N.C. State has played respectable football over the years. They’ve had head coaching names like Lou Holtz and Monte Kiffin, along with Dick Sheridan and Tom O’Brien. Quarterbacks like Philip Rivers and Russell Wilson have played here. The program has averaged two bowl bids every three years over the past four decades-plus. But there is one thing you won’t find in a history that dates back to 1902. The Pack have never made a major bowl game. With a 5-0 record this season and a big game with Clemson coming up (3:30 PM ET, ESPN) this is the opportunity for that to change.
Ryan Finley is latest NFL prospect to play quarterback in Raleigh. Finley will be one of the names that’s at the center of the buzz next year in the run-up to the draft. He’s a proto-type pocket passer and the numbers this year are stellar—a nearly 70% completion rate, while still getting 8.7 yards-per-attempt and mostly staying away from mistakes (only three interceptions).
Finley’s favorite target is Kelvin Harmon, who churns out steady productivity (over six catches per game) along with field-stretching ability (16.2 yards-per-catch). The Finley-to-Harmon combo is the showcase of this offense.
But it’s the defense that holds the ultimate key to success. This was a unit that was supposed to be rebuilding. They had lost nine starters from a team that went 9-4 last season, including Bradley Chubb, currently a contender for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in Denver. This year’s N.C. State defense doesn’t have the kind of playmaker that Chubb was, but they are getting very steady play from the revamped lineup.
The defensive line is where it starts and the trio of Larrell Murchison, James Smith-Williams and Darlan Roseboro have controlled the trenches. N.C. State ranks 16th in the country in points allowed. By comparison, for all of Finley and Harmon’s excellence, the offense is a modest 45th in points scored.
These next three weeks will tell us whether this N.C. State team can make history. Even if you don’t give them a chance to win at Clemson, where the Pack are a (+17.5) underdog, it’s still very realistic to think about running the table thereafter and an 11-1 record would surely get N.C. State a seat at the New Year’s Six table. The games that follow Clemson are a road date with Syracuse and a home game against Florida State.
If N.C. State can win both of those, it’s reasonable to think they could win out the rest of the way. The school that defined the essence of “Cinderella” in basketball when they won the 1983 Final Four, would finally have a big-time moment in football.