Watching Growth Before Our Eyes

Matt Lail's Weekly Football Column focuses on the growth of NC State Football.

Saturday was a beautiful day for football in Columbus, Ohio. And when the dust had settled, and once a stunned T.A. McLendon was helped up off the grass of the "Horseshoe" after his NC State Wolfpack had been stopped in triple overtime, 44-38, it was still, remarkably enough, a beautiful day for football. Not because the Pack had lost for the second week in a row to go 1-2 on the season, but because of what had just happened in front of a stunned and relieved Ohio Stadium and a shocked and exhausted national television audience.

It was also time to think about what this game meant to NC State football.

What it meant was ... ... The NC State team that went into the house of the defending national champs and came inches away from winning was not the same team that went into the house of the Demon Deacons and appeared years away from contending for an ACC title, let alone a national title.

What it meant was ... ... On a gorgeous September day, NC State played a game in front of over 100,000 fans - almost all wearing red. (And if pressed on the subject, I'm sure that's what Chuck Amato would love to see one day in Raleigh.)

What it meant was ... ... The Ohio State Buckeyes - the freaking Ohio State Buckeyes! - were relieved to have just defeated the barely-in-the-Top-25 NC State Wolfpack.

The freaking NC State Wolfpack.

It would be oh so easy to harp on the "wouldas" and "couldas" and wonder why oh why NC State attempted two quarterback carries in the third overtime. Or why the Pack, for two straight weeks, has had such a sluggish start out of the gate. Or why McLendon or even Josh Brown is not more involved in the running game. (See how easy it is to harp?) But this is not the time for it.

"I don't want to dwell on it," Amato told the media earlier this week. "All I know is the same people called the plays that scored an awful lot of points ... against a team that is the defending national champion."

The fact of the matter is to look back at where the Pack program has come in just four seasons under Amato (and Rivers, for that matter) is astounding. Yes, the pressure is unquestionably on for State to make a legitimate move at the ACC crown this season, but Saturday's performance gave every indication that the Pack is ready to make that move. True, most folks thought State was ready to make the move three weeks ago, but better late than never.

As one NCSU alum friend of mine put it, "if we go up to Tennessee (in 2008) and lose a close one, we can't come back feeling good about ourselves. By that point, we need to be upset about losing games like that."

He's exactly right. But right now, it's OK to feel good about a 44-38 triple-OT loss in the home of the national champs. Especially if it's the last game the Pack loses in a long time.

'Now' ACC Standings

1. Florida State: Bobby's boys got quite a scare from Reggie Ball and the Yellow Jackets, but once again Tech snatches defeat from the jaws of victory against the Seminoles.
2. NC State: Pack defense improved by leaps and bounds against the Buckeyes.
3. Wake Forest: Deacons are still a solid group; Purdue was just a tad better.
4. Maryland: Terps get a nice test this week in the form of the West Virginia Mountaineers. (That would be the snubbed-by-the-ACC Mountaineers.)
5. Virginia: Wahoos had their way against Western Michigan and may be hitting their stride. Scary.
6. Georgia Tech: What would've been a monumental win for Chan Gailey's program went down the tubes fast in Tallahassee on Saturday night.
7. Duke: Blue Devils could make it three wins in a row with a victory against Northwestern on Saturday.
8 (tie). Clemson and North Carolina: Tigers can move up in these standings with a win against Georgia Tech; Heels go off to face an angry Wisconsin team.

'Later' ACC Standings

1. Miami
2. Florida State
3. Virginia Tech
4. NC State
5. Wake Forest
6. Maryland
7. Virginia
8. Georgia Tech
9. Duke
10 (tie). Clemson and North Carolina

This Week's Predictions:

Texas Tech at NC State: Last year's contest was a made-for-TV shootout, played in the blazing sun. This year could be more of the same. One difference: State still has Philip Rivers; Kliff Kingsbury is no longer at Tech. (Though we hear this Symons kid is pretty good, too.) NC State 42, Texas Tech 24

North Carolina at Wisconsin: Badgers are coming off a disappointing loss, while the Tar Heels are trying to gain some confidence. Not a good combination. Wisconsin 32, UNC 17

Northwestern at Duke: Just like Ohio State, Duke just finds ways to win. OK, so maybe Duke's not quite just like Ohio State, but you get the picture. Duke 21, Northwestern 20

Colorado at Florida State: Noles survived everything Georgia Tech threw at them. Next up: the scrappy Buffaloes. FSU 28, Colorado 24 West Virginia at Maryland: Terps had their way with The Citadel last week; Ralph Friedgen's team gets a test from a solid WVU team this time around. Maryland 35, WVU 24

East Carolina at Wake Forest: The Pirates have struggled mightily in John Thompson's first season as coach. The struggles will continue this week against an offensively unique Wake squad, which received a wake-up call against Purdue. Wake Forest 30, ECU 10

Clemson at Georgia Tech: An interesting match-up between two teams with loads of potential. The key will be whether Tech has regrouped after sputtering against FSU. Tech 24, Clemson 17

Also ... Virginia Tech 21, Texas A&M 17 Miami 27, Boston College 24


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