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October 1, 2010

Is N.C. State the surprise team this year?

Great moments in N.C. State football history are ... well, they're few and far between.

There was the 28-6 Gator Bowl victory over Notre Dame that capped an 11-win season in 2003.

There was a 34-28 victory over Florida State in 2001, which was the Seminoles' first home loss in ACC play.

There were upsets of No. 2 Florida State in 1998 and No. 2 Houston in 1967.

And there was the ACC championship won in 1973.

With a 4-0 start in the fourth season under coach Tom O'Brien, could this be the year N.C. State reigns supreme again? That's a topic in this week's mailbag.

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Surprise, surprise

Given the solid play of QB Russell Wilson and a 4-0 start, could you see North Carolina State possibly earning the ACC's BCS berth this season? If they do, what does that mean for coach Tom O'Brien?
Grant in Eau Claire, Wis.

Every season, a "surprise" team emerges and N.C. State definitely has a chance to be the surprise team this season.

Four wins, which include a 30-19 victory over Cincinnati and a 17-point thumping of host Georgia Tech, show that the Wolfpack have to be taken seriously.

Florida State still would be my pick in the ACC's Atlantic Division, and Miami strikes me as the best team in the conference. But one cannot help but be impressed with North Carolina State.

The Wolfpack was average at best in their first three seasons under O'Brien, but this looks like a breakthrough season in Raleigh.

Wilson, who has thrown for more than 300 yards and at least three touchdowns in three of the four games played, is a major factor in the Wolfpack's fast start. The return of star linebacker Nate Irving, who missed last season after being injured in a car accident, has boosted a defense unit that last season allowed at least 30 points in eight games. No NCSU opponent has hit the 30-point mark this season.

Whether the Wolfpack can mount a serious challenge for the Atlantic Division title will be determined in the next two weeks with home games against Virginia Tech and Boston College.

At the least, N.C. State appears on the way to a good bowl. With continued improvement, the Wolfpack could indeed challenge for the ACC championship.

If that did happen, O'Brien would be in line for a contract extension. He could even be pursued by other programs that will have open coaching positions.

Long wait

Of the current FBS teams, which took the longest between the beginning of their program and their first bowl win? I am going to assume that it was South Carolina. If that is right, then which team took the second-longest? And, yes, I am a Clemson fan.
Sam in Greenville, S.C.

This is just the kind of question that shows how mean-spirited fans can be. South Carolina is 3-1 and could emerge as a legitimate challenger in the SEC East, and a Clemson fan is moved to bring up some obscure statistic just to annoy their rival.

Of course, I think that's wonderful and I encourage such pettiness. That stab-you-in-the-back-at-every-opportunity passion is what makes college football so much fun.

Seriously, how much fun would it be to give the inverted "Hook 'em Horns" sign if it didn't rankle Texas fans so much? Steve Spurrier's old jokes about "can't spell 'Citrus' without UT" or asking if FSU stood for "free shoes university" wouldn't have been half as funny if they hadn't annoyed the Tennessee and Florida State nations. And so here it is, a Clemson fan looking for any avenue available to jab the Gamecocks.

You should be ashamed of yourself -- for not doing it sooner.

In response to your inquiry, I pored over year-to-year records of all 120 FBS teams, but that led to some confusion.

For example, should Central Michigan be included? Technically, the Chippewas did not win a bowl until topping Troy 44-41 in the 2009 GMAC Bowl.

But Central Michigan was successful as a Division II program for many years and won three playoff games in 1974. Yet, they weren't "bowl" games.

So do we count Central Michigan? I say "no." We're counting postseason games in lower classifications the same as bowl games.

Still, South Carolina isn't even close to enduring the longest stretch between starting a program and winning a bowl game. The Gamecocks waited "only" 102 years from 1892 until their 24-21 victory over West Virginia in the 1994 Carquest Bowl.

That's a brief interlude compared to Rutgers, which started college football with a 6-4 victory over Princeton in 1869. But the Scarlet Knights didn't manage a bowl victory until beating Kansas State 37-10 in the 2006 Texas Bowl. That was a wait of 137 years.

Iowa State waited longer than South Carolina, too. The Cyclones started their program in 1892 and went 108 years before winning the 2000 Insight.com Bowl.

Utah State went 101 years from starting its program and beating Ball State in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl.

Ohio University has played for 116 years without a bowl victory. Louisiana-Lafayette has waited 109 years. Western Michigan has waited 104.

So, the attempt to discredit South Carolina failed. And the aforementioned facts show, without question, that any program can have an off century.

Not likely

If Utah and TCU are both undefeated when they play each other and Utah wins a close game, is there a chance that both schools could go to the BCS?
Dan in Lubbock, Texas

Technically, it's possible. Realistically, it's not.

First of all, that probably would be dependent on Boise State losing somewhere along the way. The system allowed two teams (Boise State and TCU) from non-Big Six conferences into a BCS bowl last year, but I doubt three ever would make it.

Plus, no team from a non-Big Six conference ever has reached a BCS game with a loss.

Remember, there are only 10 spots in BCS bowls. Six will be taken by the champions of the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, ACC and Big East. If two non-automatic qualifying teams are in -- which would surely be the case if Boise State and Utah or TCU were unbeaten -- then it would seem the remaining two places would be taken by teams from one of the AQ conferences, most likely from the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-10 or Big 12.

I believe even a two-loss team from one of the AQ conferences would get in over a one-loss TCU or Utah.

I could be wrong, but I'd be shocked if that wasn't the case.

London calling

It has been quite a ride being a Virginia fan since the great George Welsh led the program. What is your take on the program this season and in the foreseeable future? I am impressed with new coach Mike London, but how will he do in the ACC?
Neal in Raleigh, N.C.

Well, three games into the London era, it looks good. Sure, the Cavaliers have beaten FCS schools Richmond and VMI, but last season, they lost to FCS member William & Mary, so that's progress.

London was successful at Richmond and has a great presence, so there is every reason to be hopeful the program can be more successful than it was under Al Groh.

Based on what we've seen from the Cavs so far, particularly a near win at USC, I wouldn't be surprised if Virginia went to a bowl game.

But even if Virginia does manage a winning season, it has to be kept in perspective. After all, we've seen coaches have good first seasons, only to flame out later. Charlie Weis and Larry Coker come to mind.

Still, we've seen several coaches move up from strong FCS programs and continue to thrive at the FBS level. Ohio State coach Jim Tressel has done it. So have Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and Stanford's Jim Harbaugh.

London proved at Richmond that he's a capable coach. The challenge he'll face is proving he can rebuild a program; at Richmond, he took over a powerful program.

But there are enough good players in Virginia and surrounding states that the right guy can be successful there.

London may prove to be the right guy, but only time will tell. Still, the early indications are encouraging.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.
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