N.C. State coach Tom OBrien often talks about the advantage a team can gain from being in a position to determine its fate.
Thats precisely where the Wolfpack (4-2, 1-1 ACC) sits entering the game Saturday at Maryland (4-2, 2-0).
Although the remaining two road games after Saturday are at North Carolina next week and at Clemson on Nov. 17, the win over Florida State on Oct. 6 gives State an opportunity to take the ACC Atlantic, get to Charlotte for the Dec. 1 league title game and win the league championship for the first time since 1979.
Florida State (6-1, 3-1) still has the clearest path to Charlotte. With a win over Clemson (5-1, 2-1), the Seminoles only need to win out in conference play and depend on the Tigers to beat State.
But the beauty of the Wolfpacks situation is that there are no contingencies relating to the divisional title if it runs the table against Maryland, UNC, Virginia, Wake Forest, Clemson and Boston College.
At 10-2 and 7-1 with the tiebreaker edge over Florida State, the Pack would go to Charlotte regardless of what the Seminoles do.
But is State, which played so poorly on defense in its losses to Tennessee and Miami, capable of such a remarkable finish?
The odds of that happening are probably about one in ten, but here are four things that could make it possible:
1. Injuries: State has an uncanny habit of getting hurt in preseason and early season, then recovering in time to catch a second wind in November.
That pattern is a must in this scenario.
If the offensive line gets well and stays well, quarterback Mike Glennon should improve his numbers (12 touchdown passes, seven interceptions) during the second half even though the schedule is more difficult.
2. Pass defense: Even after the 17-16 win over the Seminoles, State is still dead last in the league against the pass.
More interceptions by beleaguered David Amerson would help, of course. But two things the Pack needs more are pressure on opposing passers and mid-range containment. Through the first six games, opponents too often have been able to turn what should be a relatively short gains into 10, 15 and 20-yarders.
A part of that goes to linebacker inexperience. But to their credit, the young linebackers have exceeded expectations against the run.
3. Little things: The Pack is ninth in the league on kickoff returns, seventh on punt returns, eighth on field-goal conversion percentage, seventh on third-down conversions and 10th in turnover margin.
Over the final six games, it could make a remarkable difference if State could just move up two or three notches in each of those categories.
4.Mental toughness: In the two losses, several key players did not respond well at all to adversity, thereby allowing frustration to lead to more mistakes and poor judgment.
If this State team is go where no Wolfpack team has gone since 1979, its going to require a lot of composure and particularly in the road games. In other words, starting now.