JACKSONVILLE, FLA. – The list of accomplishments the 2018 NC State football team has already achieved both as a whole and individually is a long one. But there is one main goal left that each of the Pack’s players and staff are aiming for in the 2018 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl.
With one final game left in the 2018 campaign, the Wolfpack is out to accomplish an achievement reached only one previous time in the 126-year history of NC State football: to finish the season with a double digit win total.
Currently sitting with nine wins entering the final game of the season, the 2018 NC State team with a win in the bowl game would post the second-most wins in school history only behind the 11 won by the 2002 team.
NC State goes for win No. 10 against #21 Texas A&M on Monday, Dec. 31 at 7:30 p.m. from Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field. The game will be televised by ESPN.
“I absolutely feel like we are in an elite bowl,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said at the bowl announcement. “A lot of conversations with different people through the week we are excited to be in the Gator Bowl as one of the ones we were all hoping we would get and appreciative, very appreciative, that they chose us to be in it. I know our team is excited.”
NC State will be making its fifth-straight bowl appearance in the 2018 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl – the 32nd appearance in school history. The Wolfpack has played in three previous Gator Bowls – including its first bowl game in 1947, in 1992 and perhaps its most exciting bowl game in 2002.
In NC State’s last trip to Jacksonville for the Gator Bowl, the 2002 squad posted one of the biggest wins in school history in defeating Notre Dame, 28-6. That win set a school record with the 11th win of the season – the only season in NC State history to end with double digit victories.
That year in Jacksonville, NC State defeated the favored Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, 28-6, in front of a sellout (and predominantly red) crowd of 73,491 to finish off a memorable season. The victory gave NC State its school-record 11th win of the season and the No. 12 spot in the final AP poll.
This marks the second-longest bowl streak in school history, trailing only the seven-bowl streak from 1988-94. That streak was split between the tenure of head coaches Dick Sheridan and Mike O’Cain. Current Wolfpack head coach Dave Doeren is tied with Sheridan as the only coach in school history to take a team to five straight bowl games.
If the Wolfpack were to win the bowl game, it would mark the first time in school history NC State has won three consecutive bowl games.
Among the individual accolades this season, the Wolfpack placed six players on the All-ACC first team. That mark led all ACC schools for 2018, and was the second-highest tally in school history and the most for NC State since 1992.
The Wolfpack’s offense is one of only two schools in all of the FBS (Oklahoma) to feature a 3,000-yard passer (Ryan Finley), 1,000-yard rusher (Reggie Gallaspy, Jr.) and a pair of 1,000-yard receivers (Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers).
Center Garrett Bradbury led the way for the Pack for individual accolades, as he was named the 2018 Rimington Trophy winner, given annually to the top collegiate center. He was also named a consensus All-American.
Three individual set new season records: Gallaspy for single-season touchdowns (19), Meyers for single-season receptions (89) and PK Christopher Dunn for single-season field goals made (21).
The opposing sideline will feature a familiar face in former Florida State and first-year Aggies head coach Jimbo Fisher.
Texas A&M enters with a mark of 8-4, and 5-3 in SEC play which was second-best in the SEC West. The Aggies won their last three games against ranked foes this season: 20-14 over #13 Kentucky, 41-20 vs. #25 UAB and in their last game 74-72 in seven OTs vs. #8 LSU.
RB Trayveon Williams was named the SEC Back of the Year. He posted SEC-bests of 1,524 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns this season. He has reached the century mark eight times, and gone over 200 yards twice.
Williams was named a second-team All-American by the Sporting News, while teammates Braden Mann and Jace Sternberger garnered first-time honors. Mann leads the FBS with a 51.2 punting average and won the Ray Guy Award as the top collegiate punter. Sternberger leads the country in receiving yards (804) and touchdowns (10) by a tight end.
“(I’m) very excited to be in the Gator Bowl and to be coaching against a great staff and a great university,” said Doeren. “I think it is going to be probably both of us looking at each other what we do different than we used to and who the players are doing it match up wise.”
NC State will be without the services of a pair of player as well as a pair of assistant coaches. WR Kelvin Harmon and LB Germaine Pratt will both skip the bowl game to prepare for the upcoming NFL Draft. Offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz and offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford have already accepted jobs at other schools.
Running backs coach Des Kitchings and wide receivers coach George McDonald were elevated to co-offensive coordinators back in mid-December.