The focus this week might be on the elimination of divisions in the Atlantic Coast Conference's next football season and the league's new scheduling model, but that does not change what's at stake for NC State in 2022.
With the majority of its starters returning from a nine-win 2021 season, including quarterback and Heisman hopeful Devin Leary, NC State is a frontrunner to advance to its first ACC championship game as coach Dave Doeren enters his 10th season with the program.
The USA TODAY Network South Region ranked the Wolfpack's 2022 schedule, considering not just the talent they'll be facing but the challenges of playing on the road and against rival opponents.
In order of easiest to toughest games, here's how NC State's schedule stacks up.
Week 2 vs. Charleston Southern
Charleston Southern's 2021 record: 4-6 (3-3 Big South)
Series record: 0-0
Kickoff: 12:30 p.m., Sept. 10
Notes: NC State's home opener at Carter-Finley Stadium should be a fun experience for fans seeing the Wolfpack in person for the first time this season. Charleston Southern is a middle-of-the-road Big South program that won't have the talent or the size to stay competitive against NC State.
Week 4 vs. UConn
UConn's 2021 record: 1-11
Series record: 2-0 (NC State)
Last matchup: 10-7 NC State (2012)
Kickoff: TBD, Sept. 24
Notes: The Wolfpack's final nonconference challenge will be against a UConn program that has become irrelevant after 10 straight losing seasons and a 1-10 record in 2021. This season the Huskies will be led by first-year coach Jim Mora, a former NFL coach for the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks before serving as UCLA's coach from 2012 to 2017. UConn had the second-worst offense statistically last season and will have its hands full against a retooled NC State defense.
Week 7 at Syracuse
Syracuse's 2021 record: 5-7 (2-6 ACC)
Series record: 13-2 (NC State)
Last matchup: 41-17 NC State (2021)
Kickoff: TBD, Oct. 15
Notes: The Orange is predicted to finish last in the Atlantic Division but may not be an easy win for NC State, especially playing on the road. Syracuse returns 17 starters from last year's team, including running back Sean Tucker and quarterback Garrett Shrader. Robert Anae was hired as the new offensive coordinator and coach Dino Babers did his best to solidify a shaky defense last season. NC State has won three straight and seven of the last eight against Syracuse, falling 51-41 in 2018 at the Carrier Dome and squeaking out a 36-29 road win in 2020.
Week 11 vs. Boston College
Boston College's 2021 record: 6-6 (2-6 ACC)
Series record: 10-8 (Boston College)
Last matchup: 33-7 NC State (2021)
Kickoff: TBD, Nov. 12
Notes: Quarterback Phil Jurkovec and star wide receiver Zay Flowers return for a Boston College program that started 4-0 last year before finishing 2-6 in its last eight games, including a 33-7 home loss to the Wolfpack. BC has a new offensive coordinator in John McNulty, who looks to get rid of the pro-style offense that had the Eagles' passing offense ranked No. 12 in the ACC in 2021. Boston College looks to replace all five offensive linemen from last season which could make things tough for starting running back Pat Garwo III, who rushed for 1,000 yards as a redshirt sophomore.
Week 12 at Louisville
Louisville's 2021 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Series record: 7-4 (Louisville)
Last matchup: 28-13 NC State (2021)
Kickoff: TBD, Nov. 19
Notes: The Cardinals are coming off consecutive losing seasons and coach Scott Satterfield is sitting on one of the hottest hot seats in the country. Lucky for Satterfield, he'll have quarterback Malik Cunningham back on the team. Cunningham passed for 219 yards and ran for 89 yards in last year's loss to NC State but also threw for four touchdowns in a 2019 win over the Wolfpack. Slowing down Cunningham at home will be a tough task for the Wolfpack defense.
