The Wolfpack have, from time-to-time, performed well in the big game, with Florida State’s last two trips to Raleigh proof of State’s ability to show up on the grand stage. Subsequently, the Pack would always seem to acquiescence to lesser opponents and squander its hard fought gains.
The top-ranked Seminoles’ trip to Raleigh on Saturday represents a great opportunity for State regardless of the past of either team.
Jameis Winston will return to the field and there has been some conjecture that his latest table-standing related sabbatical will have an adverse effect on his performance in Carter-Finley. That seems unlikely. If Winston has not been held back by his legal woes and childish antics by now then it is hard to envision him ever reaching that point.
In 2013, the Pack came tantalizing close to winning its ACC opener versus Clemson at home in what is essentially the same type of game it will face on Saturday, albeit against better competition. After the annual blown call from the referee, State wilted both in the game and for the remainder of the conference season.
Square pegs do not fit in round holes, and that was the issue Dave Doeren faced during his first season in Raleigh. With players, most particularly quarterbacks,who were better equipped for different offensive schemes, NC State’s offense was a stick in the mud for three months.
That has not been a problem this season.
Jacoby Brissett has been exactly what Doeren needed at quarterback. His versatility and decision-making ability meshes well with the offense and the three-head monster at running back has performed better than expected. The receiving corps was supposed to be led by Bryan Underwood but everyone has contributed. Despite its lackluster non-conference schedule, NC State has multiple weapons and a high-octane offense that lends itself to the ability to defeating better competition.
However, the Seminoles are top-ranked for a reason. Favored to defeat the Wolfpack by as many as four touchdowns, the defending national champions will bring not only a ton of resentment due to its recent lack of success in Raleigh, but also as much talent as any college football team in recent seasons... the loss of defensive end Mario Edwards notwithstanding.
In that regard, the game against the Seminoles represents an opportunity on several levels. The underclassmen at NC State, without question, a glimpse of a brighter future in Raleigh, have the chance to play in a big game against the best opposition on a national stage. The Wolfpack and its coaching staff will also see how its program stacks up versus a school that not only won the national championship last season but is the team State will have to go through annually if it is to reach elite status.
Perhaps most importantly, depending on the result, the Florida State game will let the Wolfpack gauge its ability to adapt to success or deal with adversity. NC State has struggled with both in recent years. There will be another game the following week, a big one at Clemson, in fact,and regardless of the outcome against the Seminoles, State will have to have an effective response.
To reach elite status requires both excellence when playing against the best and consistency throughout the season. The game against FSU will show where the Pack is.
The aftermath over the next few weeks will indicate where the program is going.