NCF Nation: 2012 belk bowl

There was no shortage of momentum swings in the Belk Bowl for both NC State and Louisville, two teams that finished the season on hot streaks and scraped their way into the postseason. Special-teams snafus were a highlight (or lowlight, depending on your seat), and both teams combined for five turnovers. Here’s a look back at NC State’s 31-24 win over Louisville:

How the game was won: NC State scored 14 points off turnovers, and came up with the big defensive stops when needed, including two on fourth downs. Louisville gave up too many big plays and made too many mistakes in the first half and couldn’t overcome them in the second, despite a better defensive job on quarterback Mike Glennon. Glennon set the tone in the first half with a strong passing game and three first-half touchdowns.

Turning point: On fourth-and-1 midway through the fourth quarter, Louisville tight end Chris White missed a block, freeing NC State linebacker Terrell Manning to push Vic Anderson back for a loss of a yard. The play negated an earlier turnover by NC State in which offensive lineman Rob Crisp grabbed a deflected ball, rumbled and fumbled, giving the Cardinals a great shot at making a comeback.

Player of the game: NC State cornerback David Amerson. He had two interceptions, including one he returned 65 yards for a touchdown. His second sealed the win and ended Louisville's chances at a comeback.

Player of the game II: NC State quarterback Glennon. He threw three touchdown passes and one interception in a hot first half and the impressive connection with receiver T.J. Graham was the difference early.

Unsung hero of the game: Terrell Manning. His fourth-down stop of Anderson in the fourth quarter prevented another big momentum swing by Louisville and stifled a potential scoring drive, and he also intercepted Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater on the Cardinals’ first drive of the game. The turnover led to NC State’s first points of the game, a 7-0 lead on a clock-eating 14-play drive. Manning also came up with a big hit on Bridgewater in the waning minute of the game that helped stop Louisville's final attempt at a comeback.

Second-guessing: Why kick the onside kick? With four minutes left in the game and two timeouts remaining, Louisville coach Charlie Strong elected for an onside kick. With 10 players ready to guard against it, there was no surprise element this time around. NC State recovered the ball on the 41-yard line. Let the defense make a stop and give the offense a chance to do its job.

Record performance: Amerson ended the game with his 13th interception of the season. He became the ACC's leader for interceptions in a season with two against Louisville. His interception return for a touchdown gave NC State a 31-10 lead.

Belk Bowl keys

December, 27, 2011
Here are three keys for the NC State heading into the Belk Bowl matchup against Louisvilee:

1. Win the field position battle. Louisville is No. 2 in the country in punt return yardage defense, and opponents have returned 12 punts for a total of five net yards in 12 games. NC State’s defense has the ability to create a short field with turnovers, but it also has one of the nation’s top punt returners in T.J. Graham. If the Pack can put itself in a good position to begin with, quarterback Mike Glennon can take care of the rest. That's assuming, though, that the offensive line can ...

2. Protect Glennon. NC State is No. 99 in the country in sacks allowed, with 33 overall this season. Louisville linebacker Dexter Heyman has three interceptions and four sacks on the year. NC State’s offensive line has to give Glennon time to throw. He’s got a strong, accurate arm, but Louisville is No. 17 in the country in sacks with 2.67 per game.

3. Three’s the charm. NC State is 7-0 this season when forcing three or more turnovers. Any fewer than that and they’re winless. The Wolfpack leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin with a +1.17 per game, +14 mark for the season. State ranks second nationally in turnovers gained, having picked off 24 passes and recovered a dozen fumbles.

Belk Bowl: Three Keys

December, 27, 2011
You saw the preview and prediction. Now here are three keys for Louisville going into the Belk Bowl tonight:

1. Relax: This will be the first bowl game for many of the starters and key contributors on this team. With so many true and redshirt freshmen contributing, it is natural to wonder how they will handle the challenge of playing with the spotlight squarely on them. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is not one to flinch under pressure -- he led his team to a comeback win against in-state rival Kentucky early on this season. But still, bowl games come with distractions and a long layoff that are not built into the regular season. How Louisville handles both will be a big key in this game.