Week 6 vs. Florida State
Florida State's 2021 record: 5-7 (4-4 ACC)
Series record: 27-15 (Florida State)
Last matchup: 28-14 NC State (2021)
Kickoff: TBD, Oct. 8
Notes: This may not be the Florida State teams of old, but the Seminoles finished the 2021 season on a strong note, winning five of their last seven games including three wins over bowl-eligible teams. Dual-threat quarterback Jordan Travis emerged as the starter late in the season and should be even better in 2022 as coach Mike Norvell enters his third season with FSU.
Week 9 vs. Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech's 2021 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC)
Series record: 18-28-4 (Virginia Tech)
Last matchup: 45-24 Virginia Tech (2020)
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. (Thursday)
Notes: Something about a night game against Virginia Tech on a Thursday before Halloween just feels spooky. NC State has lost five straight games to the Hokies since 2005 but has its best chance to end that streak this year against a Virginia Tech program that will look to turn things around under first-year coach and former Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry.
Week 1 at ECU
ECU's 2021 record: 7-5 (5-3 AAC)
Series record: 18-13 (NC State)
Last matchup: 34-6 NC State (2019)
Kickoff: Sept. 3, 12 p.m.
Notes: Many questions will be answered in NC State's Week 1 game against ECU, namely, how does this team handle a hostile environment? The 50,000-seat Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium will be at full capacity as the Pack makes the hour and a half drive to Greenville to face a Pirates program that won seven games under coach Mike Houston in 2021. ECU is 2-0 at home against NC State since 2010, including a 33-30 win in 2016.
Week 3 vs. Texas Tech
Texas Tech's 2021 record: 7-6 (3-6 Big 12)
Series record: 4-1 NC State
Last matchup: 49-21 NC State (2003)
Kickoff: Sept. 17, 7 p.m.
Notes: The Red Raiders are always known for throwing the ball down the field and scoring points in bunches, which should give the Wolfpack secondary a considerable early season challenge. Texas Tech ended last season with an impressive win over Mississippi State — which defeated the Wolfpack earlier that year — in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl before parting ways with coach Sonny Cumbie. First-year coach Joey McGuire will be searching for a big win before opening Big 12 play the next week against Texas. Tech's defense, though, could struggle mightily against NC State's offense
Week 13 at North Carolina
UNC's 2021 record: 6-7 (3-5 ACC)
Series record: 68-37-6 (UNC)
Last matchup: 34-30 NC State (2021)
Kickoff: TBD, Nov. 25 (Friday)
Notes: Not much needs to be said about the significance of this rivalry game, especially after last year's dramatic 34-30 comeback win by the Wolfpack. This regular-season finale for both teams could make or break NC State's chances at an ACC title game apperance and facing UNC at Kenan Memorial Stadium will make things that much tougher.
Week 10 vs. Wake Forest
Wake's 2021 record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC)
Series record: 67-42-6 (NC State)
Last matchup: 45-42 Wake Forest (2021)
Notes: Last year's 45-42 road loss to Wake Forest kept NC State out of the ACC title game and you can bet the Wolfpack will be looking for revenge when the Deamon Deacons make the trip to Carter-Finley Stadium. That will be easier said than done against a Wake Forest team that returns quarterback Sam Hartman and starting experience at almost every position.
Week 5 at Clemson
Clemson's 2021 record: 10-3 (6-2 ACC)
Series record: 59-29-1 (NC State)
Last matchup: 27-21 NC State (2021)
Notes: Despite current appearances, Clemson is still the team to beat in the Atlantic Division. Yes, NC State's 27-21 double-overtime home win over the Tigers was incredibly impressive last year, but beating Clemson in Death Valley is an entirely different story. The Tigers own the nation's longest active home winning streak with 34 straight victories including a pair of last-moment wins during a 2021 season that ended with 10 wins but ultimately fell below their championship standards. If the Wolfpack can end that streak, they will not only be considered a favorite to win the ACC but a contender to make the College Football Playoff.
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA Today Network covering NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at email@example.com, at 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.
This article originally appeared on The Fayetteville Observer: NC State football schedule 2022: We ranked opponents from easiest to toughest