Big 12 Previews

Pop-Tarts Bowl Preview and Prediction: Kansas State vs. NC State

Syndication: Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

Here is everything you need to know ahead of the matchup between the Kansas State Wildcats and the NC State Wolfpack.


Thursday, December 28; 4:45 p.m. CT; Camping World Stadium; Orlando, FL


Radio: Radio: K-State Sports Network (Wyatt Thompson, Stan Webber); Wolfpack Sports Radio Network

Records: Kansas State 8-4 (6-3); NC State 9-3 (6-2)

Last Week: Iowa State 42, Kansas State 35; NC State 39, North Carolina 20

Rankings: Kansas State No. 25 (CFP); NC State No. 18 (CFP)

Series History: N/A

Last Meeting: N/A

Line: Kansas State (-3.0)

Fun Fact: The matchup between the Wildcats and the Wolfpack will be the debut game of Avery Johnson as the full-time starter for Chris Klieman’s bunch after Will Howard, Jake Rubely, and Adryan Lara all elected to hit the transfer portal.





After releasing a hype video on Thursday reaffirming his commitment to Kansas State following the loss of OC Collin Klein, the Avery Johnson era is officially underway. Johnson saw snaps in 2023 in rotation with Will Howard but after the Wildcats lost Howard to the transfer portal, Avery Johnson is the next man up against the Wolfpack. Johnson threw for 301 yards and three scores in freshman season while adding an impressive 225 yards and six touchdowns on the ground. He may have a tough time adjusting to life with a new OC on such short notice but Johnson is the player to watch in this one.


Kansas State lost several role players to the transfer portal this offseason with one of the major losses being sophomore cornerback Will Lee III. Jacob Parish started the majority of games for the Wildcats and will be tasked with handling the top receiver for the Wolfpack, Kevin Concepcion. The sophomore DB recorded 38 total tackles, three interceptions, and nine pass breakups in the 2023 season.




While his numbers don’t necessarily jump out off the stat sheet, senior quarterback Brennan Armstrong was solid for NC State in 2023. Armstrong spent five seasons at Virginia before transferring to join the Wolfpack for his final season of eligibility where he completed 146 passes for 1,621 yards and a touchdown to interception ratio of 11-6. Armstrong will have an opportunity to square off with a Kansas State defense that’s been hit hard in the transfer portal so far this offseason.


While normally the player to watch for NC State would be senior linebacker Payton Wilson, after Saturday’s report that Wilson will be opting out of the 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl, the Wolfpack now looks to a newer face on the defensive side of the ball. With Wilson sidelined the team will look to senior linebacker Jaylon Scott to fill the void. Scott finished 73 total tackles, two sacks, one forced fumble, and three pass breakups as a fifth-year senior at NC State. The 2023 Pop-Tarts Bowl will cap off a five-year career for Scott with the program, and while he is expected to play a big part in slowing down Kansas State’s offense, Scott will have to step up in a big way without his Butkus Award-winning counterpart.




While a major storyline to follow in the Pop-Tarts Bowl is going to be how Avery Johnson looks under center, the Wildcats are also entering the game with a new interim OC Conor Riley. Riley has spent five seasons in Manhattan as an offensive line coach helping to create one of the best offensive lines in the Big 12 Conference. While the jury is still out on whether Riley will earn the title of offensive coordinator in 2024, the Wildcats will need him to step up in the role of Collin Klein who recently departed for Texas A&M.


NC State is a veteran team capable of winning some big games. The team won nine games in 2023 which is impressive, but the only issue with the team’s 9-3 record is that all three of their losses have come against top 25 teams. The Wolfpack dropped games against Notre Dame, Louisville, and Duke, while beating nine teams all outside of the top 25. A win over Chris Klieman and the 25th-ranked Wildcats would add some much-needed changes surrounding the narrative of the 2023 NC State Wolfpack.


While NC State has a stout defense that ranks among some of the best in the league, the offense lacks playmakers that will be needed in order to taste the giant Pop-Tart at the end of the day. Avery Johnson will face a top-10 defense in the Pop-Tarts Bowl, but with his ability being as unique as anyone in the country, I like the Wildcats to come out on top. Kansas State rolls to their ninth win while the Wolfpack drops to 9-4.

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