A giant Pop-Tart will be eaten alive in Orlando on Thursday night, and a pair of teams who have never met before on the gridiron will be battling it out for 60 minutes to decide who gets the honors of devouring that poor soul. I just hope they don’t stick it in a giant toaster first...
NC State used a midseason turnaround to reach the Pop-Tarts Bowl for the sixth time in program history (previous iterations of the bowl in which NC State participated were the MicronPC, MicronPC.com, Tangerine, and Champs Sports... the Wolfpack went 3-1 in those games). Sitting at 4-3 at their bye week and looking rather moribund, the Wolfpack went on a 5-0 run to finish out the regular season, including a beatdown of rival and preseason media darling North Carolina in the regular season finale. The newfound offensive identity and the gelling of a talented defense have given head coach Dave Doeren and crew momentum heading into bowl season, as well as on the recruiting trail.
Kansas State has been solid all year, but unlucky in the close games, especially against the better teams on their schedule. The Wildcats went 1-4 in games decided by one possession. For an 8-4 team, the few plays that decided the difference in those tight games ultimately kept the Wildcats from playing for their second straight Big XII conference title. The program is certainly on solid footing under head coach Chris Klieman, and he’s now facing the issues that success brings to a young coaching staff: offensive coordinator (and former K-State QB) Collin Klein was hired away by Texas A&M earlier this month to run the Aggies offense under their new coach, former Duke head man Mike Elko.
As is the case with modern day bowl games, getting a read on what to expect is difficult with transfers and NFL Draft opt-outs reducing rosters ahead of the contest. The Wolfpack will be without the best defensive player in college football, LB Payton Wilson (NFL Draft), plus DL C.J. Clark (transferring to Miami), and a handful of role players. The Wildcats will be without QB Will Howard (transferring to USC), RB Treshaun Ward (Boston College), CB Will Lee III (Texas A&M), and S Kobe Savage (Oregon), as well as other role players.
Will the Wolfpack use their late season momentum to reach a new high-water mark in the Doeren era and hit double-digit wins for just the second time in program history? Or will the Wildcats make the most of their first Pop-Tarts Bowl appearance, overcome the personnel losses of the last month, and top NC State in the Sunshine State?
Each BTP contributor provides their score prediction below, plus a quick blurb on their predicted outcome. Here we go!
Prediction: 24-30 (L)
Comment: “boop boop beep“
Why is this so hard?
Prediction: 30-24 (W)
Comment: “KSU’s portal-riddled squad takes some time to get going and ultimately runs out of time after the Pack claims an early lead. 10 dubs!“
Prediction: 18-27 (L)
Comment: “As much as I’d love to see the team get their 10th win, something weird keeps happening every year with the Pack in bowl games. Also, the team hasn’t had to play without Wilson all year, his absence might be felt.“
Prediction: 28-20 (W)
Comment: “NC States defense has been in the HURT BUSINESS all season…and business is good…especially against the run which K-State will need to lean on…even without PW, the Wolfpack force KSU’s talented QB into some tough spots…while BA and the offense grinds them out on the ground with the late TD to seal it“
Prediction: 24-27 (L)
Comment: “With a whole different team suiting up for K-State, the Wildcats are going to have enough surprises up their sleeve to keep the Pack off balance“
Prediction: 27-24 (W)
Comment: “I feel good about the Pack. Part of me says NC State rolls, but bowl games are crazy, so I’ll go with the good guys pulling out a close win.“
BTP Staff Cumulative Prediction: 25-25 T
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments!