This year’s newly-named Belk Bowl will feature two teams that finished their regular seasons with 7-5 records, the Louisville Cardinals and the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
The game will be played on Dec. 27 at 8 p.m. ET in Charlotte, N.C. at Bank of America Stadium. The game will be televised on ESPN.
Note: Rankings used are from my National Top 25 rankings.
Record: 7-5 (5-2 Big East)
Biggest win: at West Virginia, 38-35, Nov. 5
Worst loss: vs Florida International, 17-24, Sept. 9
The Louisville Cardinals were as good as any other team in the Big East Conference, but of course, that is the conference that consistently sends an unranked team to a BCS bowl each year, while Boise State continues to play in the Las Vegas Bowl.
All of the Cardinals’ losses came to bowl-eligible teams, but they did not play a single team that finished the season in the top 25, and still barely won more than half of their games this season.
The Cardinals defense has had an impressive season, ranking 14th nationally in scoring defense with only 19.2 points allowed per game. Conversely, however, their offense has really struggled, ranking in a tie for 104th in total yards of offense per game.
Record: 7-5 (4-4 ACC)
Biggest win: vs No. 15 Clemson, 37-13, Nov. 19
Worst loss: at Boston College, 10-14, Nov. 12
While quarterback Russell Wilson, who graduated from NC State last year, led the Wisconsin Badgers to a Rose Bowl berth in his final year of eligibility, things have been much more rocky this season at North Carolina State. That said, the Wolfpack did finish their season very nicely, winning three of their final four games, including a huge upset victory by 24 points over Clemson.
The Wolfpack do not have a powerful offense, ranking just 93rd nationally in total yards per game, with a very weak rushing offense that ranks 107th nationally. Defensively, the Wolfpack are more effective, ranking 39th in yards allowed per game.
North Carolina CB David Amerson, Sophomore
2013 NFL Draft Grade: First Round
The best defensive back in the NCAA this year that does not play for LSU is North Carolina State’s David Amerson, who has had a huge breakout season as a sophomore.
Amerson has 11 interceptions this year, four more than any other player in the NCAA. Amerson has terrific height for a cornerback at 6’3’’. He is also a terrific athlete, tackles well and as his impressive interception statistic reflects, he has great ball skills.
Amerson is not eligible for the 2012 NFL Draft, but has emerged early as a likely first-round draft pick should he declare in 2013. For now, Amerson will continue to make his impact playing for North Carolina State. Look for him to be a key player for the Wolfpack defense in the Belk Bowl.
Louisville OLB Dexter Heyman, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Seventh Round-Undrafted
Dexter Heyman has been the star of the Louisville defense this season. He leads the team with 83 total tackles and 15.5 tackles for loss.
There is nothing spectacular about Heyman as a player, but he is an instinctive outside linebacker who is the Cardinals best defensive playmaker on a very productive defensive unit.
North Carolina TE George Bryan, Senior
NFL Draft Grade: Sixth-Seventh Round
George Bryan is one of the most complete tight ends in all of college football. Bryan is a good receiver who has caught 30 passes for 302 yards and four touchdowns this season, but is also a very strong blocker.
At 6’5’’ and 265 pounds, Bryan has ideal NFL tight end size and has the strength to be a very good blocking tight end in the league. However, Bryan lacks speed and athleticism, which will hurt him significantly as a draft prospect.
Nonetheless, Bryan is a senior who has had a very productive career at North Carolina State and will look to finish his career strong in this bowl game. His productivity will go a long way in the draft process, but due to his lack of speed, he projects as a blocking-specific tight end whose only receiving in the NFL is likely to come in short-yardage and goal-line situations, due to his size and strong hands.
Common opponents: Cincinnati and North Carolina
Loss at North Carolina, 7-14, Oct. 8
Loss at Cincinnati, 16-25, Oct. 15
North Carolina State:
Loss at Cincinnati, 14-44, Sept. 22
Win vs North Carolina, 13-0, Nov. 5
North Carolina State’s rushing offense: 107th in nation, 108.2 yards per game
Louisville’s rushing defense: 10th in nation, 103.5 yards allowed per game
Louisville’s scoring offense: 98th in nation, 21.8 points per game
North Carolina’s scoring defense: 55th in nation, 24.8 points allowed per game
Neither of these teams have explosive offenses, so expect a low-scoring, defensive battle.
Both teams won five of their last seven games, but NC State did it against an overall tougher schedule, including big victories over Clemson and over North Carolina, a team who beat Louisville earlier in the season.
North Carolina State has the X-factor in this game in David Amerson, who is a threat to make a big play defensively to turn the game around, which I think he will do in this game. Senior quarterback Mike Glennon is a solid quarterback who will be looking to finish his collegiate career with a solid performance, while T.J. Graham is a dangerous receiver and kick returner.
Louisville does not have those same playmakers on either side of the ball, and that should give the Wolfpack a slight edge in this game.
Final Score Prediction: North Carolina State 17, Louisville 13