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N.C. State has put itself in a position where a magical season is attainable.
To open doors to possibilities of division or conference titles, and perhaps beyond, the Wolfpack has to finish a job.
The trip N.C. State, ranked No. 16 in The Associated Press Top 25, will make Saturday to Death Valley to face No. 3 Clemson is one that the Pack hopes will provide life to the goal of ending a conference championship drought that is currently at 39 years.
The ACC’s Atlantic Division is a two-team race. The only two teams in the division that have yet to lose a game in league play will square off and the winner has a huge advantage at the halfway point of the season.
The Wolfpack is looking to take that step.
“I think it’s about finishing the big game for us now,” N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren said when asked about the enormity of Saturday’s game.
“I think we played really well in some of those matchups. Obviously, we were able to win at Florida State last year, which was a huge game at the time. We’ve had other games that maybe nationally weren’t looked at as big games, but it’s about finishing. We put ourselves in places to win some of those close games, particularly against Clemson, and they’ve made the plays at the end that we needed to make.”
The Tigers have won the last three conference titles but, in the previous two seasons, N.C. State has put itself in a position to stop not only Clemson’s dominance in the ACC but also thwart any hopes of a potential berth in the College Football Playoffs.
The Tigers emerged unscathed both times as the Wolfpack found ways to falter down the stretch.
This season N.C. State has resolve but do not expect the Pack to be radically different in its approach, even with Clemson’s remarkably talented defense looking to bring pressure.
“We’re not going to do anything different,” N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley said. “We’re going to do what we do. They bring a lot of stuff, and we’re good at dinking and dunking. We have a lot of talent to throw the ball to with that short, intermediate stuff. We’ll let our guys make plays.”
Finley, who was on the N.C. State team in 2016 that dropped a heartbreaking, overtime loss at Clemson, also looks forward to visiting Death Valley once again in his final college season.
“It’s an exciting place to play,” Finley said. “Their fans are awesome, and it’s loud. We want energy in the stadium and that just makes it all the more fun.”
The enthusiasm for the game extends to the coaching staff.
In his six seasons with N.C. State, Doeren’s program has methodically grown by using a workmanlike approach that is grounded in being successful at the moment.
And now the moment dictates getting ready to face a three-time conference champion, two-time College Football Playoff participant and the one school in N.C. State’s division that the Wolfpack has not defeated since Doeren arrived.
With all of that, along with control over the Atlantic in 2018 and national implications at stake, the chance the Wolfpack has on Saturday is one the team has built towards for years.
“I’m excited about it,” Doeren said. “This is why you work your butt off as a staff, just like our players do, and you want to be in this position where you’re playing for a lot, against another team that’s playing for a lot. This is what it’s all about.
“It’s about elevating our program and it’s about doing something that we haven’t been able to do as a coach, as a player yet. All of those things matter to us, to them. That’s why you work so hard.”