Wolfpack with Bowl aspirations
By Joedy McCreary
RALEIGH — What once seemed unthinkable for North Carolina State now appears likely: The Wolfpack are on track to qualify for a bowl game.
A surprising shutout of rival North Carolina means they need only beat two of the ACC’s worst teams — Boston College and Maryland — to reach the postseason for the second straight year.
N.C. State (5-4, 2-3 ACC) appears to be in the middle of another late-season turnaround under coach Tom O’Brien. The Wolfpack, who visit struggling BC this week, have won three of four since a 2-3 start raised plenty of questions.
“I try to always believe that there is hope,” receiver Jay Smith said Monday. “You have to do that when you play football, because there’s times where it seems like nobody has your back and you have no hope of coming back.
“But a lot of games, a lot of teams, you’ve seen pro or (college) teams make their way back, and that’s just the belief that you have to have in order to be successful — even when it doesn’t look good.”
N.C. State has been anything but steady lately, with victories over Virginia and North Carolina sandwiching a 34-0 loss at Florida State. The challenge for the Wolfpack is to find a way to be level-headed in a vocal campus environment where fellow students and other fans are once again heaping praise on them.
“They’re hearing, just like … after Virginia, how good they were, and after Florida State, how big dogs they were, and now they’re back to being good again,” O’Brien said. “You have to be able to grow up. Now more senior and more experienced teams would do a better job at that. Younger kids are more susceptible to that because they haven’t been around and don’t have the experience to put those things away.”
The path to a third bowl game under O’Brien became clearer following last week’s 13-0 win over the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack’s fifth straight in the series between Triangle rivals. N.C. State must win two of its three remaining games to get to the seven it needs for bowl eligibility because it played two Championship Subdivision teams.
“We still have three games. We need to win two to get there, but the best chance we have is Saturday because that’s the only chance we have,” O’Brien said. “So we have to take care of business Saturday and count it up after Saturday.”
The Wolfpack are favored by a field goal over BC and figure to be favored at home against Maryland. Those teams have combined for just two ACC wins this season — and one of them was BC’s victory over the Terrapins. N.C. State’s other game is at home against No. 9 Clemson.
“I don’t feel like there’s any type of feeling of relaxation of any of the guys on the team,” Smith said. “I feel like all of us are playing on edge, and there’s a feeling of (being) on edge because we know we’re in a position where we can basically get to where we need to get to. We control where we go.
“As long as we play like we have to get here, and play like desperation-mode, I feel like our team will be a team that is hard to beat.”