2. Watch Amerson: NC State cornerback David Amerson has been an interception machine all season, so you can bet Louisville will be on the lookout for where he lines up in the secondary. With Michaelee Harris out because of a knee injury, he most likely will draw the assignment of trying to slow down Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker -- who leads the team with six touchdown receptions. Bridgewater has thrown 12 touchdown passes to nine interceptions this season, and is still learning how to read coverages. NC State might try to disguise what it is doing or at least confuse Bridgewater, and force him into making mistakes.

3. Do run-run: Louisville is at its best when it is able to establish the run, so that is going to be a bigger key than anything Bridgewater can do in the passing game. Louisville is 7-2 when rushing for 100 or more yards this season; 0-3 when failing to reach the 100-yard mark. Moving Dominique Brown to running back has been a big help for the Cardinals, as he and Victor Anderson have carried the rushing load in the past five games of the season. When Louisville has balance, most everything works out for this team.

Belk Bowl: Louisville vs. NC State

December, 27, 2011
Louisville (7-5) takes on NC State (7-5) in the Belk Bowl tonight at 8 p.m. Here is a quick preview:

WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. No question Bridgewater is the future in the Big East should he continue to develop and mature the way he has as a true freshman. Bridgewater set the single-season school record for passing yards, and has been praised for the poise and maturity he has shown as an 18-year-old taking over. There is no doubt that NC State will present a vareity of looks to try and confuse and rattle Bridgewater, but he is perfectly capable of rolling out to make plays with either his arm or his feet.

WHAT TO WATCH: Louisville D. The Cardinals have been one of the best in the Big East for a reason -- they are good at stopping the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. Louisville has held opponents to under 100 yards rushing in seven games this season, and has gotten better as the year has worn on. Though defensive end Greg Scruggs did not make the trip, the Cardinals are used to playing without him because he was dealing with an injury during the season. B.J. Dubose and Lorenzo Mauldin will shoulder the load.

WHY TO WATCH: Get a sneak peak now at a team that many believe will be ranked in the preseason Top 25 in 2012. The Cardinals have some of the best young talent in the entire nation, and it all starts with Bridgewater and his receiver tandem in Eli Rogers and DeVante Parker. On defense, you have rising stars Calvin Pryor and Andrew Johnson. There is a reason many regard Charlie Strong as one of the best coaches and recruiters in the business. He has taken a program that had floundered under Steve Kragthorpe and re-energized it. To be able to go back to a bowl game with so many young starters and contributors can only mean good things for the future.

PREDICTION: Louisville 24, NC State 20. From my Monday predictions post: Louisville goes into the game on a bit of a hot streak, having closed the season with a 5-1 mark. The Cardinals have simply found their identity. This offense is not going to light up the scoreboard, but it has become more efficient and balanced since play-calling duties switched to Shawn Watson. The defense has been solid, and will be one of the best the Wolfpack have faced this season. Louisville ranks No. 10 nationally in rushing defense (103.5 ypg), No. 14 in scoring defense (19.2 ppg) and No. 23 in total defense (327.8 ypg).

Belk Bowl: NC State vs. Louisville

December, 27, 2011
It was a November to remember for coach Tom O'Brien and his Wolfpack, who entered last month with a 4-4 record and needed to win three of their last four to become bowl eligible. Nobody could have predicted the wild finish, but the Pack went 3-1 last month to earn its place in Charlotte. Here's a quick preview of the matchup against Louisville:

WHO TO WATCH: Cornerback David Amerson. He didn’t have one pick in 640 snaps last year as a true freshman, but this year has been a breakout season after his move from boundary to field corner. Amerson has tied the ACC’s single-season record and is the nation’s leader in interceptions with 11. That’s four more than any other player in 2011, more than 63 FBS teams, and the most by any individual since Wisconsin’s Jim Leonhard had 11 in 14 games in 2002.

