There seems to be a lot of confidence from the SFN faithful that we’ll cruise to a 10-win season in Tom O’Brien’s fifth season. I’ve been a State fan far too long to be that optimistic, especially considering we’ve got to figure out how to successfully traverse at least a couple of our regular obstacles.
Here’s the roadmap for how we get to Charlotte on December 3rd:
Win in Winston-Salem. We’ve won exactly once in Winston since 1995, and that was a decade ago, with the Great Philip Rivers (2001). Our games against Wake Forest at BB&T Field have been some of our worst; in my freshman year in 1997, we lost on a Thursday night when we failed to convert on a fourth-and-goal late in the game; in 1999, a few weeks after winning in Austin, we were taken behind the woodshed; in 2003, we were caught looking ahead to Columbus the following week; in 2005, 2007, and 2009 we were simply outcoached and outplayed. None of us seem to understand why we play so horribly at BB&T, considering it’s kind of like a smaller version of Kenan whenever State plays there.
Win in October. Tom O’Brien is a paltry 4-11 at State during October. Last season (2-2, 2-1 ACC) was a stark improvement over the 0-8 October winless streak in 2008 and 2009. Although State collapsed in the second half against Virginia Tech and couldn’t complete the comeback after we sputtered early at East Carolina, we responded after each of those losses with wins over Boston College and then Florida State. We’ve played Florida State four times in October under TOB, and we’re 1-3 against them, after we finally broke through last year. This October, we’ll play Georgia Tech at home, and then go on the road to play Virginia and Florida State in a stretch that could quickly end our hopes of playing in Charlotte.
Win in Charlottesville. Like BB&T Field, Scott Stadium has been a veritable abyss for State, lowlighted by either the 62-14 loss in 1996 or the 14-9 loss in 2002 (our third consecutive after starting the season 9-0). Wondering how long it’s been since we last won at Virginia? It was 30-27 in the 1994 season finale, on the old artificial turf, when Tremayne Stephens opened the second half with an 84-yard touchdown run and finished the day with 133 yards in the victory that propelled us to the Peach Bowl.
Win at Boston College. We’ve never done this before, and this year we go there late in the season, on their Senior Day, a week after playing Carolina, where we may be bloodied from numerous cheap shots (1:33 mark).
Beat Clemson. We last beat Clemson on a Thursday night way back in 2003. This series has been ugly since. In 2005, Clemson racked up nearly 500 yards of offense and chased most of the Thursday night Carter-Finley crowd out in the 3rd quarter; in 2006, Daniel Evans was only 10/24 for 95 yards while C.J. Spiller rushed for 154 yards; in 2007, Evans, Beck and Burke each threw interceptions and Clemson won by three touchdowns; in 2008, Russell Wilson was only 10/21 for 92 yards and our only touchdown was a pick-six by Nate Irving on the first play from scrimmage; and then, last year, the week after beating Florida State on Thursday night on ESPN, we went to Clemson in control of our own destiny when, late in the fourth quarter, with the game on the line, around midfield, needing only a single yard on fourth down, with the ACC’s best quarterback, we punted.
Beat Maryland in the season finale. Carolina is our rival and we hate them, sure; but Maryland is our bugaboo. My buddy Alvin says, “You can make a valid argument that they have opportunistically kept us from being a top tier football program.” You could argue with him, but you’d be wrong. In 2001, they prolongued the game with “injuries” that put them into position for the winning field goal, and then showered the field with oranges; in 2003, T.A. McClendon fumbled while trying to burn clock and then Nick Novak kicked a 43-yard field goal with seconds remaining to ruin Philip’s Senior Day; in 2007, with our bowl eligibility on the line, they beat us 37-0; and, of course, there was last year’s debacle in College Park.
Seems simply enough, right? Just do all of the above, and also sneak a win out of Tallahassee, and we should be set for a roadtrip to Charlotte on December 3rd.