by Joe Schwartz
Clemson eyes ACC title berth while Wolfpack bowl hopes hang in balance
Clemson (6-3, 4-2 ACC) vs. N.C. State (4-5, 1-3 ACC)
Noon, Saturday, Carter-Finley Stadium
Raycom (WRAL, CBS), Wolfpack Sports Network (101.5 FM)
Key stats … N.C. State finally got its first ACC win of the season last week in a sloppy game against Maryland at home that went down to the final snap. Now things get even tougher, with a Clemson squad headed north in hopes of securing its first ACC Championship game appearance (Divisions and the title game started in 2005.). All they need is a win and a Boston College loss to Virginia to wrap up the Atlantic Division this weekend. N.C. State meanwhile needs to win out to become bowl eligible. The embattled Wolpack defense, that's struggled in ACC play before showing signs of life last week, when it only gave up 17 points (Maryland posted 31, but one touchdown came on an interception return and another on a kickoff), faces a stiff test from the Clemson ground game, averaging 160.9 yards a contest. Clemson leads the series 49-27-1.
Clemson will win if … They stick to what they've been doing during the four game winning streak, give the ball to stud C.J Spiller and watch him run. The secondary will need to stay disciplined against Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson, who is a threat by air and ground. He often scrambles with an eye downfield, so Clemson's defensive backs will need to stay on their assignments longer than usual.
N.C. State will win if … They can control the time of possession and limit the opportunities Clemson has to touch the ball. Running back Toney Baker and backfield mate Jamelle Eugene will need to play well for the Wolfpack to stay in this one. Wilson also will need to be careful against a defense that's leading the league in sacks and picks.
Players to watch All-world Tigers running back C.J. Spiller is worth the price of admission. Last week he set a career record with 312 all-purpose yards. Against Florida State he averaged 7.5 yards a carry for 165 yards on the ground, and he's always a threat to go the distance in the special teams game. He's scored in every Clemson game this year.
For the Wolfpack, keep an eye out for defensive end Michael Lemon who came on strong at the end of last week's game against Maryland. N.C. State will need a big effort from it's front seven to win, and a strong effort from Lemon will go a long way with defensive line players Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash playing well.
Vegas line Clemson -8
Score prediction and brief explanation Expect a shootout. Clemson is a high-powered offense averaging 31.9 points a game. They've scored more than 35 points in four straight contests. Meanwhile, N.C. State is giving up 29.6 points per game this season and 39.6 per game in the last six times out. Wilson and Baker will try to match touchdowns against Clemson, but Spiller and Clemson's defense will prove too much for the Wolfpack to handle. Clemson takes this one 42-31.