Looking forward to real, live football, NoleNation takes a run through Florida State’s 2012 schedule, going game-by-game to find the best storylines and matchups of the upcoming season.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Saturday, Oct. 6: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.
2011 record: 8-5 (4-4 in ACC). After dropping their first three FBS games of the season, N.C. State rebounded to finish out its slate by winning six of their last eight, including a bowl victory over Louisville. But that hot finish was marred by a drubbing at the hands of the Seminoles in Tallahassee, the Wolfpack's worst loss of the season.
Coach: Tom O'Brien (sixth season, 33-30)
Series record: 33rd meeting, FSU leads 22-10. Florida State won last year's game 34-0 behind QB EJ Manuel's 321 passing yards and two touchdowns.
Players to watch: Mike Glennon (QB, Sr.) threw for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns last season; James Washington (RB, Sr.) racked up more than 1,200 yards of total offense and seven touchdowns; Mustafa Greene (RB, So.) missed 2011 with an injury but led the Wolfpack in rushing as a freshman in 2010; Earl Wolff (S, Sr.) finished last season with 105 tackles, three interceptions and three forced fumbles; David Amerson (CB, Jr.) had 13 interceptions last season.
Another test for EJ. Last year's win over the injury-riddled Wolfpack is probably the closest Manuel has come to a truly dominant win over a big-time opponent. He threw for 321 yards, a career high against an FBS team, completed 25 of 34 passes and led the Seminoles to a punishing victory just three weeks after returning from a shoulder injury. But the test should be tougher this time around. N.C. State has one of the most experienced and potentially dominant secondaries in the conference, led by Amerson. If Manuel can offer up a repeat performance of 2011, it should be a fun day for the Seminoles.
Road revenge. If Week 5's matchup against South Florida is all about eliciting some revenge for 2009's ugliest loss, this Week 6 game against N.C. State should bring back memories of Jimbo Fisher's 2010 debacle in Raleigh. After a 4-0 start to ACC play, Fisher's Seminoles headed to N.C. State and quickly built a 21-7 halftime lead. Then it all fell apart as the Wolfpack stormed back to win 28-24 -- and Florida State lost again the following week, taking a bit of the sheen off Fisher's first season at the helm.
Conference shuffling. There's a distinct possibility this game could be the rubber match in Florida State's early ACC slate. The Seminoles get Wake Forest in Week 3, a game in which they'll be heavily favored. They get Clemson in Week 4, a game in which they'll be heavily tested. If they split those two, the Week 6 matchup against the improved Wolfpack will loom large.
Fun fact: N.C. State won eight games for the second straight season in 2011, the first time that had happened since 2002-03. The Wolfpack haven't put together three straight eight-win slates since Lou Holtz coached the team from 1972-74.
Key matchup: WR Rashad Greene vs. Amerson. These two might not go head-to-head on every offensive snap for the Seminoles, but it should nevertheless be a fun battle to watch when they do match up. Greene was among the most impressive freshmen receivers in the country last season, and he'll likely be Manuel's top target again this year. Almerson was a nightmare for opposing QBs in 2011, picking off a whopping 13 passes -- five more than any other defender in the country.
N.C. State will win if: Its offense can run the football. The Wolfpack finished 109th in rushing offense last season; Florida State finished second in the nation in rushing defense. Things could change a bit this season with the return of Greene, who showed immense potential as a freshman in 2010 but missed all of last season with a foot injury, then was shelved this spring for off-the-field issues. If N.C. State's ground game can get going against the Noles' tough defensive front -- the Wolfpack managed just 36 rushing yards in last year's defeat -- it could open some space for Glennon to do his work and keep FSU's offense off the field long enough to pull the upset.
Noles will win if: They can run the football. The key for the Wolfpack is probably the same for the Seminoles, which shouldn't come as a big surprise for two teams that finished toward the bottom of the ACC standings in rushing last season. Manuel had a field day in last year's win for FSU, but N.C. State's secondary remains a fearsome unit. The front seven, on the other hand, has limited experience and some significant question marks. If FSU can get things going on the ground and force N.C. State to put eight or nine men in the box, things should get a lot easier for Manuel when it comes time to air it out.
Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the series record between the two teams.