Wolfpack look to topple surging Eagles and maintain slim division title hopes
A preseason dark-horse candidate to win the ACC's Atlantic Division, the Wolfpack have come about as close to that expectation as possible, as their narrow defeat to Clemson last week has them tied in the loss column with the defending national champion Tigers.
Now, the Wolfpack (6-3, 4-1 ACC) need win out against Boston College, Wake Forest and North Carolina and have Florida State upset at Clemson to get a shot at the program's first ACC title since 1979.
That first step won't come easy, as BC has won three straight and will enjoy the benefit of coming off a bye week, while the Wolfpack are coming off back-to-back losses to College Football Playoff contenders Notre Dame and Clemson, two of the most physical teams in the country.
The Eagles (5-4, 3-3 ACC) are playing their best football under head coach Steve Addazio since 2014, and have finally seemed to have found an offensive identity after struggles with injuries and coaching turnover on that side of the ball stunted its development.
Bowl eligibility is still in sight for the Eagles, but so is a chance for the program's best win total since 2008, when the Eagles went 9-5.
NC State at Boston College
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ABC/ESPN2
Spread: NC State -3
Three Things to Watch
1. Getting edgy
Even with Boston College defensive end Harold Landry (above, right) questionable with an ankle injury that kept him out of the team's win over Florida State two weeks ago, the Eagles' pass rush has remained in good hands in part due to the emergence of junior end Zach Allen. The 6-foot-5, 285-pounder has had a breakout season with four sacks and a team-high 9.5 tackles for a loss. For NC State, defensive end Bradley Chubb has had a tremendous season and seen his stock soar for the 2018 NFL Draft. With 7.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss, he will be a major challenge for a BC offensive line that has been much improved this season despite a heavy dose of the injury bug.
2. Passing fancy
Although the two players are far apart along their development, NC State quarterback Ryan Finley and Boston College signal-caller Anthony Brown have both been positives for their respective teams this season. Finley has completed 65.7 percent of his passes to go along with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions and, like Chubb, has seen his NFL draft stock get better with each passing week. Brown is still just a redshirt freshman, and while his numbers yo-yo a bit from week to week, his progress is notable. Not only has Eagles offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler done a nice job of rolling the pocket to take advantage of Brown's mobility, but he youngster has gained confidence in throwing downfield to a group of receivers that has better speed than your typical BC outfit.
3. Dash of Dillon
While Brown poses a threat, he's not quite consistent enough to rely on if the BC running game falls flat. NC State comes in ranked 31st in the country in run defense, and if the Eagles can't establish the ground game, it severely limits what the Eagles like to do, which is wear opponents down with its big offensive line and use it to set up play-action and bootlegs. That's where true freshman running back AJ Dillon comes in for the Eagles. In the four games in which the 6-foot, 240-pounder has carried the ball 24 or more times, the Eagles own wins over Central Michigan, Louisville, Virginia and Florida State. In other words, BC's momentum is directly correlated to Dillon's emergence as one of the top young backs in the nation. Mixed in there, though, is a Virginia Tech game where the Hokies limited Dillon to 35 yards on 10 carries. The Eagles lost that game, 23-10. It may be a bit of an oversimplification to say that the Wolfpack will come out victorious if they contain Dillon, but it would certainly tip things in their favor if they did.
Harold Landry's status is still up in the air, so if he plays, that could alter things a bit, but right now, these two teams look fairly evenly matched. A year ago, Boston College began to turn its season around with a win over the Wolfpack in Raleigh, so while NC State is favored, the Eagles know this is a team they can beat. Combined with the fact that the Eagles had a chance to recharge their batteries with a bye week while the Wolfpack were suffering their second straight loss to a College Football Playoff contender, it feels as if BC is catching NC State at the right time.
Prediction: Boston College 27, NC State 26
— Written by Adam Kurkjian, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and is a reporter for the Boston Herald. He has covered the World Series, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup playoffs, Boston Marathon and Little League World Series, among other events from the high school, college and pro ranks. Follow him on Twitter @AdamKurkjian.