NC State can clinch mythical state title vs Wake Forest
By JOEDY McCREARY
With an Atlantic Coast Conference title no longer a possibility, No. 25 North Carolina State is refocusing on winning its version of a state championship.
The Wolfpack (7-3, 5-1, No. 19 CFP) wrap up the regular season with two games against annual instate rivals, starting Saturday night at Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3) and concluding next week with a visit from North Carolina.
"The pride you have for being the best team in the state, we don't get to play everybody, but playing the teams that we play and then having a better record than all of them at the end of the year, I think all of those things come into play and you use it in recruiting," N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. "I think it matters to our guys quite a bit."
It would be a satisfactory consolation prize for a team that climbed to No. 14 in the nation and challenged for its first Atlantic Division title. Back-to-back losses to Notre Dame and Clemson briefly knocked the Wolfpack from the national rankings before they returned after beating Boston College . The Tigers wrapped up another spot in the league title game by beating Florida State last week.
N.C. State's defense is preparing for a test from a Wake Forest offense that has come to life lately, averaging nearly 48 points while going 2-1 in its last three games. That includes a 64-43 victory at Syracuse after the Demon Deacons trailed by 17 points in the final minute of the first half before outscoring the Orange 40-5 in the second half.
"That's the difference in a team that hopes they can win and (one that) believes they can win," coach Dave Clawson said. "A team that hope they can win, when they fall behind, maybe give up hope. A team that believes they can win is going to fight and do those things necessary to get back in the game and win it."
Some other things to know about the N.C. State-Wake Forest game:
WAKE UP: Wake Forest rolled up a school-record 734 total yards against Syracuse, the first time the Demon Deacons have gained 700 yards in a game. RB Matt Colburn's 237 yards rushing were the most by a Wake Forest player in seven years. "We don't want to be an on-and-off offense," tight end Cam Serigne said.
CHASING HISTORY: This can still be a history-making season for the Wolfpack. With wins over the Demon Deacons and Tar Heels, they will set a school record with seven conference victories. N.C. State hasn't won six ACC games in a season since 1994. The second 10-win season in school history is still in play, but the Wolfpack need to win these two games plus their bowl game.
KEY MATCHUP: N.C. State is doing a good job of protecting QB Ryan Finley. The Wolfpack lead the ACC and rank 11th in the nation, allowing 1.1 sacks per game. Wake Forest averages 2.5 sacks per game, ranking third in the league, behind DE Duke Ejiofor, who's tied for fourth in the league with 6.5 total sacks.
TOUGH CROWD: Wake Forest's BB&T Field has been a tough place for N.C. State to win over the years. The Demon Deacons won six straight home games in the series - a run that dated to the Philip Rivers era - until the Wolfpack finally broke through in their last visit two years ago. Since 1997, home teams in the series are 17-3. N.C. State has won the last three in the series.
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Raleigh, North Carolina, contributed to this report.
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Updated November 17, 2017