WHAT TO WATCH: Special teams. Both Louisville and NC State have had difference-makers in the return games. Louisville’s opponents have returned 12 punts for a total of five net yards in 12 games and is No. 2 in the country in punt return defense. NC State receiver T.J. Graham is No. 12 in the country in punt returns, and NC State is No. 22 overall with 11.44 yards. The Cardinals beat West Virginia with the help of an 82-yard touchdown return of a blocked field goal, and beat Connecticut with help from a 100-yard kickoff return. NC State was also the only FBS school in the country this year that relied upon true freshmen at punter, placekicker and longsnapper this year, the first time in O'Brien's 36 years of coaching he's had a true freshman lineup in the kicking game.

WHY TO WATCH: Fast finishes. Both of these teams scraped and clawed to become bowl eligible this year. Odds are neither program is going to take this opportunity lightly. Louisville got off to a 2-4 start, and NC State was 2-3. Louisville closed out the season with a 5-1 record and a share of its first Big East title since 2006. NC State had to win its final two games to become bowl eligible and pulled off a shocking upset of then-No. 7 Clemson before mustering the greatest comeback in school history with a 56-41 win over Maryland. Both of these teams have finally hit their stride and have peaked just in time for bowl season.

PREDICTION: NC State 28, Louisville 21: Both quarterbacks will need to get better protection than they have for most of the season, and both teams have seen their defenses improve, but NC State has done a tremendous job this year of forcing opposing quarterbacks into mistakes, and Teddy Bridgewater will find that out quickly. The difference will be NC State’s front seven on defense.

Predictions: Big East bowls

December, 26, 2011
The time has come for me to make my can't-be-beat Big East bowl predictions. All year you guys wanted me to think outside the box and pick some upsets. I shall deliver today. The pick for the Orange Bowl comes later this week, so West Virginia fans have to wait a few more days.

Belk Bowl: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5), Dec. 27, 8 p.m. Here comes Test 1 against the ACC. The Wolfpack will have the benefit of playing in front of a partisan crowd, but Louisville goes into the game on a bit of a hot streak, having closed the season with a 5-1 mark. The Cardinals have simply found their identity. This offense is not going to light up the scoreboard, but it has become more efficient and balanced since play-calling duties switched to Shawn Watson. The defense has been solid, and will be one of the best the Wolfpack have faced this season. Louisville ranks No. 10 nationally in rushing defense (103.5 ypg), No. 14 in scoring defense (19.2 ppg) and No. 23 in total defense (327.8 ypg). Here is the bottom line for me: You know what you are going to get out of the Cardinals. They have been exceptionally consistent in the second half of the season. You cannot say the same for NC State, one of the most inconsistent teams in the nation. Will we see the NC State team that beat Clemson or the one that lost to Boston College and nearly lost to Maryland? Louisville 24, NC State 20.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6), Dec. 30, 3:20 p.m. Once again, Rutgers is playing the quarterback shuffle game, and coach Greg Schiano has not announced whether Chas Dodd or Gary Nova will start in the bowl game. No matter who is behind center, you can bet one thing has been emphasized since Rutgers lost to UConn -- hold onto the football. Rutgers turned the ball over six times against the Huskies and simply never gave itself a chance to win. Iowa State has been solid at forcing turnovers, but the Cyclones have given the ball away too many times this season. Rutgers owned the turnover margin earlier this season but has fallen off lately. The key for Rutgers in all its wins this season has been simple -- create turnovers, limit mistakes and allow defense and special teams to carry the day. Schiano always gets his team up for bowl games, and Iowa State has dropped two games in a row since beating Oklahoma State. Rutgers 27, Iowa State 20.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl: Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6), Dec. 31, 3:30 p.m. I have been outspoken on this game in the past week so you know where I am going with this one. Zach Collaros might be back at quarterback for the Bearcats, which should be a huge advantage. Still, these teams are very similar -- good running backs (Isaiah Pead, Zac Stacy) and good defenses (Vandy ranks No. 19 in the nation, Cincinnati ranks in the top 10 against the run and leads in sacks). The quarterback matchup between Jordan Rodgers and Collaros should be a good one as well, but I still give the advantage to the Bearcats. This is a team that was on pace to get to a BCS game before Collaros broke his ankle. Cincinnati has been terrific at getting after the quarterback and making tackles behind the line, and the secondary is much improved. The seniors are eager to win their first bowl game and eager to prove the naysayers wrong once again. Cincinnati 27, Vanderbilt 21.

