After opening their season with a huge win over the Georgia Bulldogs, the Clemson Tigers are in great position to compete for a national championship, as they currently rank third in the polls. But while games later in the season against the Florida State Seminoles and South Carolina Gamecocks appear to be the only true tests remaining on their schedule, the Tigers can’t overlook Thursday’s game with the North Carolina State Wolfpack.
Last year, Florida State was in a similar position to the one Clemson is in now, with a legitimate chance to compete for a national title, but they were derailed by a road game against N.C. State. The Seminoles took N.C. State lightly and it cost them, and Clemson needs to be wary of doing the same this season. Dabo Swinney has done a lot to get the program to this point, and they can’t let that opportunity slip away against an opponent they should beat.
The Wolfpack haven’t been impressive this season, beating Richmond by just two points in their last game, but they’ll be ready to host a top-5 team. Moreover, N.C. State beat Clemson 37-13 the last time the Tigers visited Carter-Finley Stadium, and the players still around will remember that victory and be inspired to replicate it. After a close call against Richmond with a big-name opponent coming to town, the Wolfpack should be focused to play Clemson, especially with a few extra days to prepare for the Tigers.
The key to the game will be N.C. State quarterback Pete Thomas, who has had time to settle in after taking over for the injured Brandon Mitchell in the season opener. Thomas is an accurate thrower, and if he can avoid turnovers, he has the receivers and running backs around him that can move the ball down the field and keep Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense off the field.
Like any other potential upset, the Wolfpack will need to keep the game close for as long as possible in order to keep their crowd in the game. N.C. State will also have to keep the Tigers from making big plays that can swing momentum. If the Wolfpack can do that, Clemson will be in for a much bigger fight than they’d like.
N.C. State doesn’t seem like the best candidate to upset the Tigers, but the Wolfpack have pulled off upsets in the past while the Tigers have lost games they should have won in the past. With the extra preparation and a great home-field advantage, they have a real chance to surprise Clemson, and the Tigers should view them as a threat to spoil such a promising season.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.