Three weeks ago, North Carolina State was 9-0 and No. 10 in the nation.
Three weeks and three losses later, the Wolfpack is back _ in the middle of the pack.
"Of course, the good side for them is they probably could have won all three of them," FSU coach Bobby Bowden said of N.C. State losses to Georgia Tech 24-17, to Maryland 24-21 and to Virginia 14-9.
"It's kind of like us," Bowden said. "Miami, we could have won that (game) as easily as we lost it. Louisville, we could have won as easily as we lost."
So despite the Wolfpack's freefall, Bowden frets about facing it in Raleigh. Quarterback Philip Rivers is the league's top passer (221-of-354 for 2,954 yards, 18 TDs and 10 INTs). Tailback T.A. McLendon is one of the nation's top freshmen (969 yards, 15 TDs). And safety Terrance Holt (87 tackles, 3 INTs, 3 blocked kicks) and middle linebacker Dantonio Burnette (120 tackles, 17 for a loss, 8 sacks) lead the league's top defense.
N.C. State's coach is former longtime FSU assistant Chuck Amato, who engineered an upset win in Tallahassee last season. No other ACC team had won a league game in Doak Campbell Stadium.
"He'd been here 18 years with our defensive coordinator (Mickey Andrews); he should know everything Mickey's thinking," Bowden said. "He'll have a good plan."
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: PATRICK NEWTON
Senior Patrick Newton noticed that the North Carolina kick return blockers weren't setting up deep and suggested to the coaches that he could sneak in behind them.
"The way we've been doing it, I'm supposed to contain; I'm not actually supposed to come around the corner like that," he said. "The coaches said, "Okay, if you think you make it, go.' "
Did he ever. Newton, 5 feet 9 and 180 pounds, plowed into UNC returner Wallace Wright's stomach, grabbed both his legs and lifted him off the ground as he dropped him.
"I heard the crowd," Newton said. "That's the best tackle I've had."
He was rewarded with the "Big Stick," a team award for his outstanding play.
Not bad for a former walkon from Shorecrest High who earned a scholarship and now is the special teams captain. For the season, he has 18 tackles, 14 solo, and has recovered one fumble.
"It's kind of like a dream come true; a dream I never had, really," he said.
Newton nearly gave up the game. He sustained two concussions last season and missed three games. He had decided that if he got a third, he would quit.
"I have a lot of years ahead of me after college football," he said.
But he avoided another concussion and has played on as enthusiastically as he did when he first impressed the coaches in the practices leading up to the 2000 Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech.
"We were woking on punt protection and Patrick got everybody's respect on the team that day," defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews said. "He was the one coming in, laying out, diving on that turf. His chest looked like he slid on concrete, but he kept going in, kept laying out. He's just a guy with great courage, great desire. . . . He's a tough, tough young man."
"He helped design the Florida State defense, so he also knows the weak points. I think we're going to see some of the same things we saw last year: the flare passes, the quick slants to the tight end, the motion. He's going to try to spread us out . . . and use our speed against us."
_ Kendyll Pope
FSU linebacker on N.C. State coach and former longtime FSU assistant Chuck Amato.
N.C. State quarterback Philip Rivers' lightning-quick release and pinpoint accuracy proved to be the difference in the Wolfpack's 34-28 win against FSU last season. It was the Seminoles' first home loss in ACC play. But despite Rivers' 26-of-33 passing for 245 yards in that game, he has fared worse against FSU than virtually any other ACC team:
Opponent G Com Att Yds (Avg) TDs INTs
Duke 3 71 109 928 309.3 9 1
Clemson 3 60 118 809 269.7 7 2
Georgia Tech 3 61 107 762 254.0 5 5
Maryland 3 67 118 755 251.7 5 3
Virginia 3 74 122 719 240.6 0 3
North Carolina 3 53 93 678 226.0 3 1
FSU 2 43 73 395 197.5 1 4
Wake Forest 3 51 88 542 180.7 3 0
Bobby Bowden has taken some heat about not going for two against Miami, then Notre Dame. Last weekend against North Carolina, he and his staff eschewed the PAT after taking a 26-7 late in the third quarter.
"I wish I hadn't," Bowden said. "When we met with our staff Friday to go over the game plan, I said, "Who's got that daggum 2-point chart?' There's a chart (that suggests), go for it, don't go for it. But that chart's wrong a lot of the times. I said, "Who's got that chart? Don't let that thing slip up. I get questions about that every week.' So, when they decided to go for two, I'm thinking, "I'd still rather go for one.' . . . You can lose them going for two."