BBVA Compass Bowl: Pitt (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), Jan. 7, 1 p.m. The big question headed into this one is how Pitt responds with interim coach Keith Patterson leading the way. The Panthers played under an interim coach in this game last year against Kentucky and won, so clearly this is not a unique situation. Pitt has to do what has worked best this season -- establish the run and let quarterback Tino Sunseri manage the game. The defense has been much improved in the second half of the season, and SMU has struggled to put up points of late. The Mustangs also will be without leading rusher Zach Line, who played a big role in the offense. If the Panthers can continue to get after the quarterback and play well in the secondary, they should be able to win this game. Pitt 28, SMU 17.

Predictions: ACC bowls

December, 26, 2011
I finished the regular season with a picks percentage of 74.2, but I missed the one that mattered most and failed to pick the upset in the ACC championship game. That’s why they call it an upset. My grand total for the season stands at 72-26 heading into bowl season. Plenty of room for improvement, but there are a lot of tough calls and games that can go either way this bowl season. Here are your picks for the non-BCS bowls:

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl -- Missouri 31, North Carolina 28: The Tar Heels will get an inspired performance in interim coach Everett Withers’ last game, but Missouri is a better team than its five losses indicate. North Carolina will make one or two costly turnovers, and the Tar Heels’ defense won’t be able to make enough stops in the red zone.

Belk Bowl -- NC State 28, Louisville 21: Both quarterbacks will need to get better protection than they have for most of the season, and both teams have seen their defenses improve, but NC State has done a tremendous job this year of forcing opposing quarterbacks into mistakes, and Teddy Bridgewater will find that out quickly. The difference will be NC State’s front seven on defense.

Champs Sports Bowl -- Florida State 21, Notre Dame 17: This is significantly below the 30 points both teams are averaging this year, but Florida State’s defense will again be the difference. Even if the Noles can’t get things going again offensively, Florida State’s defense and special teams are good enough to offset it against the Irish. Notre Dame is No. 116 in the country in turnover margin, and Florida State is capable not only of forcing quarterback Tommy Rees into a turnover, but also of scoring on it.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl -- Wake Forest 24, Mississippi State 21. The Demon Deacons have too many difference-makers on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs to overcome. It’s been a record-setting year for Price and receiver Chris Givens, and freshman cornerback Merrill Noel leads the nation with 20 passes defended. The difference will be Wake Forest’s passing game and its ability to protect the ball.

Hyundai Sun Bowl -- Georgia Tech 28, Utah 24. The Utes couldn’t handle a floundering Colorado team that had just one league win in the regular-season finale, and this will be a much more difficult challenge. Those within Georgia Tech’s program are tired of hearing about the six-game losing streak, and coach Paul Johnson is at his best when he’s got something to prove. Georgia Tech will catch Utah off-guard with several big plays, control the clock and in turn the game.

Chick-fil-A Bowl -- Virginia 24, Auburn 21: The Tigers lost both coordinators in a span of a week, and leading rusher Michael Dyer has been suspended for the bowl game for a violation of team rules. Without those three components, Virginia has an edge. Plus, Auburn is a shadow of its 2010 national championship team, while Virginia has made a dramatic turnaround this year. Statistically, Auburn has one of the worst offenses in the country, and the defense has been at the bottom of the SEC.

Can the Big East go 5-0 in bowls?

December, 19, 2011
This bowl season could be a very jolly one for the Big East. Even though Big East teams are favored in two of the five bowl games, I maintain the league has an excellent chance to go undefeated.

