â€œItâ€™s the most important gameâ€¦ Game 1 was the most important.Â Game 2 was the most important.Â Now itâ€™s Game 3.Â Itâ€™s just the next game, simple as that.â€
These are the words of Kobe Bryant in June 2008 during the Lakerâ€™s series over the Celtics.Â I hate NBA ball as much as the next guy who (a) doesnâ€™t support business-bastardized teams, (b) are true fans of NCAA basketball, or (c) are white guys who canâ€™t jump, but Bryant makes a damn good point.Â The most important game to any champion-caliber team is â€œthe next oneâ€.
Of course, we all know Kobe was shamelessly ripping off Jimmy Valvano who commonly referred to the most important game of any given season as â€œthe next oneâ€.
As NC State moves to 4-0 (1-0) defeating favored Central Florida, Cincinnati, and heavily favored Georgia Tech, Wolfpack fans find themselves in a strange place: the top of the ACC.Â Wolfpack fans defeated the reigning Big East champions 30-19 and the former ACC champions 45-28.Â During the GT game, itâ€™s worth noting that two of GTâ€™s touchdowns in the fourth quarter were scored on a fluke drive caused by missed tackles and an interception (in one instance) resulting in a pair of +30 yard TDs.Â Donâ€™t get me wrong, games are won and lost on â€œfluke playsâ€, but it does speak to the quality of gameplay the Pack displayed.Â But I digressâ€¦
NC State has been on fire.Â Hell, we even got kudos from whom I view as my arch nemesis, ESPNâ€™s Heather Dinich (she may not know it, but she secretly rues the day of my birth):
â€œThe Wolfpack is the hottest team in the ACC right now and will have home field advantage this weekend against Virginia Tech. NC State is off to its first 4-0 start since 2002 and should have a lot of confidence after knocking off the defending ACC champs on Georgia Techâ€™s home field.â€ link
So how did NC State go from be a pre-season dog, picked to be second-to-last or last in the ACC to becoming the heralded â€œhottest team in the ACCâ€?Â Simple; we just focused on the most important game.Â Which game is the most important?
The next one.
What do you mean â€œthe next oneâ€?Â Simple.Â In Tom Oâ€™Brienâ€™s fourth season, not yet being able to bring the old Marine magic he used at Boston College to conjure up 8-straight winning seasons and 7-straight bowl appearances to NC State, he has led us to little more than one pity bowl.Â He was hired to win and has found himself, for whatever reasons, excuses, or acts of God, unable to accomplish his mission.Â This season would be a pivotal one where the most rationale fans would be trying to determine whether he was â€œrightâ€ for the Wolfpack and the most fanatical believers in â€œOperation TOBâ€ would be trying to figure out whether their messiah was a false prophet.Â Tom needed to start at the basics; stop worrying about the entire season or the fate of the program; he needed to focus on winning the next game, and nothing more.Â Tomâ€™s most important game this season would be â€œthe next oneâ€.
So, Wolfpack Nation, letâ€™s not try to fix whatâ€™s not broken.Â NC Stateâ€™s most important game this season is Virginia Tech this Saturday at home.Â We must beat Virginia Tech.Â We have to beat Virginia Tech.Â The fate of our program for years to come amounts to this one game.Â After this week, we must and have to beat Boston College.Â After that, itâ€™s ECU.Â Letâ€™s keep our noses to the ground, sniffing for our next kill and keep our egos even lower than that.Â If NC State wins, it will not be because we have swaggered and bullied our way to the top, but because we were led with Marine-like discipline to become an elite, efficient, and fear-invoking machine stopping any offense that comes our way and slicing deeply with surgeon-like precision through our opponentâ€™s defense.
Keep humble, Wolfpack.Â The hunt is going to be long and the prey will be strong.Â Letâ€™s not concern ourselves with all the other opponents in the field at the moment; just our next prey.Â Come Saturday, this rabid pack of wolves is in the mood for turkey.