Posted by Chip Patterson
The Basics: West Virginia faces NC State, 6:30 PM Tuesday
Why You Should Watch: Both West Virginia and NC State fell just a game shy of an opportunity to play for a BCS bid, and they will each be looking to turn that disappointment around and finish the season strong. The game is also loaded with exciting playmakers - Geno Smith, Tavon Austin, Russell Wilson, Nate Irving - to name a few. Both offenses have had high scoring performances this season, though West Virginia's defense ranks among the best in the NCAA in scoring defense. While Wilson still has one year left of eligibility, many believe that Tuesday will the be his final game in a Wolfpack football uniform. He has already signed a contract to play with the Colorado Rockies, who he has already bypassed one year for his junior season. Wilson has been part of Tom O'Brien's success at NC State, and I expect he will be looking to cap his career off with another performance. West Virginia also has an interesting storyline with the awkward announcement that Bill Stewart will be phased out before the 2012 season. Basically a sitting duck until Dana Holgorsen takes over, Stewart will fire up the Mountaineers for their seventh ACC bowl opponent since 2002.
Keys to victory for West Virginia: While Geno Smith has had an impressive second half of the season, the Mountaineers are living on the play of their defense. West Virginia's defense, particularly in the second half, simply refused to give up the big play against their opponents. Russell Wilson has a tendancy to wear a defense down with lots of pitch and catch, so West Virginia cannot let him get in a rhythm. If NC State keeps this game close, I have a feeling it's going to be a shootout. If the Mountaineers can shut down Wilson, Geno Smith should find it easy to catch the NC State secondary napping for a big play or two.
Keys to victory for NC State: Match West Virginia's intensity on defense. While not one of the superior defensive units in the ACC, NC State's linebackers are the cream of the crop. Led by Nate Irving, they will have an opportunity to create big plays to slow West Virginia's momentum. When NC State is blitzing the quarterback, they mask their shortcomings in the secondary. If they allow West Virginia's offense to keep them on their heels, the Pack will struggle mightily to play keep-up.
The Champs Sports Bowl is like: The third place match in international competition. Both teams fell just a game short of their conference championship hopes, and now this is their consolation. Much of this game will be decided by who decides to really "bring it." If both teams do, it could be a thrilling game in Orlando.