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UNC vs NC State: X-Factor

A familiar foe looks to throw another wrench in Carolina’s season.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Virginia Tech Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference four weeks can make in a college football season.

At one point, NC State looked to be in the mud, benching Brennan Armstrong after a 13-10 loss to Louisville. MJ Morris, who depending on how you squint while watching him play, was delivering wins, but decided to opt out of the rest of the season to preserve his redshirt.

Armstrong was summoned back to the fore, and he has shaken off the shame and regret of his early NC State experience to suddenly give the Wolfpack its bite back on offense. They now host their crosstown rival UNC, and they smell blood.

Carolina will enter the contest as wounded prey, having lost three of their last four ACC games (and so very nearly the Duke contest) in a series of self-destructive missteps rivaling the Wet/Sticky Bandits being pummeled by Kevin’s booby traps.

The hope leading up to State was that UNC’s offense, which successfully overcame Duke’s tough defense (and almost did the same against Clemson were it not for untimely fumbles), could overcome NC State’s tenacious defense and weather the Wolfpack’s mediocre offense.

Then Brennan Armstrong came back with a roar.

I’ve actually had Armstrong as an X-Factor before. Last year, when UNC went to 3-5 Virginia, I was not confident about the then 7-1 Tar Heels walking out of Charlottesville with a victory. Armstrong was always tough against Carolina, and so he proved to be again. UNC escaped with a 31-28 win, but Armstrong threw for 232 yards and ran for two of UVA’s four rushing touchdowns.

Armstrong’s return has seen improvement in his passing. Pre-benched Armstrong threw at least one interception in every ACC game. He has not thrown one since, against three touchdown passes in two games. He has also rushed for three touchdowns against Wake Forest and Virginia Tech, and you know how much UNC loves tracking running quarterbacks. More so than any player the Heels have played against this season, Armstrong will determine who wins this match-up.

Who will Carolina see on Saturday night? If it’s early season Brennan Armstrong, the Tar Heels can absolutely steal a win in Raleigh. If it’s back to the future Brennan Armstrong? It could be another year of taunting from NC State fans all the way from the trailer park to the welfare office.