NC State football: In prove-it year for Pack, Texas Tech offers early test
There has been a lot of talk about how this year is different for NC State.
The Wolfpack has its best football team of the Dave Doeren era, and arguably one of its most-talented rosters ever. NC State opened at No. 13 in both the Associated Press and Coaches polls, a program-best mark, and is 2-0 to start the season.
But now the Wolfpack will face its first Power 5 test, as Texas Tech will come to Carter-Finley Stadium under the lights Saturday. The Red Raiders aren’t the cream of the crop in the Power 5, but they’re also 2-0 and showing early that they might have a decent team.
For NC State, this type of game hasn’t been that kind to the Pack over the years. Under Doeren, NC State is 0-3 in nonconference Power 5 games during the regular season, though the Wolfpack did beat Notre Dame at home in 2016. So make it 1-4, with a loss to the Fighting Irish in 2017 also thrown in.
In 2017, the Pack opened the season in Charlotte, N.C., against South Carolina. It didn’t go well as Deebo Samuel returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and the Gamecocks pulled out the victory.
In 2019, a rebuilding NC State team went to Morgantown and got throttled by an also-rebuilding West Virginia team. This came the year after Hurricane Florence wiped out a highly anticipated Ryan Finley-vs.-Will Grier showdown in Raleigh.
Then in 2021, a Wolfpack squad with high preseason expectations went to Starkville and came up completely flat against Mississippi State. The Pack lost 24-10 as the cow bells rang, with Devin Leary and company failing to put together anything on offense.
The Notre Dame game in South Bend, Ind., during 2017 was much of the same, as the top-10 Irish easily handled the Pack. In 2016, NC State got that big power-game nonconference win when then-Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly decided to throw the ball 26 times during a literal hurricane in a muddy 10-3 win for the Pack.
To find the Pack’s last regular-season nonconference win against a team technically in a power conference (sorry, Notre Dame), you have to go to a time before Doeren to a defunct football conference. NC State, with Tom O’Brien at the helm, beat the Big East’s UConn on the road in 2012.
But once again, this year’s Wolfpack team is different, right?
After all, the Pack started the season with a near disaster against East Carolina. But NC State found a way to win in stunning fashion instead of lose in stunning fashion. That’s certainly new.
Now against the Red Raiders, the Wolfpack will have an early chance to prove a point. The Pack thinks it’s an ACC contender, even a College Football Playoff contender if the chips fall right. So do NC State fans. By winning a Power 5 game out of conference during the regular season for the first time in a long time, the Pack has an chance to prove it really is for real this season.
Would a loss to Texas Tech derail NC State’s year? Of course not. The Pack still would have high hopes of an ACC title, even if the already-slim dream of a playoff berth would go out the window.
But this Pack team, with all of its experience and promise, should beat the Red Raiders. The game will be at home, and the Wolfpack is the superior team on paper.
In the past, that might not have mattered. The Pack arguably was better than South Carolina in 2017, and it certainly was a more complete team than Mississippi State a year ago. But still, NC State couldn’t win those games.
But this year is different for NC State, right? Time to prove it.