With Saturday's 20-14 victory over Maryland, NC State became bowl eligible for the fifth time in six seasons under Amato, and the Wolfpack's head coach kept his word.
It may not have been the type of season he or Wolfpack fans had hoped for, but after a 2-4 start, Amato is proud of what his team accomplished this year after winning four out of their final five games to become bowl eligible.
"That football team was written off five weeks ago by a lot of people, but not people from the Wolfpack Nation," said Amato. "To have done what they've done the last five weeks is incredible, knowing how they felt five weeks ago. It's very rewarding. I told them, you can have the last laugh on this.
"Four out of the last five games they won. Were any of them easy? No, and that even makes it more... because everyone of them they had an opportunity to quit. They had an opportunity to throw it in the tank and they wouldn't do it. All the credit goes to them. It's that simple."
Amato has compiled an impressive 45-28 record at his alma mater, and he has now led the Wolfpack to five bowls in six seasons while posting a 23-25 conference record and a stellar 22-3 nonconference record, including a 3-1 mark in bowl games.
This year NC State is the only program in North Carolina that will play in a bowl, as the Tar Heels, Demon Deacons, Blue Devils, and Pirates failed to qualify.
Bowl Benefits Stone, Pack's '06 Season
Perhaps the most important reason for attending a bowl this year is that the Wolfpack's younger players can receive extra practice time in an effort to improve.
Sophomore Marcus Stone, who ends the regular season 4-1 as a starter, still struggled at times, particularly in the first half of games. In NC State's four wins with Stone at the helm, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder completed just one pass in the opening half.
When asked what Stone needed to improve on during bowl practices, Amato said, "His first half."
All bowl teams get 16 practices prior to their bowl games, regardless of the specific bowl or bowl date, and with young players like Stone projecting as long-term contributors, the extra practice is an added bonus for the Wolfpack.
While NC State loses a lot of senior talent and potentially a couple of underclassmen, Amato has accumulated plenty of young talent on his roster.
Defensively the Wolfpack must replace seniors Marcus Hudson, Oliver Hoyte, and Manny Lawson, but potentially eight other starters return depending on the decision of Mario Williams. Super linebacker Stephen Tulloch will be back and could enter the season as the league's top linebacker. Also returning are improving defensive tackles Demario Pressley and Tank Tyler, who emerged after the season-ending injury suffered by John McCargo, and McCargo's expected to return, giving NC State perhaps the best defensive tackle rotation in the ACC.
The secondary should be above-average, as A.J. Davis returns and Miguel Scott, DaJuan Morgan, and Garland Heath all had their moments at safety.
NC State could return seven starters offensively and eight on defense, and both units will benefit from the added practice time that a bowl game allows.
Williams Has Record-Setting Day
NC State junior defensive end Mario Williams has been named the Walter Camp Football Foundation's National 1-A Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against Maryland.
Williams tallied four sacks, five total tackles for loss, eight total tackles and two quarterback pressures.
Williams set the school record for sacks in a season (14) and tied a Wolfpack career record as he now boasts 24 sacks for is career. He already holds the school's career tackle for loss record.
Williams, who nearly missed the game after barely practicing all week with a staph infection, felt his mental preparation was the key to his performance.
"He came very close to not playing at all," Amato said of Williams. "We got him to do some walk through on Wednesday... did a little more on Thursday. I was more concerned about stamina.
"There are three games that I think he and the defensive line just totally took over. I don't say that boasting... obviously this was one of them."
"He had a wonderful game," defensive end Manny Lawson said of Williams. "He was everywhere. We were in there watching film and he'd be calling out the plays before the ball was even snapped. He showed out. He showed his talent... he stepped up to the plate."
Williams entered the season with lofty expectations, and after setting nearly every possible record at his position, it seems likely the 6-foot-7, 290-pound junior will head to the NFL as he projects as a lottery pick in the 2006 draft.
"He's a heckuva player," Stephen Tulloch said of Williams. "He's one of the better dudes I've seen play the defensive end position. I can't wait to see him on Sunday's because he's that type of player."
Hudson Shines On Senior Day
The play of Williams overshadowed a stellar effort from Wolfpack senior Marcus Hudson, who was playing his last game in Carter-Finley Stadium.
Hudson played perhaps the best game of his career, finishing with five tackles, two interceptions, including the game-winning touchdown on a 28-yard return, and a fumble recovery.
"It was almost like a basketball move," Hudson said of the interception he returned for a score. "I boxed him out. I caught it... I cupped it. I felt him go around my waist and come off. By the time I turned around, it was just the endzone."
"His little boy said, 'My daddy won by intercepting two passes.' Amen," Amato said of Hudson. "He's a great player. He's a great player, and he along with three others were elected permanent captains on Wednesday by their teammates."
The consumate team player, Hudson played free safety last year to help out the Wolfpack defense before moving back to his natural cornerback position for his senior season.
After helping lead NC State back to the postseason, Hudson, a fifth-year senior who was ineligible for competition in 2003, commented on how the Wolfpack never gave up on the season.
"We're fighters... we're winners," he said. "Within our hearts we know we can compete with the best. We displayed that all year long. We came back from a 2-4 start and we just fought. We just fought all year long."
Bowl officials from the Meineke Car Care Bowl and the MPC Computers Bowl were present for NC State's win over Maryland, but it likely won't be known until next week where the Wolfpack will end up. Bowl representatives will wait to see what happens in the ACC Championship game before extending bids as a potential Florida State upset could alter the plans of bowl officials.
Eight ACC teams are eligible, and the conference has six bowl tie-ins and agreements with the Emerald and Music City Bowls to send two other programs.
NC State's reputation for traveling well will certainly help the Wolfpack's case, as it seems likely NC State is headed to either the Meineke Car Care Bowl (Charlotte), the MPC Computers Bowl (Boise), the Music City Bowl (Nashville), or the Emerald Bowl (San Francisco).
Where Clemson ends up could actually determine NC State's destination. The Tigers and Wolfpack are the top two choices for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, but Clemson may be selected by the Peach or Champs Sports Bowls due to their traveling base and solid season. Should the Tigers end up in Atlanta or Orlando, expect the Wolfpack to play in the Car Care Bowl. If Clemson ends up in Charlotte, NC State will most likely play in the MPC Computers Bowl or the Music City Bowl.
With so many options still on the board it is really hard to say where the Wolfpack will definitely end up, but NC State is going bowling. When asked where he thought his team would play, Amato's answer was simple.
"Yea, I'd like to go to Rome. I'd love to go to Rome, and there's a new bowl there. I don't know the name of it, I think it's the pasta bowl.
"You know what? I'm just glad that we're bowl eligible, and I want to savor that right now. My wife asked that same question. She asked, 'where we going?' And I said, 'We're going home."