The ACC’s reputation in football has been on a steady incline in recent years. The once dominant SEC saw their status slip as the head-to-head match-ups between the two conferences started to swing in the ACC’s favor. Clemson and Florida State broke through with national championships. The question then always became, well, besides Clemson and Florida State, where is the strength of the ACC?
The Coastal division has had multiple teams step up and win the division. However, the Atlantic division always comes down to FSU and Clemson. Could that change this season? I voted for NC State to finish second in the Atlantic. What once seemed like a risky prediction is now a real possibility. This week’s ACC spotlight is on the Wolfpack.
The biggest recruiting win for Dave Doeren this past offseason wasn’t some 4-star freshman commit. It was getting Bradley Chubb to return for his senior year. He’s been nothing short of dominant so far this season. He currently leads the nation in tackles-for-loss and is in the top five for sacks, where he sits atop the ACC. He just won ACC Defensive Lineman of the week for the second week in a row. It won’t be his last time winning that award this season.
Along with Chubb, the Wolfpack returned what many believed to be one of the best defensive fronts in the country, and they have lived up to that billing. NC State’s defense is in the Top 30 in sacks and tackles-for-loss. They are also ranked 8th in the country in defending the run. They will need the defense to be strong during the middle part of their schedule.
However, the Wolfpack haven’t been a one dimensional team this season. In fact, their early success could be attributed to quarterback Ryan Finley as much as it can the defense. Finley has played clean football and distributed the ball much better than last season. With one season under his belt in Raleigh, he has looked more confident and in control of the offense. When it comes down to it, he actually has better stats at this point in the season than Heisman candidate, Sam Darnold of USC.
The other star on offense is the multi-dimensional Jaylen Samuels. He was given a lot of hype in the preseason, to the point where the media voters even created a new position for him in the preseason All-ACC voting. Well, he’s lived up to the hype. He’s second in the ACC in touchdowns. He is tenth in yards from scrimmage. And he seems to just get better and better each week in finding ways to get into the end zone. He should be on everybody’s All-American watchlist.
All of this adds up to what? Well, the first thing the Wolfpack had to do to make a run at the Atlantic is beat FSU. Check that box. They also had to show they wouldn’t lose a game they should win after a big victory like the one in Tallahassee. They checked that box with the win over Syracuse.
The next challenge is taking on Lamar Jackson and Louisville Thursday night in Raleigh. Carter-Finley Stadium will be a madhouse this week for the nationally televised game. But if Coach Doeren’s guys can find a way to come out of that game with a win, the noise Thursday night will be nothing like the absolute mayhem that will ensue when Clemson rolls into Raleigh with a possible Atlantic division title on the line.
First things first, a huge game against Coach Petrino’s crew that could end up being the best game in college football this week.