Belk Bowl, December 27, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
What it is: The latest in a string of generically-named bowls in Charlotte
The Sponsor: A largely Southern department store chain that's in just about every mall south of the Mason-Dixon line
The Teams: Louisville and N.C. State
How Louisville got here: On a hot streak that took the Cardinals to the co-championship of the Big East. Louisville went 5-1 to end the season after starting out the year 2-4, beginning to show glimmers of promise in Charlie Strong's second year. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was part of the turnaround, taking over in the game against Kentucky and going from a 123.33 passer rating (66-of-105 for 694 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions) in his first four starts to a 147.35 mark (99-145-1,146-8-4) at the same time the Cardinals as a whole were heating up. The defense is also as solid as you might expect from a Strong team, ranking second in the Big East in total and scoring defense and third in passing yardage defense. But the season included inexplicable losses, from the loss at home to FIU before Bridgewater took over to the defeat against Marshall to the loss against a swooning Pittsburgh.
How N.C. State got here: On its own little streak. The Wolfpack won five of its last seven games including wins at division contender Virginia and against Clemson, the eventual ACC champions. The losses in that streak include one marginally respectable one, a 34-0 annihilation at Florida State, and a bizarre loss to a completely hapless Boston College team who beat one other bowl-eligible team all year. The Wolfpack were helped by the generosity of others, including an NCAA-best 24 interceptions and an also-helpful 12 fumbles. David Amerson is the only player in the nation with double-digit picks, grabbing the ball 11 times. Why Clemson, for example, was throwing in his direction in mid-November is something of a mystery to me. Not surprisingly, North Carolina State's passing efficiency defense was second-best in the ACC.
College football fans care because: These are both arguably programs on the rise, certainly in the case of Louisville and possibly in the case of an N.C. State team that will finish with a second straight winning record under Tom O'Brien.
SEC fans care because: We're probably going to 16 some day soon.
Watch this game if...: You like red and mediocrity.
The result: N.C. State 20, Louisville 17