Theory of relativity

Chuck Amato has done a remarkable job in a relatively short amount of time to bring the NC State "name" to televisions across the nation on football Saturdays.

Three weeks ago I wrote about just that when I stated that Amato has changed the attitude of the Wolfpack players and the fans. In an ironic twist, Amato has done such a good job of changing the climate and expectations of NC State football that a fourth-straight bowl trip is just not good enough. Think about it: Pack fans expected a late-season battle for the ACC title (which they got), but a 4-4 league record? Not feasible - not with Philip Rivers, T.A. McLendon & Co.

And while the past two Pack squads could have and should have challenged for the ACC title, the fact remains that nationally successful programs aren't built overnight. Frank Beamer didn't turn Virginia Tech into a national power overnight, and Bobby Bowden suffered through some tough years before Florida State made it to the "next level." Even some programs that seem to perpetually be on the cusp of greatness aren't quite there yet (example: Kansas State).

Amato has NC State football on the path to many successful - and possibly championship-filled - seasons. The coach will continue to learn and grow in his role, and he'll have to ask himself some tough questions, such as ...

Should I bite the bullet and hire a defensive coordinator?

Should I be more careful with how quickly I throw T.A. back into the fire after an injury?

And also ...

How will I deal next season with not having - for the first time as a head coach in Raleigh - my security blanket (Philip Rivers) around?

That last question may be the most important one of all, and it's probably the toughest task Amato will face as a young head coach. Will the separation of Amato and Rivers have a Simon & Garfunkel result, with one clearly moving on to continued success while the other struggles? Or will it be more like when Lennon & McCartney split and both went on to solo glory? Only time will tell.

Here's to Rivers putting together an All-Pro career in the NFL. (That could happen; he won't have that pesky Heisman curse to deal with, after all.) And here's to Amato continuing to build upon what he's started at NC State: a program that isn't happy or satisfied with average.

Who knows? Maybe the "Ewing Theory" will come into play. ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons (formerly known as the "Boston Sports Guy") made famous the "Ewing Theory," which he described two and a half years ago as this: "A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).

"That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.

"When those elements collide, you have the Ewing Theory."

This idea states that there are examples throughout sports history in which teams are better off - or at least just as good as - the year after a milestone player has left. The originator of the Ewing Theory was, of course, Patrick Ewing, who was one of the most dominant players in college and professional basketball throughout the 1980s and '90s. Simmons wrote that a friend of his "was convinced that Patrick Ewing's teams (both at Georgetown and with New York) inexplicably played better when Ewing was either injured or missing extended stretches because of foul trouble." A recent example of the "Ewing Theory" at work could be Tennessee's 1998 college football championship - with Tee Martin at quarterback, not Peyton Manning. One could also cite, as Simmons did, the 1998 Utah Utes basketball team as an all-time "Ewing Theory" squad. A year after Keith Van Horn's fantastic career ended without a Final Four run, Rick Majerus' team makes it all the way to the NCAA championship game.

This isn't in any way to suggest that Philip Rivers' career has been some sort of jinx, or that the quarterback has been undeserving of the amount of attention he has received. Nor is it to say that NC State football will be a national contender next season. But what it is saying is that sometimes the stars align, Karma is with you, and everything falls into place perfectly, almost as if out of your control. Heck, it's happened to another team in the ACC for three years now.

We'll call it the "Friedgen Theory."

Final 'Now' Regular Season ACC Standings

1. Florida State: Despite some ups and downs, the Seminoles re-established their dominance this season.
2. Maryland: Ralph Friedgen has done such a terrific job in three seasons at College Park that he got very little credit (as far as Coach of the Year goes) for yet another second-place finish.
3. NC State: There's no way around it - 2003 was a disappointing year for the Pack.
4. Clemson: The Clemson administration had no choice but to give a vote of confidence to Tommy Bowden after putting together a Coach of the Year-type season.
5. Virginia: The regular season-ending rout of the Hokies gives Al Groh & Co. something to build on - for the bowl game and for next season.
6. Georgia Tech: Chan Gailey may just make it in Atlanta after all.
7. Wake Forest: Who woulda thought that one month ago we'd be saying that the Demon Deacons would have the most disappointing season in the league? The Deacs' youth caught up with them.
8. Duke: Ted Roof! Ted Roof! Ted Roof is on fire! (Has that been beat into the ground enough?)
9. North Carolina: All this talk about "The Old Ball Coach" eyeing Chapel Hill can't be good news for John Bunting's long-term future.

'Later' ACC Standings

1. Florida State
2. Miami
3. Maryland
4. NC State
5. Virginia Tech
6. Clemson
7. Virginia
8. Georgia Tech
9. Wake Forest
10. Boston College
11. Duke
12. North Carolina

Bowl Predictions: to come.
Prognostication Record This Year (as far as picking the correct winner goes): 55-19

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