Louisville is hardly the same team that lost at North Carolina 14-7 on Oct. 8.
Win or lose in Charlotte, the Cardinals have to get the award for re-invention during the course of the 2011 regular season.
When coach Charlie Strong fired offensive coordinator Mike Sanford midseason and turned the offense over to assistant Shane Watson, the entire team pretty much did a 180.
Over their last five games, the Cards won four and averaged 29.4 points. They also lost by nine at Cincinnati, where the Wolfpack (7-5) got clobbered by 30. And if Louisville changed during the season, N.C. State often flip-flopped from quarter to quarter, the prime example being a 56-41 season-ending win against Maryland.
But assuming the Wolfpack doesn't come out ridiculously flat and undermine fan energy again, Bank of America Stadium should be a virtual home-game situation.
As bowl games go, this one is unusually important for N.C. State's coaches and players. Tom O'Brien needs to end 2011 gaining some traction.
With North Carolina changing coaches and East Carolina (5-7) staying home for the holidays, N.C. State has an opportunity to grab significant in-state momentum.
But with this N.C. State team, there's never a really safe bet. Still, you have to think the defensive unit that played so well against North Carolina and Clemson will make an encore.