Lail: The cost of perception

Matt takes a look at the progress that NC State has made in football since Coach Amato arrived back in Raleigh three years ago.

In less than three seasons as NC State's head football coach, Chuck Amato has:

  • Led the Pack to two (soon to be three) straight bowl games
  • Defeated North Carolina two out of three times
  • Defeated Florida State in Tallahassee, making NC State the first team to win an ACC game in Tallahassee
  • Led the Pack to its first ever 9-0 start
  • Led the Pack back into the Top 10
  • Has compiled an 8-1 record against the other three of the "Big Four"
  • Has put the name "NC State" in the minds of the national media
  • In the past two seasons led the Pack into the hunt for the ACC title.

Yet following State's 24-21 loss at Maryland on Saturday, I actually heard someone say: "Yeah, but at least Mike O'Cain could win the big ones."

"We're 9-2, and people are walking around like we're 2-9," Amato told the media this week.

Sigh. Poor Chuck. Some people will never be happy. Fortunately, I'd like to think most NC State fans can sit back, absorb and appreciate what Amato has done in his short time in Raleigh.

The fact that State fans are upset over 9-2 tells you just how far this program has come under Amato (as if the stats at the top weren't enough). Amato is 24-11 so far as the leader of the Pack. By comparison, O'Cain went 41-40 in his seven seasons. If his teams continue to win at an average of eight games per season, then Amato could get win No. 41 during season No. 5.

However, the wins don't tell the whole story about Amato's success. Just look at the losses:
2002 - Georgia Tech and Maryland
2001 - North Carolina, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Maryland and Pittsburgh
2000 - Clemson, Florida State, Maryland and Virginia.

Maryland, for whatever reason, has had NCSU's number the past few years, and Amato was finally able to knock off Clemson this year as well. The loss to Pittsburgh doesn't look as bad today as it did after the Tangerine Bowl, and Amato's lone loss to the Tar Heels came when UNC's defense featured Julius Peppers and Ryan Sims.

Notice there are no Baylors, Dukes or Wake Forests in the 'L' column. Looks like progress to me.

A couple quick thoughts.

* Jim Donnan was a quarterback on the NC State football team, and a pretty good tennis player for the Wolfpack as well. But for some reason, he continually is labeled by some NCSU fans as "being no friend to NC State."

The reasoning for this sentiment, as far as I can tell, goes back to two incidents involving Donnan, now an analyst with ESPN.

The first took place during the 1991 season when Donnan, then the head football coach at Marshall, brought his Division I-AA Thundering Herd to Raleigh for a game against his alma mater. Marshall led late until the Pack pulled out a miraculous win, 15-14. During the course of the game (if memory serves me correctly) at least one of the play clocks at Carter-Finley died, causing Donnan to comment afterwards that he was (and I'm paraphrasing here) "embarrassed that an engineering school could not get its clocks to work properly."

What, Donnan's not allowed to criticize NC State? He can only say positives about the Pack? I would hope Donnan would be objective, especially now that he's an analyst, for fear that he would become NCSU's version of Stuart Scott and go out of his way to mention the Pack every chance he gets. The fact is, he had a right to be miffed back in 1991, and he wasn't the only one.

Who wasn't embarrassed when State hosted UNC several years ago and the Carter-Finley field was yellow? Shouldn't a university with terrific agricultural and
horticultural fields be able to keep its football field green?

Donnan also allegedly stated once years ago that North Carolina was in better shape to put together a national football power than NC State. Guess what? He was right again. Up until even two seasons ago (and some could argue that up until this season) Carolina was in better shape to have a legitimate football power. You're fooling yourself if you don't believe that. That doesn't appear to be the case today, and I'm sure Donnan would say so.

Here's what it all boils down to. As a head coach, Donnan won 104 games and lost just 40. He led Marshall to a I-AA national title in 1992, and he coached Georgia to four straight winning seasons. He's a winner, and expect to see him on another college sideline in the near future. I, for one, am proud to call him an NC State alum.

* North Carolina's basketball team dropped an exhibition game on Wednesday to Team Nike, 76-72, meaning the Heels went 1-1 in its two exhibition games. On Saturday, Carolina defeated the EA Sports All-Stars, 109-97.

So which UNC team is the real UNC team? The one that lit up EA Sports, or the one that struggled with Team Nike? The truth probably lies somewhere in-between. Carolina will probably be too young to win many close games down the stretch. But then again, they'll also be too young to know they shouldn't.

The "say-what?" moment from Wednesday comes from Carolina sophomore Jawad Williams, who stated that the loss to Team Nike "made us realize we're not invincible." Jawad, your team went 8-20 last year and lost to Hampton and Davidson. "Not invincible?" That's like Dick LeBeau saying his Cincinnati Bengals are "not invincible."

ACC Standings - One Man's Opinion

1. Florida State: Not much gap between the Noles, Terps and Pack, but until FSU loses in the ACC, it is the cream of the crop
2. Maryland: Ralph Friedgen probably locked up Coach of the Year honors.
3. NC State: Injuries are hitting the Pack at the worst time.
4. Virginia: The Cavs can taste a bowl bid...
5. Wake Forest: can the Deacs.
6. Georgia Tech: The Jackets continue to play their best ball of the season at the perfect time.
7. Clemson: A win over the Terps would do wonders for Tommy Bowden's program - and his security.
8. Duke: Devils are good enough to win in Atlanta this weekend.
9. North Carolina: Seminoles + Payback = Woodshed.

This Week's Predictions:

NC State at Virginia: Both teams have a lot at stake. The Pack needs to stop the bleeding to regain confidence; the Wahoos need to improve its bowl standing. These two schools have produced some great games in the past, and expect it to be no different in Charlottesville.
NC State 28, Virginia 24

Maryland at Clemson: The Terrapins are clicking at the right time, but the Tigers will give them their best shot.
Maryland 32, Clemson 27

Duke at Georgia Tech: The Jackets need to continue to impress the bowl scouts, and the Devils are a perfect victim. But will Duke comply?
Georgia Tech 24, Duke 14

North Carolina at Florida State: The Seminoles have had this one circled - in red ink - for a long time.
Florida State 40, North Carolina 7

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Matt Lail is the former Managing Editor of As a student at NC State, he

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