NC State’s Kelvin Harmon makes a 16-yard touchdown reception
Slowly but surely, N.C. State is getting more comfortable with the word “should.”
The Wolfpack is ranked No. 23 in the country because it has started 4-0.
In August, you could have looked at the schedule and said: “N.C. State should beat James Madison, Georgia State, Marshall and Virginia.”
And the Wolfpack has done just that. That’s a significant sign of progress for Dave Doeren’s program. “Should” hasn’t always been in the Wolfpack’s vocabulary.
That preposterous conference title drought ends in 2002 or 2010 if N.C. State had been able to take care of the games it should have won (Oh, Maryland).
Doeren has had his own stumbles in “should have” games. In 2016, N.C. State suffered a pair of baffling losses: at East Carolina and at home to Boston College.
ECU has lost 20 of 26 games since that win over the Wolfpack and Boston College was on a 12-game ACC losing streak before that road win.
Those two losses nearly cost Doeren his job. He has recovered remarkably well since. The Wolfpack has won eight of its past 10 ACC games (for the first time since 1991-92) and been a regular in the top 25.
With regular Atlantic Division heavies Florida State and Louisville in the tank, N.C. State could make a move this season. Clemson’s still in the way, but there’s room to grow (double-digit wins, a major bowl) if the Wolfpack can avoid the usual stumbles.
“You’ve got to win the games you’re supposed to win and get up for the big games, too,” junior defensive end James Smith-Williams said.
The former has been easier said than done for N.C. State. The more no-doubt wins, like the one over Virginia, the better off the Wolfpack will be.
On to the “Only* ACC Power Rankings That Matter:”
Record: 5-0 (2-0 ACC)
Last game: vs. Syracuse (W, 27-23)
Next game: Saturday, at Wake Forest
Clemson’s defense hasn’t exactly been as dominant as advertised. Given the issues on offense, that could cost the Tigers their annual College Football Playoff spot.
Record: 4-1 (1-0 ACC)
Last game: vs. UNC (W, 47-10)
Next game: Saturday, vs. Florida State
The Hurricanes haven’t beaten Florida State in consecutive games since they joined the ACC in 2004.
3. N.C. State
Record: 4-0 (1-0 ACC)
Last game: vs. Virginia (W, 35-21)
Next game: Saturday, vs. Boston College
The Wolfpack will be hard to beat if freshman Ricky Person (108 rushing yards) can run like that against the rest of the ACC.
Record: 4-1 (1-1 ACC)
Last game: at Clemson (L, 27-23)
Next game: Saturday, at Pittsburgh
Pitt is awful but this is a classic letdown spot for the Orange, who went 0-5 after beating Clemson last year.
5. Virginia Tech
Record: 3-1 (2-0 ACC)
Last game: at Duke (W, 31-14)
Next game: Saturday, vs. Notre Dame
Justin Fuente is a certified quarterback whisperer. Kansas transfer Ryan Willis (332 yards, 3 TDs vs. Duke) is the latest to shine for the Hokies’ coach.
Record: 4-1 (0-1 ACC)
Last game: vs. Virginia Tech (L, 31-14)
Next game: Oct. 13, at Georgia Tech
Open date comes at the right time for the banged-up Blue Devils. They should be rested and ready for the struggling Yellow Jackets.
7. Boston College
Record: 4-1 (1-0 ACC)
Last game: vs. Temple (W, 45-35)
Next game: Saturday, at N.C. State
The Eagles are 4-4 against N.C. State this decade and 19-38 against the rest of the ACC.
8. Wake Forest
Record: 3-2 (0-1 ACC)
Last game: vs. Rice (W, 56-24)
Next game: Saturday, vs. Clemson
Sophomore receiver Greg Dortch is on pace for 108 catches and 1,300 yards. Is that good?
Record: 3-2 (1-1 ACC)
Last game: at N.C. State (L, 35-21)
Next game: Oct. 13, vs. Miami
The Wahoos have won four of six at home with Miami. They’ll get a week off to prepare for the Canes.
10. Florida State
Record: 3-2 (1-2 ACC)
Last game: at Louisville (W, 28-24)
Next game: Saturday, at Miami
Quarterback Deondre Francois (646 yards, six TDs the past two games) is starting to find his groove. Just in time for Miami’s stingy defense.
11. Georgia Tech
Record: 2-3 (0-2 ACC)
Last game: vs. Bowling Green (W, 63-17)
Next game: Friday, at Louisville
A little shot of confidence with a home rout of Bowling Green. The Jackets could make it two in a row with a Friday night trip to rudderless Louisville.
Record: 2-3 (0-2 ACC)
Last game: vs. Florida State (L, 28-24)
Next game: Friday, vs. Georgia Tech
On the bright side, it’s almost basketball season.
Record: 1-3 (1-1 ACC)
Last game: at Miami (L, 47-10)
Next game: Oct. 13, vs. Virginia Tech
Record: 2-3 (1-1 ACC)
Last game: at Central Florida (L, 45-14)
Next game: Saturday, vs. Syracuse
The Panthers could pull of a surprise this week. Or they could just be that bad.