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If the rules of football were similar to those of basketball and the Atlantic Coast Conference decided to host a four-team tournament, and if the College Football Playoff were to expand to include 12 teams (which is expected to happen next year), I believe that NC State would be the top contender to win the ACC championship. In basketball terms, they would secure the automatic bid. I am aware that State lost to Louisville, who was a finalist in the ACC, but it was during a time when their offense was struggling. Although they did not have the opportunity to play against undefeated Florida State, they did defeat them last year.
No question FSU has been the ACC’s best team this season, but the season ending injury to Travis Jordan is a game changer. The ‘Noles were able to beat Florida without Jordan 24-15 but check the yardage totals. FSU gained a total of 224 yards. NC State piled up 504 against UNC and 408 the week before that against Virginia Tech. Also, Florida State’s defense is good, but no defense in the ACC is better than NC State.
Can you believe how the Wolfpack dominated the top offense in the ACC during the first half? The highly talented Drake Maye, who I personally consider to be the greatest two-year quarterback in this league, was limited to only 58 passing yards in the first half. And most of those yards came from a single drive towards the end of the second quarter.
The offense of NC State has shown improvement each week since Brennan Armstrong returned as the starting quarterback. In the first half, they were able to gain 232 yards passing and 327 total yards. This was a significant amount, especially against UNC, who typically only struggles defensively in the fourth quarter.
On the first two drives, Carolina successfully prevented State from scoring touchdowns, however, their own offensive attempts resulted in a three-and-out and a fumble. This continued for three more times until Robert Anae’s offense took over.
Armstrong and K.C. Concepcion, assisted by Keyon Lesane, covered 84 and 55 yards respectively to score 20 points. State then scored two additional field goals by Braden Narveson, interrupted by a single burst of offense from UNC, bringing the score to 26-7 at halftime.
The last field goal was quite intriguing. The Pack threw to Concepcion, who was tackled just one yard shy of the goal with only 18 seconds remaining in the half. With no time outs left, Dave Doeren’s team resorted to a “Mayday” style kick. The Wolfpack’s kicking team rushed onto the field, quickly got into position, and managed to make the snap with only one second left. As Narveson’s kick sailed through the uprights, time ran out.
However, it was discovered during the break that NC State had 12 players on the field. Therefore, the halftime score was actually 23-7. When the game resumed in the third quarter, the Wolfpack was instructed to redo the field goal attempt from the 23-yard line, which was five yards farther back. Narveson successfully kicked the ball again.
Here is an unusual occurrence. In American football, the team that scores typically kicks off. However, in this case, NC State won the toss and chose to defer their option until the second half. As a result, Carolina had to kick off to the team that had just scored. This was an odd situation.
State scored another touchdown, advancing 75 yards in 8 plays. This time, Armstrong chose Dacari Collins to make the touchdown catch. The score is now 33-7.
Due to UNC’s knack for scoring in quick succession, the Tar Heels clung to a glimmer of hope for a comeback. However, they needed everything to go flawlessly. In a moment of brilliance, Maye broke through for a 56-yard run and followed it up with a touchdown on a one-yard keeper. The team then attempted a two-point conversion, which Maye successfully completed, but then inexplicably spiked the ball. Unfortunately, UNC was penalized for holding, resulting in both penalties being enforced. As a result, Noah Burnette had to attempt a 44-yard field goal for just one point, something I have never witnessed before.
UNC scored an additional touchdown by throwing the ball to Tez Walker. However, the Wolfpack also scored another touchdown, resulting in a score of 39-20.
The last quarter ended with no points scored, but it was not lacking in excitement. In an attempt to prevent the quarterback from escaping, Payton Wilson tackled him and caused him to be taken to the injury area. Despite his strong will to keep playing, Maye sat out for one round before coming back with just over three minutes left in the game for a final attempt. On the previous round, Maye had thrown an interception to Wilson before getting injured. This time, Maye’s pass connected with his intended receiver, but unfortunately, it bounced off and was caught by Devan Boykin.
Fans of the State team enthusiastically rejoiced in their third consecutive victory against their opponents in light blue, long before the game ended.
ACC provides multiple teams for the bowl season.
The Atlantic Coast Conference football league has seen significant improvement this season. Compared to their poor performance in 2022, the ACC has held their own against the Power Five teams, even securing two victories against Notre Dame. As Duke supporters are aware, they were close to making it three wins. In the recent weekend, the ACC had an even split of wins and losses against the formidable SEC teams, with the potential for a better record if not for Louisville’s unexpected defeat.
Despite the ACC’s improved performance, there is still a possibility that they may not make it into the four team College Football Playoffs for the second year in a row. If Florida State continues to win all their games, they have a strong chance of being one of the four teams. However, both Louisville and NC State are currently performing better than FSU.
