NC State gets stiff test to No. 23 ranking

Natanu Mageo heard screams of joy as he walked to class. R.J.

Mattes reads all about it when he checks his Facebook page.

The North Carolina State campus is buzzing about the Wolfpack’s

unexpected 4-0 start.

With seemingly every victory for N.C. State comes another

milestone. Already off to their best start since 2002, the

23rd-ranked Wolfpack find themselves in the Top 25 for the first

time since ’03.

Now comes the next challenge: Staying there.

And that’s why Mattes says he has paid particular attention to

the message being preached by offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

”Don’t drink the Kool-Aid,” the offensive lineman said Monday.

”Everybody’s going to be coming over to you saying, ‘Hey, y’all

are great, y’all are good.’ … We’re not a bad team, but we’re not

as good as people are telling us we are.”

That humble, middle-of-the-road approach may wind up suiting the

Wolfpack well this week when they play host to Virginia Tech. The

Hokies were the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Coast

Conference, but have stumbled with early losses to No. 3 Boise

State and FCS member James Madison.

While it’s too soon to order tickets and book hotel rooms for

the ACC championship game in Charlotte, it’s also hard to blame the

Wolfpack faithful for getting carried away with their success.

After all, N.C. State hasn’t had this many reasons to brag in a

while.

The Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0) won their first four games for the first

time since Philip Rivers was a junior in ’02. Last week’s

convincing victory at Georgia Tech propelled them to their first

appearance in the national rankings since Rivers’ senior year. They

have a winning record in ACC play for the first time since Chuck

Amato’s final team started the league schedule 2-0, then dropped

the final seven games of 2006.

That’s why Mageo said he and teammate Jarvis Williams were

serenaded by someone shouting ”4-0” as they walked to class. Or

why Mattes said he’s seen plenty of Facebook posts that read

”4-0” and ”Go Wolfpack.”

”I don’t really think the team’s surprised,” said Mageo, a

defensive tackle. ”I know the people are surprised. But going into

summer camp, we kind of knew that we were a pretty good team. We

just needed to prove it.”

They’ve done so behind the most productive offensive player in

the ACC and a defense that has shown a knack for making timely

plays.

”They’re really an exceptional football team that’s playing

with a lot of confidence and playing fast, and we’re going to have

to have a great week to prepare for them,” Virginia Tech coach

Frank Beamer said.

Russell Wilson leads the league with an average of 299 total

yards, and the dual-threat quarterback is the triggerman of the

ACC’s top passing offense, averaging 289 yards through the air. The

defense, ranked in the middle of the pack in both yards and points

allowed, has forced nine turnovers – only Maryland (10) has forced

more – and is the league’s best on third down.

”There’s still room for improvement,” Mageo said, dismissing

concerns about overconfidence. ”We need to try not to let the

spotlight take us away from our approach to the game, and we still

have got to work hard. And it starts from practice on the field to

the weight room, and off the field to the classroom. We’ve still

got to maintain our focus.”

Coach Tom O’Brien said he gave his players Saturday night to

soak up the Georgia Tech win, and expressed pride in the leadership

his captains and upperclassmen have shown to this point.

But clearly, this week presents the biggest challenge so far –

both tactically, against a Virginia Tech team that is 2-2 but might

have the most talent in the ACC, and mentally, with the hoopla that

the Wolfpack players are sure to face all week around campus.

”I think that it’s all part of them understanding where they

are and how they got to this point, and how they have to continue

doing what they’ve done for the past month,” O’Brien said. ”This

team, we’ll find out if they’re mature enough to handle it or not.

The proof won’t come until Saturday afternoon.”

AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Virginia contributed to this

report.