Here’s where N.C. State is in the national polls: No. 16 in the AP Top 25 and No. 17 in the USA Today Top 25.
Here’s where N.C. State is mentally: locked in enough to get away with a mistake-filled performance.
N.C. State (6-1, 4-0 ACC) heads into the open date on its schedule on a six-game winning streak and with a chance to catch its breath before back-to-back games against No. 13 Notre Dame (Oct. 28) and No. 7 Clemson (Nov. 4). By any measure, they’re the two biggest games on the Wolfpack’s schedule this season.
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“We get a bye week finally,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “We need one. I look forward to that and get ready for a great stretch here and a great finish.”
Good teams win without their fastball, and that’s what the Wolfpack did on Saturday at Pittsburgh. There were dropped passes, a pair of dropped interceptions, a touchdown wiped out by a questionable penalty and a missed 34-yard field goal.
But N.C. State overcame its mistakes – not unlike the ones it made against South Carolina on Sept. 2 – and pulled away late for a 35-17 ACC road win.
The progress since the loss to the Gamecocks in the opener, N.C. State’s only one of the season, is clear.
“We definitely can overcome those mistakes, but we don’t want those mistakes to even show up on film,” senior defensive end Bradley Chubb.
Better the mistakes show up in a win than in a loss, like they did in last year’s regrettable losses to East Carolina and Boston College.
And given Clemson and Louisville lost in similar, let-down type conference games this week, the win was no small feat for the Wolfpack.
There are still two weeks until Halloween, and N.C. State is already bowl eligible. With four ACC wins, the Wolfpack has already clinched Doeren’s best conference record in five seasons (it was 3-5).
And since the ACC went to a two-division format in 2005, this is the latest point in the season N.C. State has been in sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Division. There’s also the longest winning streak and best ACC start since 2002 to consider.
All of which is fine for a fan base starving for success. N.C. State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979. But the players, running back Nyheim Hines said, can’t get caught up in the hype.
“We’re going to focus on N.C. State and not look at the rankings or listen to the media,” said Hines, who ran for a career-high 135 yards and also scored on a 92-yard punt return.
That sounds like a plan to Doeren, who has won his past four ACC road games – another mark that hasn’t been hit by an N.C. State team since Philip Rivers was the quarterback in the early 2000s.
The school’s first trip to Notre Dame represents a chance to move up again in the national rankings. There’s more work to be done first.
“This next week, we won’t talk about Notre Dame a whole lot,” Doeren said. “We’ll talk about us and really dissect our first seven games.”
Doeren will find a lot of good on the tape. There were some bad moments on Saturday, but that his team was able to handle them says as much about this group as its place in the national rankings.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio