Lail: A warning shot!

TSW welcomes Matt Lail to the staff! Matt brings his years of experience covering NC State sports to the pages of The Strutting Wolf for insightful columns and commentary. We are very excited to have him as a contributor!

Three Atlantic Coast Conference football teams opened their respective seasons this past week. Of the three, one impressed me despite a loss; another failed to impress me despite a historic win; and the third was as good as advertised.

Virginia and Florida State (more below) took part in two games that defined college football excitement. (The two teams meet up this weekend.) The Cavaliers appear better than many people thought, while the Seminoles may not be as good as the Seminoles thought.

NC State, on the other hand, sent the rest of the ACC a warning shot with its routine, 34-14, pasting of New Mexico in the season opener in Raleigh. Anytime you can use the words "routine," "pasting," "season opener" and "Raleigh" in the same sentence, you know you have witnessed something special.

All the Pack did was take care of business against a team that was determined to get into QB Philip Rivers' grill. The Pack won handily despite some drops by wide receivers that would have been sure touchdowns. The Pack won handily despite freaky weather that had fans trying to decide between braving it out on aluminum bleachers or heading back to the car to brave it out with aluminum cans.

As the rain poured down on Carter-Finley right before the original game time, the first thought that went through my head was, "There goes the passing game."

Ah, how ignorant I was. Not only did Chuck Amato's boys not shy away from the passing game, they seemed to thrive in the moisture, much like mosquitoes. (I know, "mosquitoes" is a bad buzz word in North Carolina these days.) Nonetheless, Rivers & Co. took care of business in dispatching the Lobos. All the pesky signal-caller did was account for five touchdowns (three if by air, two if by land) and confuse the UNM defense all night long.

The good news is that had NCSU relied on its running game, it probably would have been fine just the same. Freshman T.A. McLendon showed flashes of why he came so highly recommended, rushing for 79 yards on 20 carries and running over a few hapless New Mexico players in the process.

"He's a man," Amato said of McLendon afterwards. Actually, Coach, he's just a kid - which is why fans get all giddy when thinking about the future.

No, NC State didn't throttle a Tennessee or a Notre Dame or a Penn State on Saturday, but it also didn't squeak by against an Arkansas State (2000), an Ohio (1998) or a Bowling Green (1994) either. Still, there are those that will not be convinced about State's ability until it wins a few conference games. Heck, I'm not completely convinced that NCSU is the team with the best chance to finish ahead of FSU and atop the ACC standings this season, but it sure doesn't look like it will take much more to convince me.

Ironically, it took an opposing fan's comments to really put the Pack's win in perspective. As one message-boarder put it: "The Pack's O-line didn't provide much protection, State seemed to have no running game, and the receivers didn't impress me."

The author of the above also forgot to mention that NCSU missed a field goal, failed to convert a two-point play and the receivers dropped some fairly routine passes.

Somehow State managed a 20-point win. I'd hate to see the result if the Pack was actually any good (tongue-in-cheek).

ACC Football Standings -- One Man's Opinion

  1. Florida State: The Noles were anything but impressive in the second half against Iowa State, but winning an away game (which is what it basically was) against a team that has gone to two straight bowls is better than winning a home game against a team that no one knows which conference they're from.
  2. NC State: Opponents' qualities aside, the Wolfpack nonetheless proved - for one game, at least - that the gap between No. 1 and No. 2 may not be that wide.
  3. Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets, who have yet to play, get the nod here mainly because Maryland had to slip somewhere because ..
  4. Maryland: No Bruce Perry, no chance at repeating. The Terps may very well end up among the top three teams in the league (don't put it past "The Fridge"), but Perry's injury puts the Turtles behind the eight ball.
  5. Wake Forest: There's just something about this team I like, experience or no experience.
  6. Clemson: With the exception of FSU, no other program in the ACC would see its fans saying, "This year or else" to a coach who has led them to three straight bowls.
  7. Virginia: Yes, the Wahoos choked the game away. Yes, Al Groh apparently didn't get the memo that UVa's game against Colorado State was, in fact, a REAL game. Nonetheless, the Cavaliers showed me - again, for one game at least - that they are an improved team. Alvin Pearman should scare the rest of the ACC.
  8. North Carolina: Along with Wake Forest, UNC is an X-Factor team in the ACC this season. (Note: Miami of Ohio's offensive coordinator is none other than former NC State QB legend Shane Montgomery. Ya think he'd like to light up the Kenan Scoreboard?)
  9. Duke: Need we go into this?

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Matt Lail is the former Managing Editor of As a student at NC State, he was the Sports Editor of Technician. He has also worked for the News & Observer and as the Managing Editor of The Wolfpacker.

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