NC State hosts Syracuse with eye on improving bowl position
RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State has already earned a spot in a bowl. The Wolfpack want a good one, and the best way to earn that is to keep winning.
North Carolina State begins a season-ending two-game homestand Saturday against a Syracuse team that gave No. 1 Clemson a scare.
The Wolfpack (6-4, 2-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) reached bowl eligibility by beating Boston College last week, and now the goal is to move up the ACC's postseason pecking order.
''Now you can only improve the bowl, so of course that is in all of our heads that each game can determine a better bowl,'' lineman Joe Thuney said. ''We're aware of that fact and playing hard for that.''
North Carolina State won three games in coach Dave Doeren's first year, then eight in 2014. For the Wolfpack to improve on that win total, they'll have to beat Syracuse and No. 12 North Carolina and then win their bowl matchup.
''From the start, (the goal) has been to raise the bar,'' Doeren said. ''I think the only way to define that we have accomplished that by numbers is to win the next two games. ... The goal now is to finish 2-0. We've got to win this one to get the post-season game. I think all you can do as a coach is to try to be better than the week before and every year you assess whether you did it right.''
Syracuse (3-7, 1-5) will need to beat either the Wolfpack or Boston College to improve upon last year's three-win finish. The Orange hung tough at home with LSU and the Tigers, losing by 10 points to both.
''They played with their hearts,'' coach Scott Shafer said. ''They left everything they had on the field. Unfortunately, we came up short against the No. 1 team in the country.''
They're 0-4 on the road with only one of those losses - a triple-overtime defeat to three-win Virginia - has been closer than three touchdowns.
Some things to know about the Syracuse-North Carolina State game:
NOT LOOKING AHEAD: N.C. State insists the Orange have its full focus and there's no peeking ahead to its next opponent - archrival North Carolina. The Wolfpack have won six of eight in that underrated rivalry series, including a 35-7 beatdown last year in Chapel Hill. ''They'll be fired up for that game,'' Doeren said. ''All of our focus will be on getting (win) No. 7 so we can make that even more important.''
DEJA VU: The Orange tired of chasing Clemson QB Deshaun Watson around last week. Now they'll chase another dual-threat QB in Jacoby Brissett, who's sixth in the ACC in total offense (217 ypg). ''He's very similar to Deshaun,'' Shafer said. ''I think it all starts with doing a good job with the pass rush. We need to ... keep him in the pocket.''
HAPPY RETURNS: N.C. State KR Nyheim Hines is second in the league, averaging 28.5 yards per return, while PR Bra'Lon Cherry is third in the league and eighth nationally with a 13.5-yard average on punt returns. Shafer says it is ''extremely crucial'' that his coverage units contain them.
NEW UNIS: N.C. State will debut what it calls its ''Iron Wolf'' uniform set. The gray uniforms feature claw marks on the sleeves and a gray and black camouflage pattern on the helmet.
THORNY ROSE: Wolfpack DE Mike Rose averages a league-leading 1.05 sacks - fourth-best in the nation - and is fourth in the league with 1.4 tackles for losses per game. Doeren says he and DE Bradley Chubb ''need to continue that because we really need those guys to be disruptive.''
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in Syracuse, New York, contributed to this report.
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