N.C. State knows which two teams are left on its schedule.
There is a danger in looking past Syracuse, Saturday’s opponent, and ahead to the regular-season finale against rival North Carolina on the following Saturday.
But that’s not what N.C. State (6-4, 2-4 ACC) will do, senior tackle Joe Thuney said.
“That would be so stupid to look past Syracuse,” Thuney said. “No matter who the opponent is, you only get 12 opportunities a year. They are all a big deal.”
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N.C. State still has a chance to surpass last year’s 8-5 record, which was a preseason goal.
The Wolfpack can also help improve its bowl standing with a win over the Orange (3-7, 1-5). N.C. State has qualified for a bowl game with six wins but a 6-6 team can’t get into one of the ACC’s Tier I bowls.
The difference between Christmas in Shreveport, La. and a trip to the Belk Bowl in Charlotte on Dec. 30 might be decided by how the Wolfpack closes out the season.
We’re not worried about Carolina right now. Our focus is getting win No. 7 and that’s all.
NC State cornerback Juston Burris
A game with Syracuse is a perfect reminder to N.C. State of what can happen when you close the season strong.
Last year, N.C. State was 4-4 before a trip to Syracuse on Nov. 1. The Wolfpack, with a 82-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive end Pharoah McKever, got a 24-17 comeback win over the Orange and went on to win four of its last five games.
“That was a turning point in that season and obviously we built off of that,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said.
N.C. State has alternated losses and wins the last five weeks. Doeren would like for his team to get into a groove and get to a bowl with a chance at nine wins. But first things first, he said.
“You can’t go to next week and lose this one and feel like you did your job,” Doeren said.
Syracuse, in its third season in the ACC, won its first trip to Carter-Finley Stadium in 2013. There’s enough players around from that N.C. State team to remember that stinging home loss.
This year’s Syracuse team, even with a six-game losing streak, also has N.C. State’s attention. The Orange lost 37-27 to No. 1 Clemson last week and two of the other losses were to LSU and Florida State.
“They played Clemson down to the wire in the fourth quarter,” senior cornerback Juston Burris said. “We know they’re not going to give up.”
N.C. State has taken a “week-to-week” approach all season, Doeren said, and he hasn’t had to spend any time this week keeping his players focused on Syracuse.
North Carolina, the way it’s playing, the special season it’s having, will get all of N.C. State’s attention after Saturday’s game with Syracuse. But the Tar Heels, and all of the hype and energy that goes into that annual game, will have to wait.
“We’re not worried about Carolina right now,” Burris said. “Our focus is getting win No. 7 and that’s all.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio