Opportunity knocks: For 'Pack, clear path to 10 wins starts tonight

Florida St NC State Football-2

North Carolina State's Ricky Person Jr. celebrates a touchdown last Saturday against Florida State. If the Wolfpack win out, they'll reach 10 wins for the second time in program history.


Sports Writer

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Five years from now, when this N.C. State football season has had time to crystallize in the college football history book, one wrinkle might stand above all the other footnotes.

Remember that time — because of a natural disaster — that N.C. State played East Carolina on Dec. 1 instead of West Virginia in Week 4, which was an elite team in 2018 and had a Heisman candidate in Will Grier as its quarterback?

That might wind end up being the difference between a second straight nine-win season and a second-ever 10-win season for the program.

Or that game against the Pirates, who are 2-6 but live to upset ACC teams, may mean less because the Wolfpack will have dropped one of their next three games by then.

But, right now, the final stretch for Dave Doeren’s team looks favorable, starting with a Thursday night showdown against Wake Forest (4-5, 1-4) at 7:30 p.m. at Carter-Finley Stadium. (The Deacons will be without their starting quarterback in Sam Hartman, who is out for the year with a broken foot.)

Beyond that, the Wolfpack head to Louisville (2-7, 0-6), which gave up 77 points to Clemson, 66 to Georgia Tech and 56 to Wake Forest, and then to Chapel Hill on Nov. 24 for a rivalry matchup with North Carolina (1-7, 1-5), before welcoming the Pirates to Raleigh on the first of December.

N.C. State (6-2, 3-2), with losses only to No. 2 Clemson and No. 13 Syracuse, will be favored in every remaining game.

But how often is running the table and becoming the second Wolfpack team to win 10 games brought up among this group?

“I think it's talked about in our locker room probably more than it is with me,” Doeren said on Wednesday. “We try to keep things mainstream with the game we're playing and know that we're not going to win 10 if we don't win the next one. ... But the beginning of every year your team always talks about the end-of-the-year goals, and obviously being better than last year's team is one of them. This is the next step in doing that.”

The other goal that Doeren and the rest of the program have latched onto is the first undefeated season at Carter-Finley stadium in more than three decades. A win against the Deacons Thursday, then against the Pirates in December, would ensure that, with the most impressive home wins being against Virginia and Boston College, both of which have cracked the AP Top 25 at various points.

Committee shows ‘Pack love

There is certainly one organization that feels strongly about the Wolfpack: The College Football Playoff Committee, which released its weekly rankings on Tuesday night and had N.C. State listed at No. 14, one spot behind Syracuse and spot ahead of Florida.

The Orange, though, have a game approaching against No. 3 Notre Dame. If the Irish beat Syracuse, the Wolfpack could be in position, should they win out, to play in a big bowl game held in 2019.

Cutcliffe happy to see his full roster

After two away games in Pittsburgh and Miami, the Blue Devils have a home game at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday against the struggling Tar Heels.

After this weekend, they’ll try their hand at toppling the one ACC team that has yet to be toppled: Clemson. In this situation, though, it truly is one game at a time. Cutcliffe said on Wednesday that beyond the obvious benefits of being home, it’s nice to be around the whole team; on the road, all of the injured players stay home in Durham.

“When we are on the road, you leave a lot of people at home, and certainly that would include a lot of guys that have had surgeries this year, guys that just continued to miss games,” Cutcliffe said. “That's been kind of emotional for this team.”

Lonely at the top...

Despite being the only team to lose to North Carolina this season, the Pitt Panthers are on track to represent the Coastal division in the ACC title game, and are listed as the favorites to do so by ESPN.

The Panthers currently hold a half-game lead on Virginia, and control their own destiny with games against Virginia Tech, Wake Forest and Miami remaining.

Surely, coach Pat Narduzzi is jazzed about the sudden relevancy of his 5-4 program, right? Wrong.

“Really don't care about what ESPN says,” Narduzzi said. “They've been wrong before, and they'll be wrong again.”