Sports Illustrated included N.C. State as one of “Five Sleeper Teams That Could Emerge as Legit Contenders” last week.
SI joins ESPN’s David Hale (“sleeping giant”), ESPN’s Phil Steele (“playoff crashers” and the SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic (No. 4 in the country?!?) in a familiar refrain of preseason hype for the Wolfpack.
With so many integral players back from a 7-6 team, and one that outplayed Clemson (the national champion) and Florida State (a 10-win team), it’s easy to understand why national media outlets are naturally curious about N.C. State’s potential this season.
The perplexing part of anyone predicting a potential playoff run for N.C. State is it ignores the most important factor – the schedule. N.C. State has to go to Florida State and hosts Clemson and Louisville. That’s just in the division. The trip to Notre Dame (also on SI’s “sleeper” list) on Oct. 28 will not be a picnic and neither will the opener with South Carolina on Sept. 2 in Charlotte.
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Teams like Iowa (in 2015) or Colorado (last year) didn’t jump into the periphery of the CFP race by facing difficult schedules. A random SEC East team (Georgia) or Big Ten West (Northwestern) has an easier path to playoff contention than any team in the ACC Atlantic.
Even the other ACC team on SI’s sleeper list, Virginia Tech, has to go through Clemson in the regular season and would have another top 5 opponent in the ACC title game.
To SI’s credit, this is a more practical log on the preseason hype fire for N.C. State. These are teams, according to writer Chris Johnson, that are being undervalued and have a chance to exceed preseason expectations. Notre Dame, Oregon and TCU round out SI’s list, which accompanied its preseason top 25.
Johnson correctly points out if N.C. State had been able to pull off an upset of Clemson and/or Florida State – the Wolfpack had a strong chance to win both games – it would not be entering the season relatively low on the national radar (N.C. State was in the “other receiving votes” in the USA Today Top 25 and did not make SI’s poll).
Johnson does make a great point in summation about N.C. State’s potential to break the 7-, 8-win ceiling:
“If N.C. State can turn even one of 2016’s close losses into a W and avoid a head-scratching toe stub on the order of its 21–14 home loss to Boston College, it’s hard to imagine 2017 not being Doeren’s most fruitful campaign in Raleigh to date.”
On the plus side, for those who believe in the “SI jinx,” at least the Wolfpack didn’t make the magazine cover. (Uh, oh Oklahoma State).