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NC State Wolfpack vs. Syracuse Orange Preview and Prediction

Matt Dayes

Matt Dayes

A lot hangs in the balance as NC State visits Syracuse at the Carrier Dome.

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Namely, bowl hopes, as a win this Saturday afternoon for either team would go a long way toward achieving postseason play.

However, both squads enter at 4-5 and have to recover from some serious adversity suffered either last week or, in NC State's case, over the last month.

The Wolfpack, after starting out 4-1, have lost four in a row. Three of those losses for head coach Dave Doeren and Co. – against Clemson, Boston College and Florida State – have come by an average of six points, including an overtime loss against the Tigers on the road.

Last week's 24-20 defeat at the hands of the Seminoles was just as excruciating, as junior safety Shawn Boone dropped what could have been a game-clinching interception in the end zone one play before Florida State's Deondre Francois hit Travis Rudolph for a touchdown pass with 3:09 to play.

It was the type of stomach-punch loss that led NC State running back Matt Dayes to say to reporters, "I almost feel like we are cursed."

On the other side, Syracuse was pummeled both on the scoreboard and physically in a 54-0 loss to Clemson last week. The major loss was at quarterback, as Eric Dungey, who has a history with concussions, suffered another one and did not return to action. Wide receiver Brisly Estime and running back Moe Neal also suffered injuries, but both are expected back this week.

Dino Babers' team, which gained some momentum with back-to-back wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College in mid-October, now has to try and regain it needing two wins out of this game, at home against Florida State and on the road at Pittsburgh, to gain bowl eligibility.

So both teams are in the same predicament, and the winner will have a better shot of finding a way out of it.

NC State at Syracuse

Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN2
Spread: Off

Three Things to Watch

1. Dungey decision
The aforementioned injury to Eric Dungey could be what turns this game to one side or the other. As it stands, it has Vegas in a standstill, with the line being off the board until the quarterback's status is known. For the season, the quarterback has completed 230 of 355 passes (64.8 percent) for 2,679 yards, 15 touchdowns and seven interceptions, helping receiver Amba Etta-Tawo achieve a Syracuse single-season record 75 receptions and 1,158 yards to go along with seven touchdowns. In Dungey's place last week, Austin Wilson and Zack Mahoney saw time, with Wilson completing 17-of-27 attempts for 116 yards and two picks. If the Orange want to exploit NC State's 91st-ranked pass defense, getting Dungey back would be ideal.

2. On the edge
Although the Wolfpack don't defend the pass well, they sure as heck know how to get after the quarterback and force negative plays with their defensive ends. In a game where Dungey may or may not play, the ability for the Wolfpack to possibly rattle whoever is in his place will be a major factor in determining the outcome. The two players there to watch are Bradley Chubb, cousin of Georgia running back Nick Chubb, and Kentavius Street. Chubb enters the game with a team-high six sacks, while Street owns seven tackles for a loss this season. Both will have the full attention of the Syracuse offensive line Saturday.

3. Better Dayes
There are a lot of top running backs in the ACC, and Matt Dayes belongs in every conversation when it comes to that group. The senior has carried the ball 167 times for 831 yards (5.0 ypc) and four touchdowns. With quarterback Ryan Finley as a little more of an inconsistent force on offense, it's up to the Syracuse defense to contain Dayes to limit the Wolfpack. Even though the Orange come in with the nation's 93rd-ranked run defense, it has two of the more underrated linebacker talents in the league in Zaire Franklin and Parris Bennett, who combined for 30 tackles against Clemson.

Final Analysis

Not to come back to the same point again, but whether or not Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey plays in this game makes a huge difference. Can Dino Babers adequately prepare backup Austin Wilson for what the Wolfpack bring if Dungey can't go? The thought here is that neither team holds a great advantage on the other, but the uncertainty at quarterback tips the scales in NC State's favor.

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Prediction: NC State 24, Syracuse 21

— 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.