Spinning the wheel in the nation's most consistently inconsistent conference.
Today's bet: N.C. State
Already this year, the ACC's presumed frontrunners have a) Had half their starting lineup suspended; b) Been humiliated in big non-conference litmus tests at Ohio State and < a href="http://rivals.yahoo.com/ncaa/football/boxscore?gid=201009110024">Oklahoma; c) Collapsed in a loss to a I-AA/FCS team; and d) Served as a truly awful Kansas outfit's only victim to date, all on the same day. In that context, the Wolfpack deserve some love as the conference's only pleasant surprise of the season's first month.
NCSU was generally picked to finish at or near the bottom of the Atlantic Division, made an immediate impression by ambushing Georgia Tech in Atlanta a couple weeks back, 41-28, to move to 4-0. Last week, they charged out to a 17-0 lead against another big favorite, Virginia Tech, and still led with two minutes to play in the fourth quarter before letting another upset slip away.
But with a competitive split against two of the reigning conference heavies already in the bag, the Pack may not have a tougher game left on the docket.
Straight up. Junior quarterback Russell Wilson, once considered a somewhat mobile threat whose main virtue was that he never threw interceptions, has bucked the reins to emerge as the most dangerous downfield passer in the conference. He came out of the weekend with his third straight 300-yard, three-touchdown passing game, leaving him atop the ACC and second nationally in passing yards and touchdowns. Already, he's hit 15 passes covering at least 25 yards, to seven different receivers – the most reliable of whom, seniors Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams, are both averaging about 18 yards per catch.
Not surprisingly, the Pack are pacing the league in total offense and scoring, against one of the tougher schedules: In the last three weeks, they've faced the defending Big East champion, the defending ACC champion and the preseason ACC favorite, and hung at least 30 points on all of them, on 508 yards per game. Last week, they joined eventual national champions LSU in 2007 and Alabama in 2009 as the only attacks to put up 500 yards on a Bud Foster-coached defense since Virginia Tech moved to the ACC in 2004. It's an explosive group.
Bet black. Even if it's not as bad (yet) as the group that gave up at least 30 points in each of its first seven ACC games last year, or the group that finished dead last in the conference in total and scoring D in 2008, the defense remains an ongoing project in its fourth year under coordinator Mike Archer.
If Georgia Tech's option dented the front seven with 247 hard-earned yards on the ground, Virginia Tech knocked a hole in it last week, pounding out 317 yards with two different backs over the century mark. For an outfit that was regularly ripped on the ground last year, Pack fans can see where this is going: To another season full of rapidly escalating shootouts, if they're lucky.
Payout: 11 to 1. The odds are better of getting into the ACC Championship Game: N.C. State played as well as any team in the Atlantic Division through the first month and clearly has the firepower to hang with anyone in the entire conference. The upset at Georgia Tech could go a long way in the standings, if the preseason assumptions about the dominance of the top half of the Coastal Division hold true against the other Atlantic contenders.
If they make it to Charlotte, though, the Pack's shot at actually bringing back the championship against a more talented, veteran Virginia Tech, Miami or even Georgia Tech outfit with more big-game experience are much longer. If they're good enough to get there, though, they're good enough to win, and right now they look as good as anyone in the Atlantic Division.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.