Not that the Catamounts suck, of course. (The last thing we need is a bunch of angry, fired-up Catamounts marching into Carter-Finley!). But this year the Pack ventures into that heretofore unknown realm of BCS-friendly competition. In the coming years State will face off against names like Tennessee and Notre Dame, and most notably, against Ohio State in three weeks. Playing last year's national champion is quite an effective way to hide the blemishes schools like Western Carolina and Connecticut might leave on a team's RPI. But good State fans may not need to be reminded that these cupcake games have only recently been able to be seriously considered gimmees.
As tasty a treat as the Catamounts may seem, previous apparent fatteners of the win column like the Indians, Mustangs, Bobcats, and Bears have all given the Pack a little bit of indigestion. Only three years ago, in coach Chuck Amato's inaugural game, did State squeak by the Indians of Arkansas State 38-31, in double overtime. It is notable, however, that also debuting for State that game was a freshman quarterback named Philip Rivers, who began his career by completing 29-of-57 passes for 397 yards and three touchdowns.
In 2001, State got by the Southern Methodist Mustangs 26-17 and punished the Ohio Bobcats 27-7, who had dared to play the Pack close back in State's 1998 opener, a 34-31 nailbiter. (1998, lest the crimes of Mike O'Cain ever be forgotten, also featured State's 33-30 loss to the perennially woeful Baylor Bears, one week after the Pack's first upset of Florida State).
Amato's second season proved the Pack would win the games they were supposed to, but 2002 marked a turning of the corner. And when the Pack turned that corner, they smooshed cupcakes all over the turf! Playing out one of the most impressively padded schedules in recent history, the Pack dominated the cupcakes in fashion that fans were once afraid to expect. And since we're going with the cupcake analogy, lets take a page from local sportswriters and force that analogy down your throat mercilessly:
- The Wolfpack viciously feasted on an East Tennesse State creme-filled treat, winning 34-0
- Next, State gorged itself in Annapolis, woofing down a Hostess special, Navy, 65-19
- Then, State snacked on the Division I-AA Massachusetts Minutemen, licking the icing on a 56-24 victory
- And, not to be forgotten, the Wolfpack gobbled up a Little Debbie Golden Creme, beating our favorite cupcake, UNC, 34-17.
Pundits scoffed at the Pack for last year's schedule, but such lightweight opponents were never guaranteed wins before. Amato's Pack established itself as the type of team that dominates lesser competition. Is Western Carolina guaranteed to be digested smoothly? For the first time, State fans aren't afraid to assume so. We can easily look ahead to a team that in the past would perceive NC State as a cupcake, Ohio State.
When the Pack does take the field this weekend, fans will have the opportunity to see the long awaited debut of Tramain Hall, and witness a new tier of freshman led by blue chippers Richard "Roy" Washington, Mario Williams, and Derek Morris. Recruiting alone shows that State's football program continues to progress, and with a little luck, the out-of-conference cupcakes filling out State's schedule will start to more often than not hail from BCS-affiliated conferences.