TARGET FILE: vs N.C. State [08.28.08]

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Anyone who watched the last game between N.C. State and South Carolina will never forget it.

Played in the middle of Tropical Storm Dennis -- you can't make this stuff up -- the game featured six first-half fumbles by South Carolina. The outcome, in which the Gamecocks played a ranked team close, was seen as something of a moral victory.

Little did South Carolina fans know that N.C. State's points -- 10 -- would number one fewer than the Gamecocks' losses that year. The Wolfpack, for their part, would go 6-6 in Mike O'Cain's last season.

This year, both teams come into the meeting after a mediocre season. You might hear quite a bit about how N.C. State was "hot" to end the 2007 season, and they did go 4-2 in their last six games. It helps, though, that they had games against East Carolina, Miami and North Carolina in that stretch. The only win against a ranked team was a 29-24 triumph against then-No. 21 Virginia, which lived on the edge all season. The two losses also came in the Wolfpack's final two games: a 38-18 thumping at Wake Forest and a 37-0 clobbering to Maryland in Raleigh.

OFFENSE

Offensive line. Three starters return, by Phil Steele's measure, but the unit wasn't that great last year. The Wolfpack managed only to grind out 3.0 ypc. They surrendered 26 sacks. South Carolina was slightly better rushing, not as good defending the pass. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Quarterbacks. Oh, yeah, we need one. Then again, so do they. The Wolfpack have a signal-caller for the future, but it's not clear whether that will help them in the here and now. Returning options would include Daniel Evans, he of the 57.2 percent completion rate and 12-13 TD-INT ratio, and Harrison Beck, he of the 53.1 percent completion rate and 2-9 ratio. Or O'Brien could go with a freshman. Having a named starter is better than not having one. Astoundingly, this might be the only game where C&F gets to say this in this section. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Running backs. Jamelle Eugene tops the depth chart so far after rushing for 723 yards and 5 TDs on 172 carries. Backup (and former starter) Andre Brown was more consistent in ypc, rushing for 475 yards and five scores on 95 attempts. Close call. ADVANTAGE: N.C. STATE

Wide receivers. Going by yardage, the Wolfpack lose four of the top five receivers, though they keep Donald Bowens (41 rec, 598 yards, 3 TDs). RBs Brown and Eugene are the only other returners with 25 or more catches. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

DEFENSE

Defensive line. The Wolfpack lose a little, keep a lot on the defensive front. Willie Young lead the team last year with 15 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Also back is Alan-Michael Cash, who had 48 tackles, eight for loss and 3.5 sacks. Part of this could just be that C&F has not watched Darren McFadden galloping through the Wolfpack defense. ADVANTAGE: N.C. STATE

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Everybody with Cash as a last name will have an appropriate first name.

Linebackers. N.C. State returns five starts. Not five starters; five starts. Four of those belong to Nate Irving, who had a sack and 7.5 TFL last year. Long story short, N.C. State can't compare to the Gamecocks' LB corps. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

Secondary. The Wolfpack's best secondary player, S DaJuan Morgan, has left with his 97 tackles and three picks from last year. Jeremy Gray, topping the depth chart at RCB, had three picks last year. Three of the players listed as starters in 2008 started at least six games last year. A good squad, just not as good as the Gamecocks. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

SPECIAL TEAMS

P Bradley Pierson averaged 37.2 yards punting last year. PK Josh Czajkowski starts for the first time against South Carolina. The kick return game is not impressive. Ray Rychleski will still have work to do at South Carolina, though. ADVANTAGE: PUSH

COACHING

Tom O'Brien (80-52) is a good head coach, and has a solid staff backing him up, including OC Dana Bible. But O'Brien is no Steve Spurrier Sr.; the only question is who will be pulling the trigger on the South Carolina offense. Either way, HBC will be involved. ADVANTAGE: SOUTH CAROLINA

RESULT

N.C. State has more pieces than one might think based on their last few years, and could make a bowl, upsetting someone or a few someones along the way. But the offense won't be able to get going against South Carolina, and the Gamecocks should be able to do just enough. LIKELY WIN

THE REST OF THEIR SEASON

Again, they have a solid chance to make a bowl, with William & Mary, East Carolina and Matt Ryan-less Boston College all coming to Raleigh. Combined with the game at Duke, Wolfpack fans can pencil in four wins. How they do against the long-rebuilding Miami Hurricanes and Butch Davis' reclamation project at UNC -- the Pack travels to Chapel Hill -- could tip the balance. If necessary, N.C. State could squeeze out an additional win among games at Maryland, vs. Wake Forest or vs. Florida State, depending on where the Seminoles' season is headed. At Clemson and vs. South Florida are lost causes. The Wolfpack will be bowl-eligible -- barely. FINAL RECORD: 6-6

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