Louisville Cardinals (7-5 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. North Carolina State Wolf Pack (7-5 SU, 5-6-1 ATS), Tuesday December 27th, 2011. 8:00PM EST. Belk Bowl,
Bank of America Stadium Charlotte, NC
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Lou +2.5/NC St. -2.5
Over/Under Total: 45
Formerly the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the newly sponsored Belk Bowl will take place on December 27th inside Bank of America Stadium when the Louisville Cardinals battle the North Carolina State Wolf Pack. The Belk Bowl through its history has regularly featured teams from both the Big East and ACC Conferences and that will be the case again this year. However, the Big East has surprisingly had the upper hand in this postseason match-up winning the last 3 games over ACC opponents.
The Cardinals hope to continue that trend as they look to continue to build under the tenure of Coach Charlie Strong. Strong led the Cardinals to their first bowl victory since 2007 last year. Now the Cardinals have the chance to improve to a possible 8-5 record after finishing 2010 at the 7-6 mark. The Cardinals will enter as mere 2.5 point underdogs against the Wolf Pack. However, Louisville closed out the year with a lot of momentum winning 5 of their last 6 games. That late season success should be credited to the defense for playing extremely well and forcing a lot of turnovers during that stretch to help the offense.
Overall the offense has been rather horrific this season for the Cardinals. In fact, Louisville ranks 104th in total offense averaging just 324 yards per game and also ranks 100th in the nation averaging just 21.75 points per game. One of the contributing factors to the offenses woes has been play of the quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater. Bridgewater has completed 66% passing for 1,855 yards this season with 12 touchdowns. However, he has also thrown 9 interceptions and often holds on to the ball too long which has resulted in 28 sacks on the year. Add a non-existent rushing offense to the mix and you can quickly see why Louisville has struggled severely on the offensive side of the football.
Still, the Cardinals defense has kept them in contention this season. After all Coach Charlie Strong, made his name as a defensive coordinator at South Carolina and then Florida before moving to the head coaching role at Louisville. The Cardinals have been rock solid on defense this year holding opponents to just 323 total yards (23rd in NCAA) and 19.17 points (14th in NCAA) per game. Therefore if the defense can continue to play strong, the offense will only need to be mildly effective.
On the other side of the field, North Carolina State has also been led by the play of their defense this season. The Wolf Pack defense has held teams to 354 yards and 24 points per game which is not considerably bad if you look at how many high power offenses were on their schedule this season. On offense, the Wolf Pack have struggled mightily averaging 346 yards (94th in NCAA) and 28 points (58th in NCAA) per game.
Senior QB Mike Glennon has struggled at times this season, but really began to play well in the final weeks of the regular season in the wins over Clemson and Maryland. In those games, Glennon completed 65.5% passing for 559 yards with 8 scores and just 1 interception. In the prior 4 games before, Glennon had tossed 6 picks compared to just 4 scores and that inconsistency has been an issue all year. It’s hard to predict what type of game Glennon will have based on his history this season, but Louisville’s defense gets a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks so that will definitely make it difficult for the Wolf Pack senior quarterback.
Outside of Glennon, the offense is surrounded by talent but they have just not been able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together yet. Running back James Washington is a solid tailback that has picked up 852 rushing yards with 7 scores this season. WR T.J. Graham is an under rated wide out that has caught 39 passes for 641 yards and 5 scores. Together North Carolina State hopes some of these playmakers can make some big plays against the Cardinals as they look to grab just their 2nd postseason victory in the last 6 years.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: This will be a defensive type game and possibly low scoring the entire way. With that being said, I still believe North Carolina State has more firepower to score points especially if Glennon plays well. Also, the Wolf Pack rank 6th in the nation in turnover margin and turnovers are huge in low scoring games. Therefore, I’m riding North Carolina State minus the 2.5.
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