The matchups are favorable, and the largest line for an opponent belongs to Clemson, at 3 1/2 over West Virginia in the Discover Orange Bowl. So even the oddsmakers are expecting games that could go either way. The Big East generally does well in bowl games, too. The league has posted a losing record just once since 2005, and did go undefeated in 2006.

So let's take a closer look at the matchups and why I believe each game should go in the Big East's favor.

Belk Bowl, Dec. 27: Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5). Line: NC State by 2 1/2. I understand why NC State is favored, because this is essentially a home game for the Wolfpack. But if you take a look at what these teams have done headed into their game, Louisville is the one that should win. The Cardinals ended the season on a 5-1 run, and their offense was much more productive at the end of the season than the start. NC State has been one of the most inconsistent teams in the ACC. This team lost to Boston College, then beat Clemson, and needed a massive comeback against a really bad Maryland team to become bowl eligible. NC State has two wins over FCS teams, so that makes the Wolfpack a five-win team over FBS competition. The only team they have faced with a better defense is FSU, and they lost that game 34-0. If you take out the Seminoles, who rank No. 6 in the nation in total D, the average defensive rank of the FBS teams NC State has faced this year is: 63. Louisville ranks No. 23.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Rutgers (8-4) vs. Iowa State (6-6), Dec. 30. Line: Rutgers by 1 1/2. We can go the defense route in this analysis as well. Everybody knows defense is scarce in the Big 12, right? Four Big 12 teams rank 100 or below in the NCAA total defense rankings (Oklahoma State 107; Baylor, 114; Texas Tech 115; Kansas 120). Iowa State ranks No. 99 itself. Defense is the strength of this Rutgers team, ranking No. 14 in the nation. We still do not know who is going to start at quarterback for Rutgers. But all this team has to do is protect the football and play solid defense, and the Scarlet Knights should win. Also, coach Greg Schiano is 4-1 in bowl games and hopefully learned a valuable lesson from the UConn game the last time out.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Cincinnati (9-3) vs. Vanderbilt (6-6), Dec. 31. Line: Vanderbilt by 2 1/2. Every Big East fan should be outraged that a 6-6 team from the SEC is favored over a co-Big East champion. Vanderbilt beat one bowl team this season (Wake Forest) and won two SEC games against two bad teams (Ole Miss, Kentucky). So I am really not sure what qualifies the Commodores to be favored in this game. Is it home-state advantage? That is the only reason I can come up with for this game. Cincinnati has the Big East Offensive Player of the Year in Isaiah Pead, and could also have Zach Collaros back. The defense ranks No. 1 in the nation in sacks (43) and tackles for loss (106.5). If Cincinnati loses, it would be a huge disappointment.

Discover Orange Bowl, Clemson (10-3) vs. West Virginia (9-3), Jan. 4. Line: Clemson by 3 1/2. I think these two teams are as evenly matched as you can get. Both have talent on offense, especially at the quarterback and receiver positions. Both have had letdown games this season, and both had to overcome the odds to win their respective league championships. There is no doubting these teams can score points, but Clemson had a much deeper offensive lull during its slump than West Virginia (averaged 14 points in three losses). And the Mountaineers have come on strong on defense of late. Clemson tight end Dwayne Allen could be the huge X-factor in this game. It is a safe bet Allen has been repping the wheel route ad nauseum. West Virginia should have learned its lesson with Nick Provo and Syracuse.

BBVA Compass Bowl Pitt (6-6) vs. SMU (7-5), Jan. 7. Line: Pitt by 3 1/2. For the second straight season, the Panthers will have an interim coach leading the way in this game, with defensive coordinator Keith Patterson calling the shots in the wake of Todd Graham's departure. The potential for distraction is there for Pitt, but something tells me these players are going to be fired up to show Graham just what he walked out on after just one season. SMU has hit a major lull on offense, and Pitt has made a huge improvement in its passing defense. If the Pitt offensive line can protect, the Panthers should win.

