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Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Champs Sports Bowl: NC State (8-4) vs. WVU (9-3)

By Heather Dinich

NC State is wrapping up one of the program’s most successful seasons since the Philip Rivers era. West Virginia enters the game with an awkward impending coaching transition, and three players who have been suspended for academics. The intangibles favor NC State, but here’s a closer look at NC State’s matchup against West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. Not only is he one of the most entertaining quarterbacks in the country, it could be his encore performance. Wilson hasn’t announced yet whether he will return next year or join the Colorado Rockies. If this is his final football game, you don’t want to miss it. Just when you think a play is over, Wilson scrambles for the first down. He has thrown for more than 300 yards eight times this year, and West Virginia has yet to face a quarterback as talented.

WHAT TO WATCH: NC State’s offensive line against the Mountaineers’ top pass-rushers. Defensive ends Julian Miller (8.0 sacks) and Bruce Irvin (12.0 sacks) have combined for 20 sacks this year. The Mountaineers’ 3.3 sacks per game ranks third nationally, just ahead of NC State, which ranks fourth with 3.25. NC State ranks 104th in the nation for sacks allowed this season, as Wilson has been sacked 34 times. That is the fourth-highest number of opponent sacks at NC State since 1978.

WHY WATCH: Milestones for NC State. In addition to the possibility that this could be Wilson’s last game, NC State is looking for its first bowl win under coach Tom O’Brien, who needs one more to reach 100 career wins. A ninth win would tie for the second-most victories in the program’s history. It’s not a bad consolation prize for a team that was one win away from playing in the ACC championship game. It’s the most wins the program has seen since 2003, when NC State finished 8-5. Since 1993, only two Wolfpack squads have posted more than seven regular-season victories -- the 1994 squad and the 2002 team, which played 13 regular-season contests. The record for wins was 11 in 2002.

PREDICTION: NC State 35, West Virginia 21. There have been too many off-field distractions for the Mountaineers, and losing their starting center will be a factor. So will the injury to standout cornerback Brandon Hogan. NC State’s passing offense should be the difference in this game.