But the Wolfpack are now sitting at 6-3 after consecutive wins, the latest being a victory over No. 21 Liberty. With a final regular-season game against Georgia Tech on tap for next week, NC State can go into bowl season looking for its third nine-win campaign in the past four years.
The near future is not as bright for the Orange. Dino Babers' team is 1-8, has lost six in a row, and will finish 2020 with a trip to South Bend to play Notre Dame. Syracuse athletic director John Wildhack has said that Babers will return in 2021, but questions on the coach's future undoubtedly will remain despite that vote of confidence.
NC State has won 11 of the 13 meetings in this series — but just five of the last seven since Syracuse joined the ACC in 2013 — and each of their last three games has been decided by 10 points or fewer.
NC State at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 28 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: NC State -14
When NC State Has the Ball
Most experts expected a high-scoring contest when the Pack played Liberty this past Saturday. Though it was good enough for a win, the NC State offense could only muster 15 points. Considering that the offense had put up at least 30 in six of the Pack's first eight games, the prognosticators had reason to expect a lot of scoring. Quarterback Bailey Hockman had his worst game since being inserted back into the starting lineup, completing 14 of 27 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
But the offense got a boost from the running duo of Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person, who combined for 179 yards, with Knight scoring both Pack touchdowns. Person was banged up during the game, and how that affects him moving forward remains to be seen, though head coach Dave Doeren didn't reference any issues during his Monday press conference.
Defensively, Syracuse has not quit despite its 1-8 record. The Orange are 12th in the ACC in total defense, but considering that the offense can't stay on the field, that is not that bad. Their biggest problem is that they tend to get worn down during the course of the game, and stopping the run becomes an issue in the second half of games. They have defenders who can make plays, as evidenced by their 12 tackles for lost yardage in the Louisville game. But Knight and Person could feast in the second half as Orange fatigue sets in.
When Syracuse Has the Ball
The Cuse is last in the ACC in passing offense, last in the league in rushing offense, and last in the FBS in total offense among teams that have played at least five games. A total of 121 FBS teams average more than 300 yards per game. Syracuse has gone over that mark just three times in nine outings. The Orange have converted just 27 of 119 third downs this season. That 22.69 percent conversion rate is the worst among teams that have played at least four games and the lowest number in the FBS since FIU converted just 22.67 percent of third downs in 2013.
Trying to pinpoint the problem would be futile. No one knows for sure how good Tommy DeVito would have been, but when he went down with an injury, this side of the ball became a disaster. Rex Culpepper took over for a while, but he gave way to JaCobian Morgan. The freshman from Canton, Miss., was more productive through two games but then struggled mightily against Louisville before leaving the game with an apparent head injury. Running back Sean Tucker and receiver Taj Harris will be the Cuse players NC State must closely watch.
The Pack defense put forth its best effort of the year last Saturday, holding the high-flying Liberty offense to just 279 yards and 14 points. The NC State defenders may be adapting to defensive coordinator Tony Gibson's 3-3-5 defense, as they played a strong game versus Florida State and followed that up with the lockdown of Liberty. Linebackers Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore are the playmakers on the Pack defense.
Syracuse games have been fairly predictable this season. The defense plays hard and keeps the Orange alive early in the game. The offense is unable to stay on the field at all, the defense becomes overworked, and opposing teams pull away in the second half. That seems like a very plausible scenario this week as well. NC State wins and pushes its winning streak to three games.
Prediction: NC State 27, Syracuse 10
Podcast: Week 13 Preview and Predictions + Interview with Kirk Herbstreit
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo by Gene Galin/NC State Athletics)