Why to watch: After three games, NC State remains a pack of mysteries. Is this the team that couldn't score a touchdown in an opening night loss to South Carolina or the one that's ripped through grossly overmatched FCS teams the last two weekends? If Tom O'Brien's kids have truly evolved since the beginning of the month, they'll need to prove it against stronger competition. Pittsburgh, for instance. The Panthers have reached 3-0 for the first time since 2000, beating Youngstown, Buffalo, and Navy by at least 13 points. This will also be a step up in weight class for Pitt, which has yet to play a school from a major conference. A win here could propel the program into the Top 25 and improve its profile as a Big East contender.
Why Pittsburgh might win: The last time NC State faced a quality defense, it managed three points and 133 total yards. The Panthers are capable of putting the Pack in a similar choke hold. The defense has been outstanding, racking up 15 sacks in three games and clamping down in run defense. Even Navy could only muster 129 yards and less than three yards a carry last Saturday. DE Greg Romeus, DT Mick Williams, and LB Adam Gunn head a fantastic and ferocious front seven that's capable of flushing Russell Wilson from the pocket and making him pay when he heads downfield. And now true freshman LB Dan Mason has already been named Big East Defensive Player of the Week after replacing an injured Gunn for the Middie game.
Why NC State might win: Sure, a lot of the yards came against the prevent, but Buffalo may have exposed a weakness in the Pitt D, its secondary. The Panthers gave up 433 yards and four touchdowns on that day, picking off just one pass. Wilson doesn't make mistakes, and both he and his teammates have gained confidence and valuable snaps in the last two blowouts. He's thrown four touchdown passes each of the last two weekends, as RB Toney Baker has officially shaken off all of the rust from his nearly two years on the IR. He's gone for 145 yards and four scores on 22 carries since the opener, flashing the power and speed that has the staff excited.
Who to watch: It's no secret that QB Bill Stull is one of Pitt's key figures for 2009, so when he starts fast, everyone becomes cautiously optimistic. While he doesn't have a high ceiling, he's been managing the game better, completing more than 70% of his passes, and not turning the ball over. If he can continue to be well-protected and occasionally get the ball downfield to Jonathan Baldwin, the Panthers' hopes for a conference title increase exponentially.
What will happen: This is one of those show-me games for both programs, so plenty is at stake for Pitt and NC State. The single best unit at Carter-Finley Stadium will be the Panther D, which will prove to be the difference in a close, low-scoring affair. Pittsburgh will toy with a bad Wolfpack interior, keeping Wilson and Baker from making many plays, while RB Dion Lewis does just enough on the ground to get the team over the hump.
CFN Prediction: Pitt 20… NC State 17 ... Line: NC State -1
Must See Rating: (I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell 5 … Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All By Myself 1) … 2.5