N.C. State can look to Bud Fox for its motto this week: “Life comes down to a few moments. This is one of them.” The Wolfpack is walking into Gordon Gekko’s office in South Bend this week with a chance to stake its claim as a legitimate College Football Playoff candidate. The difference between a 12-1 ACC champion with a win over Notre Dame and an 11-2 ACC champion that lost to Notre Dame could be the difference between getting in and being left out.
Of course, that presumes wins over Clemson and either Miami or Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game, none of which ranks on the low side in degree of difficulty, but if all the pieces are going to fall into place for the Wolfpack (6-1), it’s a lot easier if this is one of them.
Duke (4-4) and North Carolina (1-7) have combined to lose nine straight and appear to be in over their heads this weekend against Virginia Tech and Miami, respectively.
Missed a few outright last week in my worst performance since Week 1, which dropped me to 19-5 on the season, but did better against the spread, moving to 15-8-1.
Last week: “Duke’s path to a bowl now leads through Pittsburgh and Army, so this week looms as an absolute must-win for the Blue Devils.”
This week: As I wrote after that disastrous loss to Pitt, Duke’s one-season slide is now very much at risk of becoming a two-season trend. Worse, the Blue Devils are losing games by beating themselves with penalties, missed assignments and poor special teams – all areas where David Cutcliffe’s teams have traditionally outplayed their opponents. It’s hard to see things turning around at Virginia Tech, so Duke’s bowl hopes will likely hinge on wins at Army and Wake Forest.
Saturday prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 7
Last week: “As it is, the Tar Heels are playing spoiler, and a win in Blacksburg would certainly do that in the Coastal Division.”
This week: While preparing for Duke this week, Virginia Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster delivered a backhanded (and presumably targeted) dismissal of North Carolina: “This will be a much better football team than we faced last week, in all facets of the game.” He’s not wrong, but it does indicate just how little love is lost between the Hokies and Tar Heels even in a year where the two programs aren’t competitive. That rivalry continues to simmer. As for this week, the Tar Heels are just trying not to lose anyone else to injury.
Saturday prediction: Miami by third-quarter TKO
Last week: “The next three weeks will determine whether N.C. State can stay atop the Atlantic Division and sneak its way into the CFP conversation.”
This week: N.C. State wants to be taken seriously? Go beat a good Notre Dame team in South Bend. This is the Rubicon in the Wolfpack’s season. It’s crazy (and realistic) to think the Wolfpack could end up 11-1 and just as crazy (although less realistic) to think it could finish 8-4 or 7-5. At this moment, the sky is the limit for N.C. State, but to ensure serious consideration for the College Football Playoff as an ACC champion, this nonference win is essential. As Alec Baldwin’s unnamed salesman in “Glengarry Glen Ross” put it, “Money’s out there. You pick it up, it’s yours. You don’t, I got no sympathy for you.”
Saturday prediction: Notre Dame 35, N.C. State 31
Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock