Care to venture a guess on the eighth team?
Just one day before Wilson and the Wolfpack take the field against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, it's easy to understand why many NC State fans -- perhaps rightfully so -- have a quiet confidence. Russell Wilson has been dominant against the Tar Heels since arriving on the scene in 2008, throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions while accumulating 538 passing yards. Based on those numbers alone, many fans expect nothing different from Wilson and company when State takes the field tomorrow.
In 2008 NC State arrived in Chapel Hill heavy underdogs to the No. 22 ranked Tar Heels despite having won the previous two weeks against Duke and Wake Forest. Wilson turned in the best performance of his redshirt freshman season, throwing for 279 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-10 rout of North Carolina.
Last season, the story was similar. North Carolina, ranked 24th, came to Raleigh as the favorite against an NC State team limping its way to the end of the season after losing offensive coordinator Dana Bible prior to the Virginia Tech game a week earlier. North Carolina was expected to walk out with a win against an NC State team that had allowed more than 30 points in eight straight contests.
None of that mattered to Wilson. After falling behind early, Wilson led NC State to a 28-27 win while throwing for 259 yards and four touchdowns to close out the season and take the sting off a difficult year.
"My freshman and sophomore year we capitalized on opportunities and we stayed on the field and made plays," said Wilson. "Guys stepped up with some big plays. Both of those games were great games."
NC State will need a similar effort from Wilson in 2010 if the Wolfpack plan on getting a fourth straight win against the Tar Heels. Despite all the problems North Carolina has had on and off the field in 2010, North Carolina will come ready to play, armed with a high-powered offense of its own led by improved T.J. Yates.
North Carolina has won six of eight after starting the season 0-2 and has relied on Yates, who ranks second in passing efficiency in the ACC, to make plays. Yates has completed 65 percent of his passes in 2010, a career high for the fourth-year starter from Georgia.
Russell Wilson will need to be just as efficient as he's been the last two seasons tomorrow in Chapel Hill. Turning the ball over, especially against the ball-hawking Tar Heels, is the quickest path to defeat.
While Tom O'Brien has talked all week about the importance of beating North Carolina because it's a rival, it's impossible to ignore the big picture implications a win tomorrow has for NC State. Winning Saturday will complete the first step in a two-step process to get to the ACC Championship game. A loss means NC State will be scoreboard watching, again.
"You can't diminish the fact that it's a rivalry game. That's obviously there and if I said it wasn't there I'd be lying to you," Wilson said. "It definitely is important but at the same time you have to keep it in perspective. It's another game that's in the ACC and another game where we have to win to try and get where we want to go."
Rivalry games are exciting for a thousand reasons, but the 100th meeting between NC State and North Carolina has implications which could make it something special to watch. Wilson's third game against the Heels -- potentially his last if he does not return for a senior season -- is by far the most important opportunity of his career. If the past is any indicator, expect him to take advantage.