Why to watch: NC State's three-game winning streak may be over, but its quest for a spot in the ACC championship game is not. Even after losing its conference opener to Wake Forest, 30-24, the Wolfpack believes it has the ingredients to finish atop an Atlantic Division that's still searching for a front-runner.
A chance for a rebound begins with this weekend's visit from Duke, which hasn't won in Raleigh in a quarter-century. The Blue Devils put a genuine scare into Virginia Tech last Saturday before falling, 34-26. For a change, no one around Durham was willing to accept any moral victories, another sign of the progress being made by second-year head coach David Cutcliffe. As winners of just one of their last 34 league games, the Devils are eager to start turning a few close calls into Ws.
Why Duke might win: NC State head coach Tom O'Brien has started to juggle the back seven of his defense for a reason—it's not getting the job done. Despite getting all kinds of support up front, the Pack got burned for 361 yards and three touchdown passes in Winston-Salem, failing to make key stops when it had to. Enter Thaddeus Lewis, who just got done strafing Virginia Tech for 359 yards and a couple of scores. He'll pepper the Wolfpack with the help of receivers Donovan Varner, Conner Vernon, and Austin Kelly, who are maturing in hyper-speed.
Why NC State might win: In its two tests with grown-up offenses, Duke failed miserably, yielding an average of 483 yards and 39 points to Kansas and Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack has enough offensive weapons to post similar results. Although Russell Wilson snapped his NCAA-record streak for passes without an interception last Saturday, don't expect him to stay down for long. He'll have a short memory, bouncing back by distributing the ball to TE George Bryan and receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams. State has been air-tight versus the run all year, and is sure to keep Duke one-dimensional.
Who to watch: Willie Young has begun to heat up, which is bad news for Lewis and the Duke passing game. One of the premier edge rushers in the country, he's had a sack in each of the last four games, including three against Wake Forest. The Blue Devils better correct their pass protection issues in a hurry, or else No. 97 has the ability to take a game over.
What will happen: An uneven performance a week ago won't keep NC State down for very long. The Pack will jet past Duke, getting enough from Wilson and top runner Toney Baker to offset the occasional defensive breakdown. Lewis will throw for 275 yards, but most of it will come in catch-up mode.
CFN Prediction: NC State 34 … Duke 20 ... Line: NC State -15.5
Must See Rating: (A Serious Man 5 … Couples Retreat 1) … 1.5