CLEMSON — An entire week passed without one mention of the empty spot in Clemson’s WestZone trophy case.
For seven years, the Textile Bowl trophy sat in a second-floor display case along other bowl and postseason trophies, garnering little to no attention.
That changed last November, when N.C. State put a 37-13 whipping on the Tigers in Raleigh, taking its first victory over Clemson in eight tries. The trophy – a symbol of Clemson and N.C. State’s shared agricultural, textile and land-grant roots – went back to North Carolina.
No Clemson players acknowledged the trophy this week, but they’ll have a chance to win it back Saturday when the Tigers and Wolfpack meet in Memorial Stadium.
The Wolfpack (6-4, 3-3 ACC) are already bowl-eligible, but they’ve been up-and-down this season. You can bet Clemson won’t be looking past them for next week’s rivalry showdown with South Carolina, given the stakes – and the trophy on the line.
The Wolfpack feature one of the ACC’s best passing attacks; they average 291 passing yards per game, third in the ACC and 27th nationally. Senior Mike Glennon is a traditional pocket passer who torched North Carolina for 467 yards and five touchdowns, and Miami for 440 yards and four scores (both in defeats). He’s second in the ACC in both passing yards per game and touchdowns, behind Tajh Boyd. T.L. Hanna alum Quintin Payton is enjoying a breakout season with 42 receptions for 669 yards; Bryan Underwood has 40 receptions for 588 yards and 10 touchdowns. State leads the ACC with 30 sacks over 10 games; four players have at least 3.5 sacks. Junior cornerback David Amerson is one of the nation’s top cover corners and a bonafide NFL prospect; he has struggled at times, with only four interceptions following a 13-pick sophomore season, but is still plenty dangerous.
N.C. State’s running game is virtually nonexistent. The Wolfpack averages 116.8 yards rushing per game, ninth in the ACC and only 107th nationally. Freshman Shadrach Thornton leads State with 436 yards, and is coming off his first career 100-yard game against Wake Forest. The ‘Pack’s pass defense has been strafed early and often despite Amerson’s presence, allowing 259.2 yards per game, 10th in the ACC and 95th nationally. That’s bad news against a Clemson spread offense which has scored at least 37 points in nine consecutive games, an ACC record. When Glennon is good, he’s good. But when he’s bad, the ‘Pack tends to struggle. He threw a combined two touchdowns and seven interceptions against Tennessee and Virginia, and State lost both games, dropping a 33-6 decision to a Cavalier team that dragged a six-game losing streak into Carter-Finley Stadium.
Clemson is an 18.5-point favorite over State, but the Tigers have every reason to be motivated following last season’s 37-13 beatdown in Raleigh, the Wolfpack’s first Textile Bowl win in eight tries. It was a nightmarish game in virtually all aspects, one that players say kick-started 2011’s season-ending slide. The Tigers insist they’re a more mature, focused team, and recent results against less-talented foes back up the rhetoric. It’ll be interesting to see how a thin secondary handles Glennon’s pass-first mentality, and an improving defensive line must get more pressure than it did a year ago. Still, it’s hard to imagine a fired-up Clemson team letting hopes of a BCS bid and 10-win season slip away today.
THE PREDICTION: Clemson 41, N.C. State 24.