NC State’s schedule has often been a source of consternation for both pundits and fans over the past few seasons. The Belk Bowl seems to be a chance for the Wolfpack to answer some critics.
Mississippi State awaits the Pack on Wednesday in Charlotte. There have not been many matchups against SEC schools this century for NC State, with the Bulldogs being the first since the Wolfpack fell to Vanderbilt in the 2012 Music City Bowl.
The last time NC State defeated a SEC school was 1999 when the Wolfpack blanked South Carolina, 10-0, at Carter-Finley Stadium. The Pack faced the Gamecocks in back-to-back seasons (2008 and 2009) and were outscored 41-3.
Mike Rose was a freshman on the 2012 squad that had its season bookended with losses to Tennessee and the Commodores. What followed was upheaval and now he will close out his college career against the same level of competition that he began with.
Rose considers the Belk Bowl as an opportunity to set the table for further growth.
"We left the place in the middle of the road,” Rose said of the outgoing seniors from this year’s team. “We were down. There was a time we were not every good. I feel like we've helped bring us back to the middle. I think with this class of freshmen and the people in place now, they'll take the next step and improve on what we've done here and get us out of the middle of the pack and into the top tier."
The game against the Bulldogs is a chance for NC State to square off with the level of competition that many have craved for the Wolfpack. Rose feels a win would show growth but he also thinks his team has faced a tougher schedule than its given credit for.
“It would be a big statement, but at the same time, we've played a lot of the top 25 teams,” Rose said. “UNC was Top 25, Louisville before the season was Top 25. Clemson is the No. 1 team in the nation. Those are three of our losses. We've played some really good football, and we've played some really good teams.”
"At the end of the day, the SEC is the SEC and it's considered the premier conference,” Rose added. “A win against one of their better teams would be good for us."
Judging from Mississippi State’s body of work this season, there could be some opportunity for the Wolfpack. Unfortunately for NC State, the team has not always made the most of its chances this season.
“They've given up a lot of sacks, and we've missed a lot too we should have had,” Rose said. “That goes hand-in-hand.”
“Alabama has a great defensive front," Rose said. "Those defensive tackles had a great game. I think B.J. Hill can have a great game. This could be a really good game for B.J. Hill to make a statement for his junior year, going into next season. I think Bradley Chubb is a great player.
"Those two guys right now are moving on to the next level as players, and I think they are going to have great seasons next year and have a great game. I'm not shy about myself, but I'm not going to talk about me. I think we'll all play well."
Overall, Rose is glad to be back in the postseason for the third time in his college career--which started in the Georgia Dome against Tennessee in 2012. He looks forward to his finale with the Wolfpack and plans to embrace not only the game but also bonding moments in the process.
“It's going to be great,” Rose said. “You get to spend time with the people you love, your football family. The extended part. The people you spend so much time with. The years go by so fast. You realize that you have long, lasting connections with these people.”