NC State's Mike Rose: Don't call Wolfpack a dark horse

PINEHURST, N.C. — Just a year removed from a winless campaign in the ACC, there’s a real buzz surrounding NC State’s program, and that’s a good thing, players say. But the label most consistently applied to the Wolfpack isn’t exactly one defensive lineman Mike Rose enjoys: “Dark horse.”

“I hate that dark horse term,” Rose said. “It seems like we have no chance, but we have a chance. I’d rather they say we have a chance to contend finally. We have the pieces in place to contend. And I think we do — a great quarterback, a stable of running backs, Mackey watch-list tight end, great offensive linemen, eight returning defensive players. If you put it all together and we play consistently all year, there’s no telling what we can do.”

Still, that “dark horse” moniker was largely reflected in the media’s preseason picks earlier this week. Despite the seemingly universal perception that NC State is a program on the rise, it still came in fourth behind the usual suspects in the Atlantic.

But the case for NC State isn’t hard to make. In a division in which stalwarts Florida State, Clemson and Louisville lost a combined 26 players to the NFL draft, the Wolfpack return 14 starters, including eight on defense. Their defense improved dramatically down the stretch last season (10th in the Power 5 in total defense from Nov. 1 on). After a midseason swoon, NC State wrapped up the season by winning four of its last five games.

The reason NC State remains in the “dark horse” category for most prognosticators is clear, too. Since 2012, the Wolfpack are just 1-16 against Power 5 schools that finished the season with a winning record (sorry for the reminder, 2012 Florida State), and last year the Wolfpack were outscored in such games by an average of 23 points.

So there’s progress NC State still needs to make. But within the locker room, there’s confidence to spare that that progress will come in 2015.

“Each year, you want to make more and more people respect you,” quarterback Jacoby Brissett said. “A lot of teams respect us, but they don’t really respect us the way we want them to respect us. That’s our job this year, is to let them know we’re for real.”