Not only is the Wolfpack unbeaten after four games for the first time since 2002, but its last two wins over Cincinnati and Georgia Tech weren't even that close, thrusting the school into contention in the Atlantic Division.
Recognized in the AP poll for the first time in seven years, a win this Saturday would propel the program much higher and validate its No. 23 ranking.
Virginia Tech deserves a lot of credit for getting off the mat following a disastrous 0-2 start. Since losing to James Madison and trailing in the third against East Carolina, the Hokies have reeled off 47 unanswered points, shutting out Boston College and getting back to even. With a win in Raleigh, Tech will have climbed all the way back to once again being considered a favorite for the conference title.
Why Virginia Tech Might Win: Suddenly, over the last six quarters, the dark clouds have started moving out and the Hokies are clicking up to their normal standards. The defense, in particular, has gotten nasty, abusing a pretty good Boston College line for 11 tackles for loss and six sacks.
LB Bruce Taylor and ends Steven Friday and James Gayle played especially fast and ferocious, each collecting three stops behind the line. Never one to excel on the O-line, NC State is 95th nationally in sacks allowed and will have its hands full again this week.
Tech has some of the best skill position talent the Pack has seen all year, including QB Tyrod Taylor, RB David Wilson, and WR Jarrett Boykin. If star back Ryan Williams is available, the attack becomes markedly more dangerous.
Why NC State Might Win: It would be easy to pin the Wolfpack's early success on QB Russell Wilson. He's a leader and a transformational figure, who leads the ACC in total offense and has thrown 11 touchdown passes to just one interception. He's one of the college game's best all-around players.
For a change, however, he's not alone. The junior is getting ample support from RB Mustafa Greene and a stacked receiving corps that includes TE George Bryan and receivers Owen Spencer, Jarvis Williams, and T.J. Graham.
Oh, and new assistant Jon Tenuta has been a difference-maker for the defense. A more aggressive style of play has meant far more sacks and significantly better play against the run.
What To Watch Out For: Can an up-and-down Virginia Tech offensive line handle the frenetic pace that the NC State linebackers are going to impose on this game? Tenuta can't stop grinning about the players he inherited on the second line of defense, Nate Irving, Terrell Manning, and Audie Cole. All three are fast and physical, and Irving has shaken off the rust after missing 2009, making 16 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks in the upset of Georgia Tech.
What Will Happen: There's something special about this season for NC State. You can feel its new found swagger. No fluke, the Pack will remain undefeated, holding off Virginia Tech in a game that will be tight throughout. Wilson will outplay Taylor, enhancing his Heisman credentials, and the defense will drives the Hokies nuts with its range and tenacity.
CFN Prediction: NC State 31 … Virginia Tech 26 … 5Dimes.com Line: Virginia Tech -4
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