Ten games is usually enough of a sample size to figure out a team. N.C. State might be the exception.
Poll voters and computer rankings can’t come to a consensus on the Wolfpack with only two regular-season games left.
Dave Doeren’s fifth-team has a 7-3 record and is ranked in the top 25 in three polls. The Wolfpack has a chance to win seven ACC games for the first time in school history and 10 games in a season for the only second time.
But the question remains, especially after an ugly performance in a win at Boston College, how good is N.C. State?
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“We’re as good as we want to be,” junior running back Nyheim Hines said.
Maybe but opinions vary on the Wolfpack (7-3) heading into Saturday’s game at Wake Forest (6-4).
N.C. State is ranked No. 19 by the College Football Playoff selection committee but No. 38 in one advanced metric computer poll.
The coaches have the Wolfpack at No. 22 in the USA Today poll and the AP top 25 has State at No. 25. Jeff Sagarin’s computer poll places the Wolfpack right in that range, at No. 21, while Bill Connelly’s S&P+ ratings have N.C. State down at No. 38.
Before you dismiss Connelly’s ranking, the same formula had a 7-6 N.C. State team at No. 25 in his final 2016 rating.
“We can’t control what people think of us,” Hines said.
In truth, the CFP ranking is the only one that matters. At No. 19, N.C. State is in position to make the Orange Bowl, if both Clemson and Miami remain in the top 4 of the playoff rankings.
N.C. State’s problem is what are probably its two best wins – 27-21 at Florida State on Sept. 23 and 39-25 over Louisville – have been diluted.
When N.C. State faced Florida State (3-6), the Seminoles were ranked No. 12 and had a 0-1 record with a loss to No. 1 Alabama. Louisville (6-4) had a 4-1 record (with only a loss to Clemson) and was ranked No. 17.
“We beat Florida State when they were ranked,” Hines said. “We beat Louisville when they were ranked. That’s all we can do, win the games.”
Given the Wolfpack had an 0-11 record against FSU, Louisville and Clemson the previous three seasons, the players are not about to apologize for going 2-1 against that group of Atlantic Division heavyweights.
“We’re not a team that usually does that,” senior guard Tony Adams said.
Strictly by record, N.C. State’s best win this season was against Marshall (7-3).
The strength of schedule numbers do favor N.C. State. That might explain why the playoff committee is so keen on them. According to the statistic the committee uses, the cumulative record of opponents (53-46), N.C. State has the 11th-toughest schedule in the country. Sagarin’s metric ranks the Wolfpack schedule at No. 12.
“I know our strength of schedule is real,” Doeren said.
The problem for N.C. State is it lost to the two best teams on its schedule – Clemson (9-1) and Notre Dame (8-2) – and to South Carolina (7-3).
The wins over Boston College (5-5) and Syracuse (4-6) are the two of the best on State’s resume over Power 5 opponents.
N.C. State’s performance in a 17-14 win at Boston College last week didn’t help its national perception.
“We didn’t play our best,” Adams said. “We were very fortunate to come out with a win.”
N.C. State’s best performance was probably in a 38-31 loss to Clemson, ranked No. 2 by the CFP committee.
The past two years, N.C. State has been able to put its best game together for Wake Forest — a 33-16 win last year in Raleigh and a 35-17 win in Winston-Salem in 2015.
Maybe a red-hot Wake Forest team, which has scored 143 points the past three weeks, will bring out the best in the Wolfpack again.
There is one way for N.C. State to prove how good it really is.
“If we win out, we’ll see where that puts us,” Doeren said. “We have to win out first.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Strength of the Pack
One factor helping N.C. State with the College Football Playoff selection committee is its strength of schedule. The committee relies on the cumulative record of opponents for SoS comparisons. According to ncaa.com, N.C. State’s schedule strength ranks No. 11 in the country.