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NC State ran the ACC gauntlet ... and now NC State is the gauntlet?

These are surprising, but very happy times.

NCAA Football: Louisville at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This NC State football season started with a fair amount of fanfare, and fairly so, since this is Dave Doeren’s most talented and experienced team. I don’t think any of us realistically expected an ACC title game run what with Florida State and Louisville and Clemson in the way.

And when State dropped its opener to South Carolina, we were all left in the same place pondering unrealized potential. State owned that game and lost. This could only portend more of what we’ve seen from the Dave Doeren tenure.

And yet here we are in October, 3-0 in league play, with a couple of pretty significant obstacles cleared. Since that opener, NC State has won at Florida State and beaten Louisville, never trailing in either contest. That’s a statement that requires no buttress—NC State has simply been pretty damn good lately.

So here we are, dead even at the top of the ACC Atlantic with Clemson at 3-0, with the Tigers lingering vaguely in the distance, with some work to be done, albeit very much manageable, in between.

The difficult thing about sports is that you are constantly forced to re-frame things from an emotional standpoint, which can drop you into some easy traps; you are virtually guaranteed to feel uncomfortable about the proceedings, one way or another, regardless.

This is exceptionally true of college football, where teams play only once a week. Week one: DOOM. Since then: ok, oh ok, hm sure okay, oh wow, wait should we be excited, and finally HOLY CRAP. There is no point in a search for comprehensive overarching meaning here, this is only what’s happened. This is how we feel. No objective boundaries are pertinent.

Everything about the NC State football program felt like dire trouble after the loss to South Carolina that first weekend, and everything since has reinvigorated the hope about this season we had throughout the summer. There’s a reality somewhere here in the middle, but I can also tell you that I don’t care about it, that I appreciate State’s 3-0 start to league play, and that this will color over any other logical impression I might have.

That’s what having sports cares means, fundamentally: it baldly swings from one direction to the next, week to week, and we are overly hasty in judgment, because that’s the nature of it, but then a winning streak happens and we quickly recover to find how things can be good again.

This is probably the wrong time to start this discussion, because the Monster looms ahead, but right now NC State is dead even with said boogeyman and looks like its only realistic challenger to the Atlantic crown. And NC State gets Dabo’s terror crew in Raleigh this year.

There are just a few minor details to be taken care of between here and then—namely, beating Pittsburgh and Notre Dame—but man, y’know, this season sure did get fun quickly. The fact that I can even talk about a possible division showdown against Clemson with a straight face tells you all you need know about the twists of this season.

Glad I can do that, though. It’s good to be here. We’ve heard enough about Florida State and Louisville and Lamar Jackson and we’ve dispensed with them. We walk into these games feeling like we’re not sure that we belong in them at all, when in fact the reverse has been true. Worry all you want about the next half of this season; that is natural and I will be worrying right there with you.

Just understand that the other side is going to be really worried too.