Bill Trocchi: Louisville-NC State Belk Bowl preview - Sports Illustrated

Bowl Breakdown: Belk

Publish date:

Louisville (7-5) vs. NC State (7-5)Dec. 27, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Reason to watch: There is absolutely no telling which NC State team will show up. The Wolfpack were wildly inconsistent in the final month of the season, losing to a pitiful Boston College team and beating Orange Bowl-bound Clemson in back-to-back weeks. That was a mere precursor to the season-finale against Maryland, when the Pack played wildly inconsistent football in the same game. NC State inexplicably fell into a 41-14 hole against a Terrapins team that had lost seven straight, and then just as inexplicably scored 42 points in the game's final 21 minutes to pull out the win. This team is capable of really good and really bad football, both of which can make for compelling TV.

Keep an eye on: Louisville freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. The Miami native has earned several Freshmen All-America honors and was the Big East rookie of the year. Heavily hyped coming out of Northwestern High in Miami, Bridgewater enrolled in January and took over the starting position for the final nine games, going 5-4. At South Florida in the final game of the season, Bridgewater was 19-for-28 for 241 yards and three touchdowns as he directed an offense that starts four fellow freshmen, including receivers Michaelee Harris and DeVante Parker.

Did you know: Louisville is 7-2 in its last nine games away from home, including last year's 31-28 win in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl over Southern Miss.

Final analysis: Louisville starts eight freshmen, but the young Cardinals showed nice improvement as they closed the season with five wins in six games. Defensively, the Cardinals are 14th in the nation in points allowed at 19.2 and the offense has shown progress as Bridgewater has gotten more experience. NC State has been a wild card, which is reflected in the turnover department: 36 takeaways and 22 giveaways for an average of almost five turnovers in a typical NC State game. Louisville's defense should be able to contain quarterback Mike Glennon and the Wolfpack, and the Cardinals' offense can do just enough to get the win.

The pick: Louisville 24, NC State 17