Settle It: Clemson vs NC State, who will win this Thursday night ACC special?

Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

One team is ranked No. 3 in the entire nation. It boasts national title aspirations, a Heisman hopeful under center and elite skill position weapons all over the field. The other is expected to finish in the middle of the ACC pack, at best. A first-year coach is hoping a transfer quarterback can lead the way – and after two games so far, it’s worked out.

But Clemson is not the same beast that Louisiana Tech or Richmond are. On Thursday night, coach Dave Doeren, quarterback Pete Thomas and the rest of the NC State Wolfpack host the Tigers in a nationally televised, ACC showcase game.

The key word there? “Host.”

Tajh Boyd and his high-powered offense have already dispatched SEC powerhouse Georgia, but that was at home. It’s Week 2 blowout of South Carolina State was also in front of the orange-clad faithful.

Not only will Thursday’s game be the Tigers’ first conference contest of the 2013 season, but it will also serve as the team’s first road showdown of the season.

Will the home field advantage be enough for NC State to pull off the early-season upset?

Clemson has had a penchant in recent seasons for stumbling against a lesser opponent (termed “Clemsoning”), thereby ruining all chances at an ACC title and BCS bowl game. However, the 2013 season feels different early on. Boyd, a senior, is the unquestioned leader of the team and one of the best pass-first, but still mobile, quarterbacks in the nation. It also doesn’t hurt to be able to pass to Sammy Watkins. The junior struggled amidst suspensions and injury as a sophomore in 2012, but has already hauled in a team-high nine receptions for 146 yards and a score. More importantly, 127 of those yards and the touchdown came against Georgia.

Fellow juniors Martavis Bryant and Charone Peake have both stepped up their game, lessening the blow of the loss of DeAndre Hopkins to the NFL.

NC State cornerbacks Dontae Johnson and Juston Burris are going to have their hands full, but hard-hitting safeties Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd should be able to help out.

Their Clemson counterparts in the defensive backfield, Darius Johnson, Bashaud Breeland and Martin Jenkins, may not have an easy time of things themselves, however. Formerly with Colorado State, Pete Thomas has proven he can get his receivers the football.

Of his 449 passing yards in two games, freshman Marquez Valdes-Scantling has 12 catches for 174 of them. Senior Rashard Smith boasts 12 catches himself for 145 more.

The question is, of course, can Thomas find them in the endzone? The 6-foot-6, 236-pound quarterback has yet to throw a touchdown pass, but has tossed three interceptions.

Clemson is not exactly known for its defense, but a few ball-hawking guys could make life very different for the transfer.

If Doeren must lean on his ground game, starting junior Tony Creecy has compiled 103 yards on 25 carries with one score. The real surprise has to be the Wolfpack’s 5-foot-9, 213-pound freshman, Matt Dayes. The Florida native leads the team in carries (31), yards (127) and touchdowns (three).

The budding star may have the chance to break out against the Tigers, and with the national spotlight upon him. However, Clemson will be highly – or at least they should be – motivated to prove they belong in the BCS mix along with the likes of Alabama, Oregon, Ohio State and Stanford.

Kicking off the weekend with a huge win against a conference foe will only help. However, it is on the road and against a team that does have a few weapons to face off against Clemson’s not-quite-proven-yet defense.

Luckily for all of us, the time for depth chart evaluations, number crunching and water cooler debates is nearly at an end. It is just about time for these two ACC squads to face off in the conference opener for both squads. One will be sent back to the dorms and apartments with its first loss of the season. The other will be 3-0 and gearing up for the meat of the season.

Will it be Clemson that still harbors dreams of hoisting a crystal football, or will NC State get the home crowd rocking with an upset special?

We have no idea, but perhaps you do.

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Photo: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Photo: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports