Is NC State real or a mirage? ACC play should provide answers

For the second straight season, Jacob Brissett (right) and the Wolfpack open the ACC season at 4-0.


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Forgive us, NC State, but we’ve been down this road before.

Undefeated at 4-0 heading into Saturday’s ACC opener against Louisville, Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack were in this same position a year ago. But they followed that start by dropping four straight and five of six.

Doeren believes NC State is better equipped to handle it this time around.

"We’re more experienced," he said. "Last year’s team was extremely young, and we’re still young, but at least we have guys that played a lot in ACC games last year. We hope we can take those experiences that we had and learn from them."

What hasn’t changed is, it’s a team fighting for respect despite some impressive play.

Quarterback Jacoby Brissett is 14th in FBS in pass efficiency (170.3) and the running game — while suffering a blow with Shadrach Thornton’s dismissal Wednesday after being arrested after hitting a pedestrian while on his moped — is potent with Matthew Dayes, who has nine touchdowns.

The Wolfpack also boast the nation’s third-ranked defense, which is allowing a paltry 205.8 yards per game. But they are also the only team in the top 10 in that category who are unbeaten, yet don’t appear in the latest AP Top 25.

They are building steam, earning 10 votes in the latest AP Top 25, voters, though, are basically taking a wait and see approach, and the reason is a schedule that is ranked 87th per the NCAA’s formula.

Blowing out Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, and most recently, South Alabama, offer little about the viability of the Wolfpack in the Atlantic Division.

The reality is, it may weeks before we get a clear view of where NC State is at in Year 3 under Doeren.

But Louisville coach Bobby Petrino believe he’s seen enough to come to a conclusion on the Wolfpack, who the Cardinals beat 30-18 to cap the four-game losing streak.

"I think they’re for real for sure," he said. "They’ve got a really good offensive front. Their running backs are running the ball, and the quarterback and receivers are making big plays down the field.

Then we know them real well on defense. This is a group we battled real hard with into the fourth quarter last year, and we were fortunate enough to come out with the win."

The 1-3 Cardinals have struggled, averaging 408.5 yards (70th) overall and 153.8 on the ground (tied or 92nd) and scoring just 29.3 points per (tied for 75th). After that, NC State faces two winnable games against Virginia Tech with its 102nd-ranked rush defense (205.3) and Wake Forest, who is 108th on the ground (128.3).

There’s a distinct possibility the Wolfpack could head into a Halloween date with No. 12 Clemson as one of the biggest mysteries in the nation.

Of course, the other narrative is that it all blows up beginning this week and that facing a first Power 5 opponent of the season will leave NC State exposed once again.

After last season’s slide, the Wolfpack turned things around, winning their last three games, including a 34-27 victory over UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

"I think last year we learned how to finish as the season went on, and towards the end of the year we were able to do that in multiple games," Doeren said.

But first things first. The Wolfpack are just trying to do something they couldn’t last year when they fell to eventual College Football Playoff participant Florida State: make it through the first ACC game of the season.

Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney