Syracuse’s upset of Clemson late Friday night certainly put a different spin on N.C. State’s season, with the Wolfpack in full and complete control of its Atlantic Division destiny now. With Duke and North Carolina both sliding in the wrong direction, N.C. State is clearly the Triangle’s standard-bearer this season, assuming it can continue down this path.
So that’s what’s on the line as the Wolfpack (5-1) travels to Pittsburgh (x-x) in a game N.C. State is expected to win. The Wolfpack handled that situation against Syracuse; this time it’ll be on the road. Duke (4-2) and North Carolina (1-5) will both be looking for turnarounds against Florida State (1-3) and Virginia (2-4), and both programs are in desperate need of some positive momentum.
My winning streak ended last week when Duke lost to Virginia, leaving me at 15-3 for the season, 11-7 against the spread.
Last week: “The big question facing the Blue Devils is whether they can protect Daniel Jones well enough to allow their offense to function.”
This week: The answer continues to be no, and now Duke will be without a starting offensive lineman against Florida State. The defense doesn’t look as stout as it did earlier in the season and the Blue Devils lack playmakers on the outside. All that said, Duke is 4-2 and gets the Seminoles at a low ebb. There are probably enough wins on Duke’s schedule to get to six, but a home win Saturday would give them a better shot at 7-5 or 8-4.
Saturday prediction: Florida State 24, Duke 21.
Last week: “An upset over Notre Dame would go a long way to revising the forecast upward, but right now four wins looks like the Tar Heels’ ceiling.”
This week: Four wins may be generous. The injury-ridden Tar Heels still have Western Carolina to come, but it’s hard to expect them to beat anyone else except maybe Pittsburgh. Virginia has already beaten Duke and Boise State and comes into this game as a road favorite. If UNC is going to save its season, it has to start now.
Saturday prediction: Virginia 35, North Carolina 24
Last week: “A win over Louisville would open the door to a 10-win season. That’s likely to be the maximum for N.C. State anyway, since it doesn’t look like anyone’s beating Clemson.”
This week: How quickly things change. With Kelly Bryant injured, Clemson is clearly beatable, as Syracuse proved Friday night. So the door is wide open for N.C. State in the Atlantic Division, especially with Louisville and Florida State already behind it. The Wolfpack could potentially go 11-1 ... or slide to 2-4 with a loss at Pittsburgh,, although that seems unlikely and nine or 10 wins seems entirely win play. (Your reminder that N.C. State, an 11-point favorite, is 0-4 against the spread as a favorite this season.)
Saturday prediction: N.C. State 42, Pittsburgh 24.
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock