You always have to watch out for the unassuming person in the room. Or in this case, the team nobody is talking about. Any conversation about Florida football this offseason revolved around Mario Cristobal making the Miami Hurricanes future contenders. At the same time, many wondered if Florida State's patience with Mike Norvell was about to run out. As we head into the season's halfway point, Norvell's Seminoles are garnering all the attention in Florida by shockingly outperforming Cristobal's Canes. In addition, Florida State's 4-1 record has the Seminoles in position to go bowling for the first time since 2019. Nobody expected this type of successful start for the Seminoles. However, as they enter the most challenging part of their schedule, there is still plenty to prove. It starts this Saturday as they travel to Raleigh to face No. 15 North Carolina State. It's a big step up in competition, but can the Noles answer the call like they did earlier this season against LSU? Here's why I am backing the underdog in this pivotal ACC matchup.
Florida State (+3.5) at North Carolina State
Both teams are coming off disappointing losses, which leaves us wondering how big of a step forward each team is ready to take. From that perspective, a second consecutive defeat will magnify those concerns. I faded the Wolfpack last week at Clemson because I didn't believe QB Devin Leary would make the necessary big plays in pivotal situations. And I was rewarded as the game played out close to how I anticipated. N.C. State went 5-14 on third downs, lost explosive plays 6-2, and Leary threw a critical interception that allowed Clemson to extend its lead to 23-13. Through five games, it feels like last season, when the Wolfpack offense underwhelms when it's needed most. This will be another game that comes down to quarterback play, and I am more comfortable backing FSU's Jordan Travis.
Travis' rapid development has made all the difference for Florida State. His 90.7 PFF passing grade is fourth best in the nation, and his poise in the Seminoles' upset win over LSU should mean Saturday's game will not be too big for him. Florida State's willingness to attack downfield is the most significant difference between these two offenses. Travis is eighth in the country in yards per pass attempt and also No.1 in the ACC with 14.77 yards per completion. The longer N.C. State allows Travis to stay within striking distance, the better chance there is of him making the Wolfpack pay with a momentum-shifting play. I'm also not sold on the Wolfpack's ability to contain mobile quarterbacks. D.J. Uiagalelei rushed for 73 yards last week, and East Carolina's Holton Ehlers also gained 57 yards on five carries in Week 1. Travis should be able to utilize his legs to extend drives when he needs to.
When backing short road underdogs, I target a few indicators, and Florida State checks the boxes. A strong running game and explosive plays are two ways to quiet even the most hostile crowds. The Seminoles' rushing attack, behind Treshaun Ward, ranks 14th in EPA/play, while the Wolfpack's rush defense ranks outside of the Top 50. That's more reason to be comfortable Florida State can put 24-28 points on the board, shifting the onus onto Leary to get the Wolfpack into the 30s to cover this spread. Defensively, the Seminoles get a boost with edge rusher Jared Verse returning from injury, so expect to see an improved version of the Noles on that side of the ball. N.C State will provide a massive test, but once this line passed through the key number of three, I had to back the quarterback I trust to come through in the clutch.
Stats provided by cfbstats, pff, gameonpaper, and teamrankings.com.