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NC State vs. Clemson Prediction: Death Valley to Host Top-10 ACC Showdown

Undefeated Wolfpack, Tigers jockeying to be conference's leading College Football Playoff contender.

Memorial Stadium will be banged out on Saturday night when NC State visits Clemson, but an unwelcomed guest may show up as the remnants of Hurricane Ian linger around the Palmetto State. The wet weather may force ESPN's "College GameDay" indoors, but it won't dampen the enthusiasm surrounding the biggest game of Week 5.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 5

Although NC State had a couple of close calls this season, the Wolfpack come in unscathed at 4-0 after doing this past week what most other FBS teams do when provided the opportunity: beat UConn to a pulp. ESPN may not have chosen Clemson as its locale for GameDay if the Tigers didn't rally to win at Wake Forest on Saturday. But B.T. Potter drilled a 52-yard field goal late to tie it up, and Dabo Swinney's guys took down the Demon Deacons in double overtime.

After losing 15 of the previous 16 meetings, NC State beat Clemson in Raleigh last season and hopes to make it two in a row on Saturday night.

No. 10 NC State at No. 5 Clemson

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ABC
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Clemson -6.5
Tickets: As low as $63 on SITickets.com*

When NC State Has the Ball

With the departure of running backs Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person after last season, even more of the offensive responsibility in 2022 was going to be placed in the hands of star quarterback Devin Leary. So far this fall, the junior from Sicklerville, New Jersey, has been good. Perhaps not great, but good. He's completed 64 percent of his passes and has nine touchdowns and two interceptions, so he hasn't hurt the team in any way. But considering his play in '21 and what was being asked of him coming into the year, the numbers are not as gaudy as some might have expected.

Fifth-year senior Thayer Thomas has been a dependable receiver during his entire time in Raleigh and that has continued into this season with 15 catches early on. Another fifth-year player, Devin Carter, has been productive as well, and Leary has utilized much of his experienced pass-catching group. Freshman Demie Sumo leads a running game that has been OK statistically, but much of the overall total is the result of strong showings against UConn and FCS Charleston Southern.

The Wolfpack won't be playing that type of competition this week, though Wake Forest showed that if you can protect the quarterback, it's possible to make big plays against this Clemson defense. Actually, the Tigers' pass defense has been a problem throughout the season as Furman put up 259 aerial yards and Louisiana Tech threw for 311 in the two games prior to Wake. The rush defense has been strong and injuries have been a factor, but Clemson has to shore up the gaps in their coverage or Leary and Co. will be the next team to exploit the Tigers.

When Clemson Has the Ball

When his team needed him most, DJ Uiagalelei made a statement. The junior quarterback not only put up 423 yards of total offense, he also made key plays with the game on the line. Both overtime touchdown passes, each of them on third-and-6, were beautiful throws in clutch situations. Now he will look to build off what was the best performance of his career.

If Uiagalelei can play at a high level, this offense becomes especially dangerous because Will Shipley is an excellent running back who knows how to find the end zone. The sophomore had 104 yards against Wake and scored his 18th career touchdown... in just his 14th game. Add in a top-notch performance from the line and the Tigers certainly appear to be building something special offensively.

But much like NC State's offense facing a new type of challenge this weekend, so too is the Clemson offense. The Wolfpack returned just about everyone from a unit that ranked No. 19 in total defense last season, and the start to 2022 has been pretty good as well. Linebacker Drake Thomas leads the team in tackles, but the group swarms as a whole to the ball and ranks 10th against the run. They lead the ACC with seven interceptions, but this could be the area that Clemson attacks. East Carolina threw for 267 yards and Texas Tech passed for 299 yards. In both cases, NC State had a lead and the Pirates and the Red Raiders were trying to come back, but considering how well the Tigers threw the ball against Wake, this may be the avenue they take again this week.

Final Analysis

After winning in Winston-Salem, Clemson could give itself a considerable advantage by beating another division rival. Meanwhile, NC State would get off to a great ACC start by taking down the mighty Tigers. Weather will be a factor, so the unpredictability of turnovers will almost certainly come into play. But it also could favor the team that can put together some semblance of a running game. Even though the Wolfpack have a great rush defense, I think Clemson will have more success on the ground. The rain may hinder both teams' pass rush, but the Tigers' defensive talent will show through enough in this game and pressure Leary into a couple of mistakes. Clemson will grab ahold of the Atlantic lead with a solid win at home.

Prediction: Clemson 30, NC State 21

Podcast: Week 5 Preview, Predictions and Picks Against the Spread

Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, focusing on the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.

*Price as of publication.