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ACC power rankings: NC State learning how to take care of business

NC State’s Kelvin Harmon makes a 16-yard touchdown reception

Watch a time-lapse as NC State's Kelvin Harmon makes a 16-yard touchdown reception in the Wolfpack's victory over Virginia at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. It is Harmon's first touchdown of 2018.
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Watch a time-lapse as NC State's Kelvin Harmon makes a 16-yard touchdown reception in the Wolfpack's victory over Virginia at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. It is Harmon's first touchdown of 2018.

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.

NC State football coach Dave Doeren talks about the Wolfpack's win over Virginia and the possibility of being 5-0 if the Pack gets past this weekend's game with 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:”

1. Clemson

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.

2. Miami

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.

Watch a time-lapse as NC State's Ricky Person gains 27-yards during the Wolfpack's victory over Virginia at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Person, in his first game for the Wolfpack, had 108 yards.

4. Syracuse

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.

6. Duke

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?

9. Virginia

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.

12. 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.

13. UNC

Record: 1-3 (1-1 ACC)

Last game: at Miami (L, 47-10)

Next game: Oct. 13, vs. Virginia Tech

See Louisville.

14. Pittsburgh

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.

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