It only counts as one ACC win, one baby step closer to a bowl game, but N.C. State's trip to Virginia yielded something more important.
N.C. State's 28-14 win against the Cavaliers on Saturday gave Wolfpack players the kind of confidence it had lacked during a disappointing start to the season, even after wins over two lower-level Division I teams and Central Michigan.
"That (Virginia) win really showed the team that we're better than a lot of people think we are," said sophomore cornerback David Amerson, who was named the ACC's defensive back of the week for his pair of interceptions, which included a 12-yard touchdown return. "If we put all the little things together, I think we can be a pretty good team. I think the team saw that."
The Wolfpack takes its new-found confidence back on the road this week to face a Florida State team that has posted consecutive 41-16 ACC wins (over Duke and Maryland). The Seminoles have regained their stride after a three-game losing streak dropped them from No. 5 in the country to out of the national rankings.
The Wolfpack, 4-3 overall and 1-2 in the ACC, needs to win three of its final five games - all inside the ACC - to return to a bowl game for the second consecutive year.
Much was expected of the team in coach Tom O'Brien's fifth season after a 9-4 finish in 2010. But a slow start, derailed by miscues and injuries, left the Wolfpack regrouping during its week off.
Senior defensive tackle Markus Kuhn said the players used the time off wisely to re-focus in practice.
"If you put together good practices, it shows on game day," Kuhn said.
Kuhn, the only starter on the defensive line who hasn't missed a game to injury, said there was a renewed sense of focus in practice before the Virginia game, and an understanding of what N.C. State needs to do to save the season.
"The entire week of practice, and that game, it was extremely important for us," Kuhn said.
N.C. State's defense put together its best effort of the season against the Cavaliers, O'Brien said, and has pieced together six good quarters, going back to the 38-24 win over Central Michigan on Oct. 8. But the competition is about to pick up with FSU, North Carolina and Clemson in three of the next four weeks.
O'Brien beat FSU in Raleigh last year, 28-24, but it's only one of his five wins - to 16 losses -against Atlantic Division opponents. The Wolfpack hasn't won a division road game in 11 tries during O'Brien's five-season tenure.
Conversely, O'Brien improved to 10-4 against Coastal teams with Saturday's win over Virginia, including three straight on the road. The coach said he didn't have an explanation for the discrepancy in his conference record.
"I just try to win them all," O'Brien said.