Examine the Saturday shows of the two finalists from the ACC. Tate Rodemaker from FSU threw for a mere 134 yards and did not score any touchdowns against Florida. Although the Gators have a strong defense, it is not as impressive as Kentucky’s. Louisville had over 400 yards from both rushing and passing against the second-ranked rushing defense in the SEC. The Cardinals’ defense, which is often overlooked, limited the Wildcats to just 289 yards. Despite their strong performance, U of L ultimately lost the game due to a kick return touchdown and a few other significant plays.
Based on current performance, I believe the likelihood of the Cards winning the ACC Championship is equal or slightly higher than Florida State’s chances. However, Saturday’s game in Charlotte may change things. Louisville’s offense is currently superior to FSU’s, and their defenses are fairly evenly matched.
What impact does this have on NC State? If Florida State qualifies for the CFP, it opens up more bowl possibilities for NC State and other teams. In this scenario, Louisville will probably be chosen as the ACC’s representative in the Orange Bowl. Following that, 9-3 Notre Dame would be the likely pick. Although the Irish cannot take the ACC’s spot in the Orange Bowl, they are eligible for any other postseason invitation. Compared to NC State, Notre Dame will likely be a more desirable choice due to their nationwide fan base. Additionally, Notre Dame previously defeated NC State when the Wolfpack was struggling.
If FSU fails to qualify for the CFP, NC State should become the top priority for bowl selections.
In short, the playoffs become more densely populated.
In this situation, the ACC Champion will receive the invitation to the Orange Bowl. However, with seven ACC teams having winning records, there may only be six available spots for desirable destinations and strong opponents. It can be difficult to determine which bowl bids offer the best opportunities, but it is safe to say that FSU’s inclusion in the CFP benefits all other teams.
These are the records of ACC teams who are eligible for bowl games:
- Florida State 12-0
- Louisville 10-2
- NC State 9-3
- Clemson 8-4
- UNC 8-4
- Duke 7-5
- Miami 7-5
- Georgia Tech 6-6
- Boston College 6-6
- Virginia Tech 6-6
- Syracuse 6-6
These are the Tier One Bowls destinations:
- San Diego
- El Paso
- New York
In the past, the selection order for bowls was determined by the ACC and followed a set pattern. However, it is now a more flexible process that aims to create exciting matchups. Each team in the ACC is invested in the matchup and location. Over the next week, the bowls and schools will collaborate to find the most suitable placement for as many teams as possible. This will be done before the weekend, so that official bowl invitations can be announced after the CFP and New Year’s Day Six bowl bids have been revealed.
Despite Notre Dame’s involvement, NC State deserves to receive an invitation to a desirable bowl game against a strong opponent. The majority of the matchups would be with teams from the SEC or Big Ten conferences, but the Pop Tarts Bowl in Orlando could potentially feature a Big 12 team. Additionally, the Holiday Bowl in San Diego and Sun Bowl in El Paso would pit the ACC against the Pac 12 in its last season.
Unfortunately, NC State has only experienced one season with more than 10 wins, which was back in 2002 when Philip Rivers led the team to an impressive record of 11-3. The 2021 season seemed promising for the Wolfpack to potentially reach 10 wins, but their plans were derailed when the Holiday Bowl was cancelled last minute due to Covid concerns with UCLA. It would be fitting for NC State to have the opportunity to play in San Diego again and actually compete in the game this time around.
Dave Doeren has done an exceptional coaching job at NC State in his 11 years, particularly in regrouping during the bye week following a rough start. His team seems to be in great shape, as evidenced by their post-game banter on Saturday evening.
UNC did not have the same success. Mack Brown added fresh talent and coaches to complement the experienced players returning, including Maye and Omarion Hampton. The team had high hopes for a championship season after starting 6-0, but ultimately ended with a disappointing 2-4 record, echoing last year’s late-season decline.
Carolina’s performance in the first half of their game against State came as a surprise, especially considering the importance of the match. During halftime, Brown expressed to the ACC Network that it was the worst performance he had ever seen from any of his teams.
However, that is now in the past. The University of North Carolina could potentially secure a victory in the bowl selection process and be invited to a highly desirable bowl game against a formidable Power Five team. If Maye participates, their chances of winning the game could increase. On the other hand, UNC may not achieve all of these outcomes.
Although a victory in the bowl game could alleviate some of the negative emotions surrounding the end of the season, the reality remains that there is a lot of uncertainty for this program moving forward. Coach Brown is determined to return, but it is typical of him to want to find a suitable replacement and ensure the program’s success before retiring. However, there will be significant changes in personnel in the near future, as many players are in their final year and Maye is expected to go pro. The status of Hampton is also uncertain. A win in the bowl game would definitely lift spirits in Chapel Hill, as UNC has not won a bowl game since 2019 and has lost six of its last seven postseason games.
NC State is in need of a win in a bowl game, as they have not ended the postseason with a victory since 2017. Despite the outcome, NC State is expected to have a higher rank than Carolina in the 2024 preseason. The recent dominant performance on Saturday, marking their third consecutive win against Carolina, solidified this expectation.