In one of the biggest wins in school history, the NC State football team took down the Clemson Tigers 27-21 in a double overtime thriller at Carter-Finley Stadium.
After years of frustration and heartbreak against the team that has won the ACC the last six years in a row, made the College Football Playoff the last six years in a row and won two national championships in the last five years, the Pack finally broke through and now has a legit chance to do something it hasn’t done since 1979: win the ACC Championship.
As is the case with any championship, however, doing so will not be easy, and even though NC State may have just taken down the big bully on the block, the Pack is only one game into its eight-game conference schedule. After this upcoming weekend’s game against Louisiana Tech (which will also not be an easy game), four of the Pack’s next five games are on the road.
The Pack’s next ACC game will be at Boston College, which is off to a 4-0 start. For whatever reason, it always seems like NC State has trouble playing at Boston College, as the Pack is just 3-7 all-time in Chestnut Hill. NC State will learn a lot about the Eagles this weekend when they travel to take on Clemson, whom they almost beat last year in Death Valley.
After Boston College, the Pack travels to take on Miami, who has won the last three meetings between the two teams, including last year’s 44-41 thriller in Raleigh. While the Hurricanes are 2-2 this season, their two losses have come against No. 1 Alabama and No. 17 Michigan State. The Hurricanes are led by one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC in D’Eriq King, who torched the Pack last year for 550 yards of total offense and five touchdowns. Despite the two losses, the Canes are still very talented.
The Pack’s next ACC home game will be on Oct. 30 against Louisville, who has won four of six meetings against NC State since the Cardinals joined the ACC. The Cardinals are led by one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in the conference in Malik Cunningham, who threw four touchdowns the last time the two teams met in 2019. Although the Cardinals had a down year last year in which they went 4-7, they won eight games the year prior and already look better this season, having taken down UCF and Florida State.
After Louisville, it’s on the road again as the Pack travels to take on Florida State. The Seminoles have not been very good the last few seasons and are off to one of their worst starts in school history this season with an 0-4 record, but this is still the program that, not long ago, was the Clemson of the ACC and dominated the conference.
The ‘Noles proved they can compete in their season-opening, nail-biting loss to Notre Dame. They are another team that, despite what their record is, can never be counted out because of the talent they have. Just ask North Carolina, who, as the No. 5 team in the country, lost to the ‘Noles last season.
The final road game of the year will be against Wake Forest, and every NC State fan knows how much inexplicable trouble the Pack has had against the Demon Deacons in years past, especially in Winston-Salem, where the Pack has won just once in its last nine trips. The Deacs are already off to a 4-0 start, and their matchup with the Pack could very well be what decides the Atlantic division.
The Pack ends the regular season with two home games, the first of which is against Syracuse. The Orange have had losing seasons in six of the last seven years, including a 1-10 record last year, but gave NC State a run for its money last year and probably would have had a better chance had it not been for a spike on fourth down at the end of the game to seal the Pack’s 36-29 victory. The Orange has already beaten Liberty this season, becoming the first team in the country to beat Liberty since NC State did it last year.
The regular season finale is against North Carolina, which may be the only other game that rivals the Clemson game in terms of hype. The Tar Heels have not been as good as many thought they would be this season, dropping two games after being ranked No. 10 in the preseason, but they are still led by one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Sam Howell.
NC State fans don’t need to be reminded that the Heels have beaten the Pack by a combined 58 points the last two times the teams have met. While the Pack may enter that game fighting for a spot in the ACC Championship game, the Heels would love to play spoiler against their rival.
Simply put, the road to the ACC Championship won’t be easy for NC State. In fact, the Pack may not have even played its hardest game yet. A number of recently great teams led by the likes of Philip Rivers, Russell Wilson and Ryan Finley were never able to get over the hump of winning a championship, and after what it did to Clemson, the Pack will have a target on its back the rest of the way.
In 2010, NC State was a game away from making it to the conference championship game, but fell in the final game of the regular season to Maryland and failed to reach the championship. In 2012, the Pack was in the driver’s seat to win the division after beating No. 3 Florida State, but a heartbreaking loss to North Carolina and an embarrassing blowout loss to Virginia at home sealed the team’s fate.
The Pack does have an advantage over the other teams in its division, as the Pack has already played and beaten Clemson, which nobody else in the conference has done at this point. Plus, all the other teams in the Atlantic division still have to play NC State.
The Pack has as good of a chance as it ever has of winning the ACC. After finally defeating its archnemesis which has given it so much trouble the last few years, now is the time for NC State to capitalize. If not now, when?