Of course it’s still early, but it already feels like NC State is behind the eight ball. Everyone knew that it would be a tough road for the Wolfpack. When they drew games against Notre Dame and Miami outside of the division play, those six wins were definitely going to be tough to obtain. Now, without one of those non-conference wins, State will probably need an upset or two to go bowling this winter.
What’s done is done, so we have to put aside the questionable coaching in a largely disappointing game with ECU. Not to take anything away from the Pirates, they certainly showed up on Saturday. However, it’s hard not to see that game as a missed opportunity. Moving on, NC State now must find five more wins in one of their toughest schedules. If we were to break this up into tiers, it would look like this: games they have to win, games they could win, and games they probably won’t win.
Games NC State has to Win
9/17 vs Old Dominion
10/1 vs Wake Forest
10/29 vs Boston College
11/12 @ Syracuse
There were six relatively easy wins on this schedule, these four plus William & Mary and ECU. My thought at the beginning of the year was that, being NC State, this team would inexplicably lose one of these, but replace it with an improbable win (which we’ll get to later). If ECU is going to be the loss in this scenario, that’s fine, but there’s no margin for error anymore. These four games have to be wins, there’s no way around it. I know the three ACC schools are better this year, and Wake could even be looking at nine wins. The fact is, Wake hasn’t won in Raleigh since 2006. BC is a little scarier, especially since they lead the all time series 8-5, but that’s still one to feel confident about. Finally, Syracuse has only beat State once in nine total meetings. With these four wins, the Wolfpack’s win total will be at five, with just one more win needed to get to the postseason.
Games NC State Could Win
11/5 vs Florida State
11/19 vs Miami
The aforementioned “improbable” win in my mind has to be Florida State. Every other year, the Seminoles make the trek to Raleigh, and as is tradition, NC State gets a win that makes everyone scratch their heads. Ok, maybe it’s not as common as I’m making it out to be, but the Wolfpack have won five of the last nine meetings in Raleigh. This is the most likely win, even if FSU is currently second in the AP poll. The other option is Miami, another home game. It’s hard to know what kind of team the Hurricanes will be this year, but it’s very possible that under their new coach, they might not live up to the preseason hype. They could function as win number six, which would be preferable to playing for bowl eligibility against UNC a week later. Speaking of the Tar Heels…
Games NC State Probably Won’t Win
10/8 vs Notre Dame
10/15 @ Clemson (LOL)
10/22 @ Louisville
11/25 @ UNC
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be overjoyed if the Wolfpack could pull the upset in any of these games (especially that last one). Unfortunately, these four look like they’re on another level right now. Sure, Notre Dame is at home and it was a fun game last time, but they looked like a solid team in their overtime loss at Texas. The only hope State has in these games is the change of a trap game. Notre Dame follows their trip to Raleigh with Stanford and Clemson with Florida State (after a bye week). Finally, all bets are off in a rivalry game. UNC looked like a far superior team in 2014, when NC State left Chapel Hill with a 35-7 win. Overall, wins in these games are possible, but shouldn’t be counted on in the quest for six wins.
After two vastly different non-conference games, it’s hard to say anything definite about this team. If they follow the regular pattern, I’d still predict a 6-6 record and a lower bowl game (probably Shreveport or DC). Perhaps that improbable win will be enough to make fans forget about last week’s loss. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.