The ACC Atlantic Division title race has already been decided.
Yes, either Clemson or Florida State will be crowned Atlantic Division champion and will meet, well, who knows who in the ACC title game.
Or at least that’s what you’ve been led to believe.
The problem is that there’s another team that may be getting a lot less credit than it deserves entering the 2015 season.
And that team is North Carolina State.
The Wolfpack enter the new campaign with momentum. They won four of their final five games last season – including the 34-27 victory over Central Florida in the Bitcoin Bowl – to finish at 8-5. After going 3-9 the year before, that was quite the turnaround.
But it’s clear that Dave Doeren and company have the tools to take the next step forward this season.
Jacoby Brissett will once again running the show at quarterback, and after throwing for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns during his junior year, he has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country.
And then there’s the loaded backfield consisting of Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes. Thornton is the first NC State running back to be a preseason All-ACC choice since 2002, and Dayes will once again be a major contributor.
Defensively, the Wolfpack will need to be much better against the run if they want to be a contender. NC State allowed 168 rushing yards per game last season, which is a number that obviously needs to go down. If that improves, then this could be an elite defense since the secondary should be fantastic.
So, the talent is there. But what about the schedule?
If the Wolfpack aren’t 4-0 by the time ACC play starts, a conference title isn’t happening. Because that would mean that NC State had lost to Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, or South Alabama.
That’s this team’s non-conference schedule this season. Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, and South Alabama.
Trying to prepare for the ACC slate with those four teams is, um, an interesting move.
But let’s stay on track here and worry more about the conference agenda.
The good news for NC State is that it gets two tough teams in Clemson and Louisville at home, plus road trips to Wake Forest and Boston College aren’t exactly all that daunting on paper.
The bad news is that a Friday night trip to Blacksburg to meet Virginia Tech and a mid-November road game at Florida State could certainly dash all hopes of an ACC crown.
It’s not like the Hokies or Seminoles will be unbeatable, though. Virginia Tech still has a lot of unanswered questions on offense, and Florida State will enter a new era with Jameis Winston out of the picture.
There’s a good chance that Clemson will prove to be the toughest game on the schedule, and again, the Wolfpack have the luxury of playing the Tigers at home.
That’s why it’s a mistake to count out Doeren’s team as a title contender. The offensive talent is the best NC State has had in a while, and the defense should be better in a lot of areas this season.
The non-conference schedule will garner a lot of laughs, but if the Wolfpack handle their business once ACC play rolls around, it won’t matter.
NC State hasn’t won an ACC title since 1979. Persuading anyone to believe that this will be the year to end the drought won’t be easy.
But the Wolfpack have a chance. A legitimate chance.
If that made you chuckle, just remember that this is the ACC. The only guarantee is that there are no guarantees.
So laugh all you want. Just don’t be surprised if NC State is in Charlotte playing for the ACC title come December.