of playmakers with which to target the Pack defense. The passing game has been a challenge for opponents all season, showcasing QB Tajh Boyd and his myriad receivers, wideouts Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, and TE Dwayne Allen.
Why NC State Might Win: Yeah, the Clemson offense can be scary, but it has not been invincible. Witness the Virginia Tech game, Georgia Tech game and most of last week's Wake Forest win. Plus, the Wolfpack is not a defense to be taken lightly. It's played much better over the last five games, and ranks sixth nationally with 27 takeaways. It's a playmaking group that's led by CB David Amerson, the nation's leader with 10 picks, and linebackers Audie Cole and Terrell Manning. While N.C. State might give up yards this weekend, it'll also compensate by beating the Tigers blockers to the backfield, and halting drives with tempo-changing turnovers.
What To Watch Out For: What's with the N.C. State offense, and does it have any hope for a turnaround? The Clemson defense is beatable, lacking much pop outside of DE Andre Branch. However, it remains to be seen whether or not the Pack can capitalize. Over the last three games, it's averaged 70 yards on the ground, and has gotten just one touchdown pass from Mike Glennon. Of course, allowing nine sacks and at least as many pressures is going to make life miserable for any quarterback. Someone will have to keep Branch—and DT Brandon Thompson—out of the backfield if the Wolfpack is to have any hope of penning an upset this weekend.
What Will Happen: Clemson will be in for another dogfight, in large part because the motivation for these two schools couldn't be more disparate. A week after beating Wake Forest to wrap up the division, the Tigers must hit the road to play a game that'll have little impact on their postseason destination. N.C. State, on the other hand, needs this one in the worst way, and will be buoyed by the home crowd.
The intangibles ensure a close game, but not an upset. Clemson houses too much firepower for a Wolfpack team that's experiencing too many misfires to knock off a top 10 opponent. It'll be very close, but the Tigers will once again survive, ensuring a 10-win season for the first time in more than two decades.
CFN Prediction: Clemson 28 … N.C. State 24
CFN's Take: NC State vs. Clemson
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