Toughest stretch: NC State

Not all schedules are created equal. That's life in college football. Each slate does, however, present its own set of challenges. We're taking a look at the toughest stretches that each ACC team will face in 2014, periods that could help determine their fate in the upcoming season.


Toughest stretch: Sept. 27-Oct. 18 (Florida State, at Clemson, Boston College, at Louisville)

Why: I can just picture NC State coach Dave Doeren sending a love note to the ACC office for handing him this doozy of a schedule. Seriously, guys? A 3-9 team from a year ago must face the top three teams from its division in a four-week span? The schedule makers dealt Syracuse a similar hand, but at least the Orange have Wake Forest squeezed into their tight Louisville-Clemson-Florida State stretch. Boston College was a bowl team one year ago, so NC State gets the "toughest stretch" title out of the Atlantic.

Is there any reason for optimism? Well, NC State has had some success against Clemson and Florida State, pulling off shockers against the Tigers in 2011 and against Florida State in 2012. NC State was right there with Clemson last season on a rocking Thursday night in Raleigh, until Bryan Underwood was ruled out of bounds on a long touchdown run, igniting major controversy. Doeren says he has photographic evidence on his phone that Underwood was in, but that critical call turned the tide.

Boston College is in rebuilding mode after losing Heisman Trophy finalist Andre Williams, along with its starting quarterback, top receiver and top tackler. At this point, their matchup is a toss-up. Louisville should be good, but nobody knows what to expect out of a program that is making its ACC debut with a new head coach, new starting quarterback and totally rebuilt defense.

Plus, Doeren is excited about the prospect of running his offense behind quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who has worked hard over the last year and a half for his opportunity to start.

So there is a little dose of hope. But only a little. Because three of these teams won 10 or more games a year ago. Florida State built a 35-0 first-quarter lead in their game last season before hitting the brakes. NC State has depth concerns on the offensive line, young receivers and questions at running back and all over the defense. Doeren has talked repeatedly about how young his team is. The nonconference schedule is easy, so realistically, NC State needs two conference wins to get to 6-6 and in bowl position. If the Wolfpack can get at least one out of this group, that would be huge.