NCF Nation: 2010 Champs Sports Bowl Preview

The No. 2 bowl in the Big East pecking order is also the second-earliest bowl for the league. West Virginia gets back to action after a few weeks of wild coaching news. Here's a quick preview of Tuesday night's Champs Sports Bowl:

WHO TO WATCH: West Virginia running back Noel Devine. It's the final college game for Devine, who has amassed more than 4,000 rushing yards in his career. He hasn't been the same player this year ever since a foot injury against LSU, which was later exacerbated by an ankle problem in the Louisville game. But now he's had a few weeks to heal, and perhaps he's ready to deliver a fitting swan song. When he's right, there's no more explosive player in the country. If he's not himself, then the Mountaineers may turn to Shawne Alston and Ryan Clarke for the bulk of the carries.

WHAT TO WATCH: West Virginia's defense versus NC State quarterback Russell Wilson. The Mountaineers had one of the best defenses in the country this year, not once allowing more than 21 points. That defense will be facing the best quarterback it has seen this year in the dangerous, multi-dimensional Wilson. Add to that the fact that top cornerback Brandon Hogan will miss the game with a torn ACL, and this is arguably the biggest challenge all season for this defense. Defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel's 3-3-5 scheme and a ton of veterans have made West Virginia difficult for any quarterback to solve this year. It will be fun to watch how Wilson fares.

WHY WATCH: West Virginia is the highest-ranked team in the Big East, and many people think the Mountaineers would have made a better BCS representative for the league than Connecticut, to which they lost in overtime on the road. Here is their chance to prove it. It will also be the final game before Dana Holgorsen takes over as offensive coordinator/coach-in-waiting, so this marks the end of an era in some ways. The Big East is looking for respect, and so its top-ranked team needs to take care of business against an ACC also-ran.

PREDICTION: This is a tough one because nobody knows exactly how much of a distraction the coaching situation was for this team. Hogan's loss hurts, too. I think Wilson will help NC State exploit West Virginia's defense more than any other team all season, but in the end Geno Smith and the Mountaineers make one more play. Give me West Virginia by a field goal, 26-23.
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.