Belk Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Louisville Cardinals (7-5) vs. NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Louisville take from Big East blogger Andrea Adelson: The season could not have started any worse for the Cardinals. Losses to FIU and Marshall -- at home no less -- contributed to a 2-4 start. It is not overly dramatic to say the season was on the brink. Coach Charlie Strong had enough of his players not listening to him. So he wanted his players to talk to each other. They aired out their grievances, discussed their problems, and vowed to find a way to get better. On the heels of that meeting, Louisville closed out the season on a 5-1 roll with a share of its first Big East title since 2006. Included in that run was a 38-35 win at West Virginia for its first win in Morgantown since 1990. It was an improbable finish to the season when you consider just how young Louisville is heading into its bowl game. Eleven freshmen have started a game this season -- including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. On the two-deep, there are 28 freshmen and sophomores. The defensive line was decimated with injuries to senior leader Greg Scruggs, along with B.J. Butler, Roy Philon and Randy Salmon. The team also had to overcome the emotional loss of cornerback Anthony Conner, who broke his neck against Rutgers. There also was a switch at coordinator with Shawn Watson replacing Mike Sanford in Week 5 at North Carolina. What ended up happening is this team grew up. Bridgewater ended the season with a terrific three-touchdown performance at USF to clinch the Big East title. Quarterback Dominique Brown was moved to running back and thrived at the position. The offensive line, so green at the start of the year, has made the biggest turnaround of any group in the Big East. The defense stopped giving up the big play and turned into one of the best in the league as well. After a three-year bowl drought, Strong has led this team to back-to-back bowl appearances. You see why he got a contract extension and raise earlier this season.

NC State take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: NC State will be making its third bowl appearance in four seasons under coach Tom O’Brien, and the Wolfpack did everything it could to make it as difficult as possible to get there. NC State was one of the ACC’s most inconsistent teams this season, beating rival UNC for a fifth straight season, then losing to an unheralded Boston College team, and rebounding to shock then-ranked No. 7 Clemson, 37-13. The Pack was in a must-win situation against Maryland to reach bowl eligibility, and it didn’t look good when they trailed 41-14 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter. NC State put together the second-biggest comeback in school history, though, and beat the Terps 56-41 to get to the Belk Bowl. This will mark the second trip to Charlotte for State in a bowl game, having defeated South Florida, 14-0, in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl. This will be the fourth meeting between NC State and Louisville, with Louisville winning each of the past three games, including a 19-10 win in their last meeting in 2007. State is making its 26th bowl appearance, and its 13-11-1 mark (.540) ranks 15th in winning percentage among all schools that have 15 or more bowl appearances.

Louisville to Belk Bowl

December, 4, 2011
Louisville will face NC State in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 27.

The Cardinals tied West Virginia and Cincinnati for a share of the Big East title with 5-2 league records, but West Virginia broke the three-way tie with a higher BCS ranking. The Cardinals defeated the Mountaineers earlier in the year in Morgantown, 38-35, but dropped a 25-16 decision at Cincinnati.

“We are thrilled to accept an invitation to the Belk Bowl,” coach Charlie Strong said in a statement. “Charlotte is a great city, and I’m so excited to take this team to another great bowl game. I’m so proud of our football team and coaching staff to be 2-4 earlier this season and end the year by winning five of the last six games and become Big East champions. We have fought through a lot of adversity this year and to end the year with a high-quality bowl game versus a tough opponent like NC State is a great way to end the year.”

The Cardinals finished the regular season 7-5 overall. However, Louisville heads into postseason play as one of the hottest teams in the country, ending the season 5-1.

Louisville and the Wolfpack will be meeting for the fourth time in series history, with Louisville holding a 3-0 advantage. Louisville defeated the NC State, 27-10, in the last meeting, 2007, at Carter Finley Stadium.

Louisville is making its 16th postseason trip and second straight under Strong, who is 13-11 in his first two seasons at the helm of the program. Louisville defeated Southern Miss, 31-28, in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl a year ago.

All-time, the Cardinals are 7-7-1 in postseason play and have won their past two contests.