North Carolina State Wolfpack (8-4, 9-3 ATS) vs. West Virginia Mountaineers (9-3, 7-5 ATS), Champs Sports Bowl, Tuesday December 28th, 6:30PM Eastern Citrus Bowl Stadium Orlando, Fla.
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Betting Odds: NC State +3/WVU -3
Over/Under Total: 48
The Champs Sports Bowl has produced some intriguing match-ups over its 20 year history. This year’s game will be another exciting pairing between the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Interestingly both schools just barely missed out on bigger opportunities. The Mountaineers finished in a 3 way tie in the Big East that sent Connecticut to the Fiesta Bowl. North Carolina State just needed to beat Maryland in the season finale for a chance to go to the ACC Championship Game with a shot at the Orange Bowl. The Wolfpack appeared to be one of the top teams in the ACC before two late season losses included the finale against Maryland ruined their chances at a conference title. The Wolfpack who are 8-4 this season will now meet with the 9-3 Mountaineers in a battle representing two of the top teams from the ACC and the Big East.
W. Virginia sports one of the best defenses in the entire nation. The Mountaineers defense ranked 3rd overall allowing just 251 yards per game. Not to mention the Mountaineers defense ranked 2nd in scoring allowing just 12.75 points per game. The West Virginia defense is anchored by an extremely talented defensive line led by defensive end Bruce Irvin. Irvin has recorded 12 sacks this season to rank 5th individually in the country. More importantly he leads a defensive line that ranks 3rd as a team averaging 3.3 sacks per game and a rush stop unit that ranks 2nd in the country allowing just 85 yards per game. Those numbers are simply outstanding considering the amount of talented offenses the West Virginia defense has lined up against this season.
On offense, West Virginia has been mediocre at best averaging 376 yards and 26 points per contest this season. QB Geno Smith has been solid for the most part this season completing 65% passing for 2,567 yards, 23 scores, and just 6 interceptions. Smith is actually coming off his biggest performance of the season where he completed 23 of 28 passing for 352 yards in a blowout win against Rutgers. If Smith can duplicate those types of numbers against the Wolfpack defense, West Virginia could be extremely tough to beat. Wide receivers Tavon Austin and Jock Sanders are talented athletes in the passing game. Austin leads the passing offense with 8 touchdowns while Sanders is 2nd in receiving with 670 yards.
Outside of the passing attack, the Mountaineers have an experienced runner in senior tailback Noel Devine. Many expected Devine to have a much bigger season after rushing for over 2,600 yards the last two years. However, Devine has jus posted 886 yards and 6 touchdowns this season which is a bit disappointing from his numbers as a youngster. North Carolina State has been very solid against the run allowing just 112 yards per game on the ground. Therefore, this game may likely come down to how well QB Geno Smith can move the ball in the air against a weaker North Carolina State pass defense.
Luckily North Carolina State likes to move the ball through the air and will try to go around that dynamic West Virginia defensive line. If the Wolfpack offensive line can protect well, QB Russell Wilson is a very talented player that can open things up for the rest of the offense. Wilson has completed 58% for 3,288 yards with 26 touchdowns and 14 picks on the season. Wide receivers Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams are explosive wide receivers in the passing game. Spencer is a big body guy that is difficult to defense and has contributed to a team leading 868 receiving yards on the season. Williams has been a big play threat averaging 15 yards per catch. Both wide outs will need to have big games and find ways to get open against that tough West Virginia defense in hopes to move the ball down field. If those receivers struggle to get open or Wilson has trouble with accuracy, the Wolfpack defense could have a very difficult time finding other ways to move the football.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: West Virginia’s defense has played extremely well this season and they are just as good as they appear on paper. However, the Mountaineers offense has struggled against talented defenses this season. On the other side of the field, North Carolina State has moved the ball very well on offense this season. However, they put up just 13 points against a Clemson defense that is very similar to West Virginia up front on the defensive line. I believe both of those factors will equal out and produce a low scoring close game. If I had to choose a side, I would go with West Virginia. However, the safest bet is the under 48.5. Good Luck!