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Easy part of schedule over for N.C. State

RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State had just polished off another outmanned opponent when coach Tom O'Brien walked away from the podium and found out that Pitt had beaten Navy convincingly.

There was no questioning the reality check: With the Big East's preseason favorite up next, the easy part of the schedule is over.

Good thing for the Wolfpack that they don't measure themselves by the teams they've played so far, or else the only thing they'd know for certain is that they'd be serious contenders to win the Football Championship Subdivision.

"I wouldn't say it's about who we're playing against. I think it's about ourselves," linebacker Ray Michel said. "(Defensive coordinator Mike) Archer's always saying every week: 'It doesn't matter who you play. It doesn't matter what conference, what division they're in. It's a matter to see how much better can we get as a unit?"'

Of course, that can be a difficult thing for N.C. State to gauge when the previous two opponents were so outmanned.

Yes, the Wolfpack (2-1) are above .500 for the first time since 2006, when Chuck Amato's final team opened 3-2 before dropping seven straight to end both the season and his tenure at his alma mater.

But there are questions about whether the current start is a mirage.

They've spent the past two Saturdays beating up on FCS teams, routing Murray State and Gardner-Webb by a combined 110-21, but they're still looking for their first touchdown against a school from the Bowl Subdivision. The only one they've faced so far, South Carolina, shut down their offense in a 7-3 win over N.C. State in the opener.

The little guys certainly didn't have enough talent to test the Wolfpack, who in those two games rolled up 961 total yards — or, well more than half a mile — while allowing a combined 249 yards to the Racers and Bulldogs.

But they did give N.C. State a taste of intensity — and the players expect that to pay off when Atlantic Coast Conference play begins next week.

"One thing that those schools did: They wanted to come out here and they had something to prove, so they were coming off the ball as hard as they could, every single play," tight end Matt Kushner said. "I feel like that really helped us, because, offensively, we were just trying to do the same things — smash-mouth football — we were trying to run our plays against them and just beat them man-to-man. They were trying to do the same thing. They had their schemes, but they were coming off the ball because they were trying to prove something to us."

At least the Wolfpack's opponent this week is in a similar situation.

The Panthers are unbeaten through three games for the first time since 2000, but that quick start has come against a schedule that includes FCS member Youngstown State and a pair of non-BCS teams in Buffalo and Navy.

"This'll be a step up from a talent level, obviously," Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt said. "I like our mindset of our football team. We've got a very unselfish team, and I think the way our schedule has gone, it's fallen good from the standpoint of Youngstown State, and a little bit better team in Buffalo, and a little bit better team in Navy, and now we will go into the ACC. ... We will find out this week."

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