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N.C. State vs. Tennessee: 3 things to watch

The Wolfpack and the Vols meet in Atlanta. Dave Miller

Print This August 31, 2012, 11:00 AM EST

North Carolina State and Tennessee meet in an ACC-SEC showdown Friday night in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the Georgia Dome.

Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack could be a darkhorse ACC contender, while Derek Dooley enters a make-or-break 2012 campaign with the Vols.

Let's take a look at three things to watch in the clash between the Wolfpack and the Vols on Friday evening.

Mike GlennonUS PRESSWIREMike Glennon is rising up NFL Draft boards.

1. These QBs are pros: We'll get a chance to see two of the best quarterbacks in the country match up at the Georgia Dome, with the Wolfpack's Mike Glennon and the Vols' Tyler Bray likely to be high NFL Draft picks. The senior Glennon threw 31 touchdown passes last year, which were the second-most in N.C. State history behind the 34 thrown by Philip Rivers in 2003. He'll have speedy Tobais Palmer and freshman Charlie Hegedus as well as redshirt freshmen Hakeem Flowers and Maurice Morgan as his top receiver targets. But Bryan Underwood's injury is a tough blow. Meanwhile, the junior Bray is a tall, lanky pocket passer who can also make throws on the run. Losing Da'Rick Rogers was a big blow to this team, but Justin Hunter and junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson give Bray quality options to make plays through the air.

2. Hit the ground running: As prolific as the Tennessee passing game could be this fall, this team will struggle to make a bowl game if the rushing attack is subpar once again. The Vols ranked 116th nationally in rushing while recording just 11 touchdowns on the ground in 2011, but Rajion Neal and a host of running backs should be able to provide a consistent rushing attack after a strong offseason. And a veteran offensive line will help. Meanwhile, the Wolfpack need a lead back to emerge to improve on a rushing attack that ranked No. 109 in the country last fall. An experienced offensive line will help, but sophomore Tony Creecy must be able to carry over his impressive offseason work onto the field. O'Brien named Creecy the No. 1 back over senior James Washington and sophomore Mustafa Greene with a consistent performance. He was N.C. State's second-leading rusher last year with 382 yards on 103 carries. Washington led the team with 897 yards on 226 carries in 2011, while Greene recorded 597 yards on 134 carries as a true freshman in 2010 but missed last season with an injury. Expect all three backs to get carries, but whoever is on the field needs to keep defenses honest so Glennon can make plays through the air.

3. Amerson vs. Hunter: The Wolfpack's secondary is one of the best in the nation, led by junior cornerback David Amerson, who led the nation and set an ACC record with 13 interceptions in 2011. Expect to see him lined up pretty consistently against Vols star receiver Justin Hunter. The Wolfpack, however, apparently will be without No. 2 cornerback C.J. Wilson because of an unspecified eligibility issue. Wilson has yet to be cleared by the NCAA. The loss of Da'Rick Rogers may have tilted the advantage in this contest to the Wolfpack's secondary, but losing Wilson may have evened the score despite N.C. State's experience at safety.

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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