Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
At Connecticut (5-7)
South Alabama (6-4)
The Citadel (4-7)
ACC home games
ACC road games
At North Carolina
Gut-check time: Oct. 6 vs. Florida State. There’s a reason NC State has been overshadowed by Florida State in the Atlantic Division: The Noles have recruited much better. Florida State is a deeper, more athletic team, which is why it is favored to win the division this season. NC State was embarrassed by FSU last year, 34-0. NC State, though, is on the brink of turning the corner under coach Tom O’Brien. If the Wolfpack is going to emerge from the shadows of FSU and become a true player in the ACC race, it must win this game.
Trap game: Oct. 20 at Maryland. Will the Wolfpack be looking ahead to the following week’s matchup at rival North Carolina? The expectations aren’t high for Maryland in coach Randy Edsall’s second season – unless you ask the guys in College Park. They’re certainly not going to roll over for anyone, and are determined to put last year’s 2-10 season behind them. The Terps’ defensive line should be a good matchup against NC State’s offensive line.
Snoozer: Sept. 15 vs. South Alabama. NC State won this game 35-13 last year.
Defining stretch: Oct. 6-Oct. 27 (vs. Florida State, at Maryland, at UNC). You could argue that the final three weeks of the season -- against Atlantic Division opponents Wake Forest, Clemson and Boston College -- will be the tell-tale stretch for the Pack, but it won’t matter much if NC State can’t handle FSU and back-to-back road trips to Maryland and UNC. The game against Florida State will affect the Atlantic Division standings, and the rivalry game against the Tar Heels will be an emotional week, win or lose. NC State will try to beat UNC for the sixth consecutive season, and will have to do it in Chapel Hill. NC State is typically at its best in the second half of the season under O’Brien and that will have to hold true again if the Wolfpack is going to escape this stretch unscathed.
Final analysis: NC State will likely be looking up at Florida State and Clemson in the preseason predictions this year, but there is a quiet confidence brewing in Raleigh. The nonconference schedule is conducive to a 4-0 start, and a win at Miami isn’t unreasonable. Could NC State really be 5-0 heading into its home game against the Noles? On paper, yes. The key is a fast start, and NC State could turn the ACC race upside down this year.