The push toward a bowl game continues in the ACC as the NC State Wolfpack play host to the Louisville Cardinals. Game time is at 7:30 EST on Saturday, November 16 at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, North Carolina. Fans can find the game on the ACC Network.
Oddsmakers list Louisville as 4-point favorites on the road. The game also has an over/under of 58.5 points. Click here to check out all of this week’s college football betting odds.
Louisville heads into this game just one win shy of becoming bowl eligible. Scott Satterfield has surely exceeded expectations during his first season with the Cardinals. Louisville sits at 5-4 overall, including impressive wins over Wake Forest and Virginia.
Alas, the Cardinals have lost some of their momentum after dropping two of their last three games. That includes a lopsided 52-27 loss to Miami last week. As mentioned, Louisville needs just one more win to secure a bowl bid in 2019. However, they’ll be on the road for two of their last three games, including their season finale against in-state rival Kentucky. The sooner the Cardinals can become bowl eligible, the better, especially for a program that went 2-10 last year.
Meanwhile, NC State is in need of two wins in their final three games to become bowl eligible for the sixth year in a row. The Wolfpack is just 1-4 in ACC play and has lost three in a row. In fairness, two of those losses have come against ranked teams, including a 55-10 thrashing at the hands of Clemson last week.
The silver lining for the Wolfpack is that they’ll be at home for two of their final three games. If they can just hold serve at Carter-Finley Stadium, they’ll find themselves in a bowl game. Last week’s loss to Clemson was the first time they’ve lost at home this season, which bodes well for their bowl hopes. However, if NC State loses on Saturday, their final two games of the season will both be must-win contests.
The other piece of good news for the Wolfpack is that they’ve beaten Louisville in each of the past two seasons. The Cardinals had their way with NC State in three straight years after joining the ACC in 2014. But the Wolfpack has taken back-to-back games from Louisville, including a 52-10 win last season.
For most of the season, Louisville has looked more like a bowl team than NC State. Even with two of their remaining games at home, I’m not sure if the Wolfpack will become bowl eligible. Despite plenty of flaws, there’s a lot that Louisville does well, which is why I favor the Cardinals in this game. With the spread less than a touchdown, I feel comfortable leaning toward Louisville to cover.
I simply can’t reconcile how bad NC State has been on offense this season. Playing Clemson and Wake Forest the last two weeks might seem like a rational excuse for struggling. But the Wolfpack had problems on offense long before their two toughest games of the season. In ACC play, the Wolfpack is averaging less than 15 points per game. Their highest point total in conference play was 24 points in a loss to Boston College, who might have the worst defense in the conference. Even in NC State’s win over Syracuse, their only touchdown came on a trick play.
The Wolfpack is on their third starting quarterback of the season in Devin Leary. However, Leary hasn’t been any more productive than Matthew McKay or Bailey Hockman. On the season, Leary has completed just 44% of his passes. Even before facing Clemson’s defense last week, he has been largely ineffective. Despite throwing three touchdowns against BC, he still completed less than 50% of his passes in that game.
To be fair, the Louisville defense is a bit of a mess. They’ve conceded at least 35 points in five of their six ACC games, as well as in the season opener against Notre Dame. The Cardinals have also allowed over 50 points twice this season, including last week’s loss to Miami. However, I think a dreadful NC State offense trumps a bad Louisville defense. The Wolfpack may have a chance to crack 20 points in this game, but I’d be surprised to see them manage much more than that.
That should allow the Louisville offense to score enough points to win and cover. The Cardinals have been far better than expected offensively this year, largely because they’ve been able to run the ball. Javian Hawkins is just 22 yards shy of 1,000 yards on the season. He’s averaging 5.4 yards per carry while getting plenty of help in the running game from quarterback Micale Cunningham. Between Cunningham and co-quarterback Evan Conley, the Cardinals have manufactured a halfway decent passing attack to complement a running game that most teams have struggled to contain.
Ultimately, I have a lot more faith in the Louisville offense to score points than I do the NC State offense. It wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cardinals create plenty of explosive plays and put 30-plus points on the scoreboard. As mentioned, I’d be surprised to see the Wolfpack surpass 20 points for just the second time in ACC play. To me, that translates to the Cardinals winning and covering on the road.