Headlines coming out of NC State’s 27-21 win Saturday at Florida State focused primarily on Bradley Chubb spitting on the Seminole logo, an action for which the Pack defensive lineman apologized. The lede’s been buried beneath Chubb’s saliva, though: the win marked an important milestone for the program in head coach Dave Doeren’s fifth season.
Prior to Saturday, NC State was winless against ranked opponents since the 2012 victory over Florida State — a game that spawned both its famous, shirtless fan imagery, and that predated Doeren’s arrival in Raleigh by a year.
NC State football has long had a reputation as the quintessential Middle of the Pack program, pun intended. Were a 7-6 season to manifest as a team, it would be NC State.
That identity persisted long before Doeren’s arrival, though the previous four seasons illuminated it. After a 3-9 finish with an 0-8 ACC mark in 2013, NC State went bowling in the subsequent three campaigns — and went 3-5 in the conference each year.
Along with a reputation for mediocrity, Wolfpack football’s served as the ACC’s answer to Cougin’ It in the Pac-12 or Sparty, No! in the Big Ten. And Week 1 of 2017 suggested both trends would continue into another year, with NC State losing to South Carolina, 35-28, in a game defined by self-inflicted Pack errors.
Giving up a safety after building a double-digit Saturday against the Seminoles certainly wreaked of that familiar NC State air.
But the Pack buckling down to beat a nationally ranked, perennial ACC title contender, on the road, in the conference opener, defied norms.
Yes, Florida State was playing without quarterback Deondre Francois, injured in the second half of the Seminoles’ Week 1 loss to Alabama. And yes, the Alabama contest — played three weeks ago — was the last time Florida State took the field.
Any qualifiers added don’t show up in the standings, though. The standings show NC State ahead of Florida State in the ACC Atlantic, with the head-to-head tiebreaker if necessary.
And even without Francois quarterbacking the offense, James Blackman wasn’t exactly ineffective behind center. Such is the case for perennial contenders like Florida State, where the 4-and-5-star starters have 4-and-5-star reserves behind them on the depth chart.
And to beat that talent in Doak Campbell Stadium? It’s an accomplishment that puts a team in rare company, as Doeren noted in his post-game press conference.
“Only 13 percent of the people who walk into this stadium leave a winner,” Doeren said. “You have to be elite to be able to do that. It takes elite concentration with their crowd noise. It’s a four=quarter battle; Florida State is never going to quit playing. They are very well-coached and I have so much respect for Jimbo [Fisher] and his staff. They have great talent.”
NC State’s talent doesn’t stack up with Florida State’s in terms of star ratings; that’s perhaps the A-1 reason the Seminoles play for championships and the Wolfpack play for seven wins. The 2017 Pack aren’t brimming with blue-chip prospects.
Quarterback Ryan Finley, who went 22-of-32 with two touchdown passes against an elite Florida State defense, is a transfer from Boise State. But he continued on what Doeren called “a heckuva year” with what could be argued was the most important, if not best, performance from a Pack quarterback since Russell Wilson rushed for three touchdowns and passed for a fourth in the Pack’s 2010 upset of the Seminoles.
That 2010 season is noteworthy, because it’s the closest NC State’s been to reaching a higher level of achievement in recent seasons. Former head coach Tom O’Brien’s split with Wilson before the 2011 season marked the beginning of the end for his tenure, and doomed the Pack to the current doldrums from which they’re trying to shake.
But with a marquee win now for the first time under Dave Doeren, and home games against ACC Atlantic contenders Clemson and Louisville, NC State has the opportunity to do something truly special in 2017.
Burying the lede then won’t be quite as easy.