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The future is still in doubt but one thing is clear: North Carolina State will be playing meaningful football in November.
The No. 16 Wolfpack has fought for bowl berths, played important games in front of big crowds and typically won more than it has lost over the years.
This is different.
N.C. State grinded out an important win at Pittsburgh on Saturday. That in itself was a stark contrast to earlier times where the Pack would find a way to nullify important wins with aplomb by falling short to grossly inferior competition.
The off week is followed by a road trip to No. 13 Notre Dame that will have important national ramifications. Then Clemson, now No. 7 after losing to Syracuse on Friday night, comes to Raleigh in what is sure to be an electric atmosphere at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Whatever happens to the Wolfpack in the next two weeks has no impact on the Atlantic Coast Conference standings. When the Tigers do come to town it will be as big of a regular-season game as N.C. State has played in many years. Perhaps ever.
To only beat Notre Dame means N.C. State still has a chance at one of its best seasons in program history.
Falling short against the Irish but knocking off Clemson means the Wolfpack is in the driver’s seat to represent the Atlantic Division in the ACC Championship with some wiggle room in case of a slip-up over the final three weeks.
Winning both games means the sky is the limit and N.C. State’s football program could be heading to new frontiers.
The possibilities are endless.
N.C. State must tread carefully as it prepares for its trip to South Bend.
The Pack will want to pour its heart into the nationally televised contest with the Irish and for good reason. This is the chance for the program to make waves across the country.
It is exactly the kind of impact that creates positive vibes for the program and heightens awareness for recruiting purposes. The Pack would also be providing itself a type of dry run for the atmosphere it would face at the ACC Championship, a major bowl game or a college playoff berth, should the stars align.
Yet N.C. State will also want to save any new wrinkles it creates over the break for the Clemson game as it is the Pack’s ticket to potentially winning a conference title, something that has not been done since 1979.
The situation the Wolfpack is in creates all sort of scenarios and complications.
It is unnerving. It is delicate. It is a balancing act that is extreme.
And it is exactly what N.C. State has yearned for all of these years. This is big-time football and the Wolfpack is squarely in the middle of it.