The football season has been a little slow in starting in the Triangle, but there’s no better way to pick up the pace than a visit from the defending national champion, especially one with a history of stumbling at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Florida State brings the No. 1 ranking and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston – assuming he doesn’t do something to get suspended again – to N.C. State on Saturday for a national broadcast on ESPN2 as the Wolfpack enters the meat of its schedule and crosses the ACC Network/ESPN3 boundary for the first time.
“This is a game not only me but everyone on our team and everyone in the country will be looking for,” N.C. State quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. “Who wouldn’t want to play against the No. 1 team in the country on the stage that it’s going to be on? 4-0 both teams. It’s going to be a great day.”
After a mostly uneventful start to the season – with the notable and crucial exception of last Saturday’s East Carolina-North Carolina game – football finally begins in earnest this weekend with the opening of ACC play. And unlike the nonconference schedules so far, the bar is set pretty high.
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While the Wolfpack hosts the No. 1 team in the country, Duke travels to Miami in a pivotal Coastal Division meeting and North Carolina will attempt to rebound from the East Carolina debacle in what may be an even tougher environment at Clemson.
Florida State, Clemson and Miami have been the big dogs of the ACC for a long time, even when their play didn’t necessarily measure up to their reputation, both individually and collectively. Talent-wise, they’re as loaded as anyone in the conference, which means all three Triangle teams face significant tests Saturday – for the first time, in the case of Duke and N.C. State.
“It’s a feeling, something that we look forward to from the get-go,” Duke wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “We never wanted to look too far ahead. To this point, we’ve taken care of business. We’re 4-0 and it’s going to be a tough challenge going down to Miami.”
The Wolfpack, having successfully taken care of business and emerged unscathed and 4-0, now has a chance to measure itself against the best in the country – with Florida State’s 3-5 record at Carter-Finley since 1998 as motivation. Five top-25 Seminoles teams have lost there, including two that were No. 2 in the polls.
“You say it’s just another game, but at the end of the day this is a big game for us as a program,” N.C. State defensive end Mike Rose said. “We got Jacoby, we got the offense going, our defense looks much better than we did last year. We’re putting the pieces together. Now it’s time to go out and show we can actually play with the Florida States of the world.”
North Carolina, meanwhile, has to show it can actually play with anyone in the ACC after falling apart defensively against East Carolina in the worst statistical performance in school history. Clemson, which has switched to versatile freshman Deshaun Watson at quarterback, isn’t any less potent on offense.
“It’s hard to play in a game like that and it not cause a stir among coaches and players,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “We have to do a better job in every aspect of what we’re doing defensively.”
It isn’t just the Tar Heels who are trying to raise the bar. Everyone else will see a significant jump in the degree of difficulty, not just because these are conference opponents but because these are among the best opponents the conference has to offer.
“This is ACC play,” Duke offensive tackle Takoby Cofield said. “This is what matters. We have to go to work now.”