Under normal circumstances, losing three games, two in conference, makes it nearly impossible for a team to make the ACC Championship. Clemson has dominated over the past decade, and one team usually makes the championship game with a one or two-loss season. However this year, the ACC is absolutely chaotic. Clemson is out of contention, UNC has lost two games, and the Wolfpack sit in 7th place but are still in contention. While the likely ACC Championship matchup is Florida State and Louisville, there is plenty of time for other teams to make a move. NC State is one of these teams that is still hopeful to compete for the ACC championship but will need everything to go right to have a chance.
The Situation: Where the Wolfpack Sit in the ACC
The NC State Wolfpack do not exactly control their own destiny. Theoretically, they could win each of the three remaining games and still not reach the ACC championship. Florida State essentially is locked in at first. Thus, the Wolfpack needs Louisville, Duke, and Georgia Tech to lose some games. Perhaps the worst part for Wolfpack fans is the fact that this weekend, NC State needs to root for UNC to beat Duke!
The Wolfpack Offense: Needs a Star to Emerge
The Wolfpack needs the offense to pick up drastically to have a chance. MJ Morris managed to lead the team to victories over Clemson and Miami but has decided to redshirt the rest of the season. The Wolfpack will turn to Brennan Armstrong once again. Armstrong’s passing statistics have been very similar to Morris’s, but he is a much better runner. Despite not being the starting quarterback for four straight games, Armstrong is still the team’s leading rusher. Kevin Concepcion has been the lone bright spot on this Wolfpack offense, amassing 554 yards and six touchdowns through the air and 112 yards rushing on gadget plays.
NC State Desperately needs another playmaker to step up if they want to win the next three matchups. Brad Rozner had high hopes but has only 14 catches on the year. Keyon Lesane has only 132 receiving yards this season despite being considered the team’s second-best wide receiver. Michael Allen and Kendrick Raphael might have to be the difference makers, as they have combined for 412 rushing yards and an average of 5.1 yards per carry. One of these players must finish the season strong for the offense to have a chance. Armstrong must also become more accurate as a passer to have a shot at making the ACC championship.
Wolfpack Defense: A Great Unit Needs To Be Elite.
The defense has been very strong this season. Payton Wilson is one of the best linebackers in the country and is a mid-season All-American. He has 105 tackles, 10 for losses, and four sacks. He has also created four turnovers including a pick-six against Clemson. Wilson will somehow have to elevate his play and consistently make game-changing plays for the Wolfpack to have a chance against an offense like UNC. The secondary has been stingy. Aydan White has continued to be a dominant corner. His statistics are lacking, mainly due to the fact that offenses do not want to target his assignment. Regardless, he still has two interceptions and four pass defenses. Shyheim Battle has been solid, but his aggressive tendencies need to be reined in or he will get burned for more explosive plays. The pass rush is another area that needs improvement, as the team only has 27 sacks as a unit. Davin Vann and Red Hibbler each have five-and-a-half sacks, but the rest of the team needs to find ways to pressure the quarterback. NC State has found success when the defense creates turnovers in opposing territory. For this to continue, Wilson and White must continue to lockdown their positions, and the unit as a whole needs to continue to create turnovers.
What Else Needs to Go Right for NC State?
Outside of improvements on both sides of the ball, the situation is still dire for the Wolfpack. Assuming NC State manages to win its next three games, the team still needs a lot of help. Louisville will have to lose both of its remaining conference games. Miami will give Louisville a run, but it is pointless if Virginia does not upset Louisville. In addition, Georgia Tech must lose an additional conference game. Finally, the dreadful fact for the Wolfpack faithful, Duke must lose to UNC to complete the unlikely scenario.
The most likely outcome is that Louisville does not drop two games, and the Wolfpack may not even win out. However, the most practical situation in which NC State has an ACC playoff spot goes as follows:
NC State wins the next three games, putting themselves ahead of UNC. Virginia upsets Louisville, and Miami beats the Cardinals as well. If UNC beats Duke, that means that the Wolfpack only needs Clemson or Syracuse to upset Georgia Tech. And then, of course, the Wolfpack would have to upset Florida State in the ACC championship game.
The sportsbooks have the likelihood of this happening at +26000, or 260-to-1 odds. While extremely unlikely, the Wolfpack ACC hopes are alive.