Heading into Saturday's home game against Louisville, North Carolina State is 4-0 for the second straight season. Along the way, Wolfpack players have put up big numbers and the team ranks among the national leaders both in offensive and defensive statistics.
But it's a stretch that hasn't revealed a lot about whether this team can make good on its goal of contending in the league's Atlantic Division, either.
"I think it's natural when you're in a conference game for the hair to stand up on your neck maybe a little bit more," Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said Monday. "We don't approach it that way as coaches and we try to train our players to not care who's on the other side, to really care about yourself and your performance."
North Carolina State has won seven straight dating to last season and is one of 17 teams at 4-0 in the Bowl Subdivision ranks, according to STATS. It's also the only ACC team at 4-0 in the ACC, though Clemson, Florida State and Miami are also unbeaten.
The Wolfpack rank ninth nationally in scoring offense (46.3 points) and 16th in rushing offense (259 yards), while the defense ranks No. 8 in scoring (12 points) and No. 3 in total defense (205.8 yards).
Individually, Matt Dayes ranks 17th nationally in total rushing yards with four straight 100-yard games and is tied for the national lead with nine rushing scores to lead a ground game that got stronger when Shadrach Thornton returned from a two-game suspension.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett leads the nation by completing nearly 78 percent of his passes.
But that production came against two teams picked to finish sixth or lower in the Sun Belt Conference (Troy and South Alabama), another team picked to finish next to last in its Conference USA division (Old Dominion) and Eastern Kentucky of the Championship Subdivision. North Carolina State won those games by an average of more than 34 points.
"You never know how all that plays out: whether you play the early hard schedule and feel like you're more prepared or you play the schedule like they had and you get more guys experience and grow in confidence as you go," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "I guess we're about to find out."
North Carolina State at least has some experience in this position. The Wolfpack started 4-0 last year against another soft nonconference schedule, then lost a shootout to Jameis Winston and No. 1 Florida State to start a four-game skid that nearly derailed the season.
But the Wolfpack regrouped late and won a bowl game to cap a five-win improvement from Doeren's first season, and N.C. State's seven-game winning streak is the longest active run among ACC teams.
"Every game is a test," Brissett said. "We've passed every test so far."