RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -Last season, North Carolina State had the look of a team going nowhere until its off week. The Wolfpack emerged from that break with a surge that got the team within a victory of bowl eligibility.
N.C. State is hoping for a repeat performance, starting Thursday night against Florida State in a game that both teams need to keep up in their Atlantic Coast Conference division race.
The Wolfpack (2-4, 0-2) has lost two straight games and is the only winless team in the Atlantic Division, while the Seminoles (4-1, 1-1) suffered their only loss to division leader Wake Forest and trail by essentially two games when factoring in the head-to-head tiebreaker. The game also marks the return for former Wolfpack coach and Seminoles assistant Chuck Amato to Carter-Finley Stadium, where he spent seven seasons leading N.C. State's program.
ism considering last year's late-season push. N.C. State lost five of six games to open Tom O'Brien's tenure heading into its week off, but used that break to work on fundamentals and correct recurring problems. His team then won four straight games to even its record before losing to Wake Forest and Maryland to close the year.
The Wolfpack's past two games were a lopsided loss to ranked South Florida and a 38-31 home loss to Boston College in which N.C. State gave up 578 total yards and the winning touchdown in the final seconds.
``We went back and certainly we didn't have as much time as a year ago, but you go back and through every snap you've taken and you look at every player that's taken that snap,'' O'Brien said of this year's off week. ``The key is trying to figure out if you're doing the best for the football team you have, that you're asking them to do things they're capable of doing. You take that from there and build on it.''
Amato's return also adds spice to a series that has seen the Wolfpack take four of seven meetings. He compiled a 49-37 record with five bowl appearances before being fired at the end of the 2006 season, leading to O'Brien's hiring from Boston College.
me of his former players figure to have an emotional response to seeing him on the opposite sideline, though it's not quite the same as last year when they met as opponents in Tallahassee for the first time.
``We haven't talked about it and we're not making it a big deal,'' sophomore receiver Jarvis Williams said. ``I'm sure our fans are going to be enthused with it being Coach Amato, someone who recruited half the team that's still here. We just know we have to come with it because he's going to come with it on his side of the ball.''
Both teams will have to contend with mobile quarterbacks on the other side. Florida State's Christian Ponder is coming off a 144-yard rushing day - second most by an FSU quarterback - in the win against Miami, while N.C. State redshirt freshman Russell Wilson is coming off a solid day against BC.
``This kid (Wilson) is the mother of all running quarterbacks,'' Florida State coach Bobby Bowden said. ``He is something else. He's got a great arm and can run like a scolded dog. He can really run. Scares me to death.''
Florida State, coming off wins against Colorado and the Hurricanes, has lost its past two Thursday night games, including two years ago to the Wolfpack here. The Seminoles would love to get the win before playing five of six games at home to close the year, starting next week against ACC Coastal Division leader Virginia Tech.
practice and we got a little rest, so we should come out and really do well this game,'' Ponder said. ``We know what we're doing and we've just got to relax and play.''
Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.

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