No. 13 NC State opens season at instate foe East Carolina

No. 13 North Carolina State (0-0) at East Carolina (0-0), Saturday, noon ET (ESPN)

Line: N.C. State by 11 1/2, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

Series record: N.C. State leads 18-13

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

N.C. State is opening a season with lofty expectations of winning an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and reaching double-digit wins for only the second time in program history. But the Wolfpack will face a tricky test with a visit to the instate Pirates, an American Athletic Conference program located about 90 miles east of Raleigh in Greenville. N.C. State is just 1-4 in games there. As for ECU, fourth-year coach Mike Houston is trying to win a season opener with the Pirates for the first time.

KEY MATCHUP

N.C. State’s defense against ECU’s Holton Ahlers. Ahlers is a dual-threat quarterback closing in on multiple program records, including most yards rushing by a QB, most passing yards and total offense. Corralling him could present a challenge for the Wolfpack’s defense, even with 10 returning starters from a unit that ranked 14th in the Bowl Subdivision ranks in scoring defense (19.7) last year.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

N.C. State: QB Devin Leary. Everything starts with the veteran passer and preseason ACC player of the year. Leary threw for 35 touchdowns with just five interceptions last year.

ECU: RB Keaton Mitchell. Mitchell ran for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns last season. The Pirates could use a strong performance from him to soften up the Wolfpack’s defensive front. He’s also set to return kickoffs.

FACTS & FIGURES

N.C. State’s No. 13 ranking matches its best in The Associated Press preseason college football poll set in 1975. … ECU won the last meeting in Greenville 33-30 in September 2016, though N.C. State won the two most recent meetings at home to close the 2018 season and open the 2019 schedule by a combined 92-9 margin. … East Carolina has won seven of the last 11 meetings with ACC opponents. … This is N.C. State’s first road opener since a shutout loss at South Carolina in 2008.

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