NC State wants to play the underdog card, but it’s time to adjust to life as a favorite

·3 min read

There’s a long line of N.C. State coaches who made the mistake of tempting fate, and in the aftermath of the double-overtime win over Clemson, Dave Doeren certainly put himself in the crosshairs when he declared, “the curse is broken.”

To Doeren’s credit, and perhaps relief, his team has successfully navigated pitfalls that have tripped up lesser Wolfpack teams in the two games since. N.C. State avoided a letdown trap-game upset against Louisiana Tech before blowing out Boston College in Chestnut Hill, not exactly a friendly locale for N.C. State in the past.

With that comes a new challenge. This team has used a perceived lack of respect to fuel itself, but respect is starting to pile up. A resounding win like Saturday’s — on the road, against an opponent that has given the Wolfpack fits over the years, leaving no doubt — went a long way toward relegitimizing N.C. State after the early season loss at Mississippi State.

N.C. State moved up to 18th from 22nd in the AP Top 25 this week while the Wolfpack opened as a 2-point favorite at Miami this weekend — and enough money quickly poured in on N.C. State to run that to 3.5 points. As things stand, the Wolfpack is likely to be favored in all of its remaining games save one, at Wake Forest, and even that could flip if N.C. State continues to win.

So if the Wolfpack players felt they “haven’t got the respect I think we’ve earned,” as Devan Boykin said Saturday night, the respect is starting to fall in line with what N.C. State objectively deserves.

“My focus is just to keep them in the place that they’ve been, and that’s hungry,” Doeren said. “We’re climbing a mountain and we haven’t gotten to the top of it. What I don’t want to do is take our eyes off the path.”

Doeren has always seemed more comfortable as an underdog — and even Monday was still playing that card: “People don’t respect us for whatever reason” — but that narrative is turning, whether N.C. State likes it or not. Vegas has noticed. AP voters have noticed. ESPN and the ACC power brokers have noticed, with nary a noon game in sight. Just Monday, the Oct. 30 home game against Louisville was announced as a 7:30 p.m. start.

If anything, N.C. State is getting more respect from the voters than objective metrics would justify: The Wolfpack is 21st in ESPN’s FPI and 20th in Strength of Record.

As long as N.C. State continues to take care of business, closing in on what may very well be a winner-take-Atlantic trip to Winston-Salem in November, it’s going to be even harder to claim that the Wolfpack is being overlooked, even if that’s what N.C. State would prefer to claim.

“Do we take pride in trying to prove people wrong?” Doeren asked. “ Yeah, we do.”

Yet the really good teams excel at proving people right. Week after week. Without drama. Just like N.C. State did at Boston College.

It is certainly harder, especially for programs that aren’t used to it, to be the favorite, to face the expectation to perform, to be in a position where wins are maybe a little less rewarding and losses are always a lot more painful. Such is the price of success.

N.C. State got a taste of that in Week 2 — it was a 1-point road favorite in Starkville — and dealt with it far better against Louisiana Tech and Boston College. That’s going to be the life the Wolfpack leads for the next three weeks, at least. And if it’s fortunate, even longer.

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