Western Carolina (0-0) at NC State (0-0) Sept. 4, 6:00 ET, ESPN3.com
Here's The Deal … Three years ago, Tom O'Brien voluntarily left Boston College for NC State in a supposed career upgrade. So far, the plan hasn't quite worked out as expected. With injuries playing a key role, the Wolfpack has only managed to go 16-21, putting pressure on the entire staff to start delivering better results. On the bright side, the offense and defense catch a break, as QB Russell Wilson put off a pro baseball career for now and star LB Nate Irving returns from a season-ending car injury. Western Carolina is expected to pull up the rear once again in the Southern Conference, a season after going 2-9. In a testament to their problems, the Catamounts got blanked, 45-0, by Vanderbilt, a school that won just one other game all year.
Why Western Carolina Might Win: If there's any hope for improvement at Western Carolina, it'll likely be fueled by an offense that returns eight starters. One of those holdovers is RB Michael Johnson, the reigning SoCon Freshman of the Year. Also back are QB Zack Jaynes and top receiver Marquel Pittman. Both will like their chances against a leaky NC State pass defense that's even worse off now that projected starting CB Rashard Smith is lost for the year to a knee injury.
Why NC State Might Win: If the Catamounts don't have the bodies to stop FCS offenses, they've no shot of slowing down Wilson and Co. When No. 16 gets protection, he's one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the country. Plus, he'll get plenty of help from a terrific receiving corps that boasts all-star caliber weapons in TE George Bryan and receivers Jarvis Williams and Owen Spencer. O'Brien hopes to get the running game on track, which will also create opportunities for backs Curtis Underwood and James Washington.
What To Watch Out For: Although NC State won't need Irving to win this game, the program will be monitoring his every move as if it's the ACC title game. He's that important to the success of the defense and the Pack as a whole. Before getting hurt, he was a one-man wrecking crew, defending the run and the pass with equal ferocity. Second only to Wilson in importance, State needs him to tap into his full potential.
What Will Happen: Slow starts have hampered NC State lately, losing all three openers under O'Brien. A visit from Western Carolina will be the perfect remedy to the Pack's recent woes. Facing vastly inferior competition, it'll flex its muscles at the expense of the lowly Catamounts. Oh, and the fireworks won't stop when Wilson takes the pads off shortly after halftime. Backup Mike Glennon would start for half of the ACC schools, and will revel at an opportunity to show off his arm.
CFN Prediction: NC State 48 … Western Carolina 10 … Line: No Line
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