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Who will win the ACC Atlantic Division?

The News & Observer's Joe Giglio previews the ACC Atlantic Division before the start of the 2019 college football season. Clemson will come in first but where will NC State, Wake Forest, FSU, BC, Syracuse and Louisville finish?
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The News & Observer's Joe Giglio previews the ACC Atlantic Division before the start of the 2019 college football season. Clemson will come in first but where will NC State, Wake Forest, FSU, BC, Syracuse and Louisville finish?

A procedural penalty cost N.C. State a chance to beat Clemson in 2017 and with it a chance to win the ACC title.

With a veteran group in 2018, hardened by the Clemson loss and other mental errors, the Wolfpack reduced its penalties by 23 percent last season.

That was by design, coach Dave Doeren said.

“I think the first thing for N.C. State to be a good N.C. State is to not beat N.C. State,” Doeren said. “That’s something I really, really believe in.”

N.C. State’s penalty numbers were down to a six-year low under Doeren in 2018. The Wolfpack was flagged 60 times for 581 yards. In both 2016 and ‘17, N.C. State had 78 penalties.

Notably, an illegal shift penalty on a fourth-down conversion cost the Wolfpack at the end of a 38-31 home loss to Clemson in Nov. 2017. Doeren has emphasized reducing those type of pre-snap procedural penalties.

“There’s going to be combat penalties where you’re straining and you hold a guy and they call it,” Doeren said. “That’s going to happen in football. The ones you can’t have are the pre-snap mental things, the post-snap emotional things.”

A third of N.C. State’s penalties in 2018 were procedural penalties. The offense was flagged 16 times for a false start and twice for a delay of game. Officially, the offense ran 979 plays in 13 games last season. That’s a ratio Doeren can handle.

Thirteen of the Wolfpack’s 60 penalties would fall under the “post-snap emotional things” with the defense accounting for all but one of unsportsmanlike conduct or personal foul penalties. N.C. State finished No. 19 in the country in fewest penalties per game (4.6).

“I think that’s a sign of discipline,” Doeren said. “When people watch our football team, I want them to say that: this is a disciplined team that’s not going to beat themselves.”

NC State coach Dave Doeren talks about the five quarterbacks who could replace Ryan Finley as the Wolfpack's starting quarterback during a media availability Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2019.

With a sixth-year All-ACC quarterback and a fifth-year All-American center, that was easier to do last season. N.C. State had seven games last season with fewer than five penalties. It went 6-1 in those games.

With a new quarterback, new center and two other starters on the offensive line, picking up where the last group left off might be difficult for the Wolfpack this season.

“We did not do well in that area in our scrimmage, I’ll tell you that,” Doeren said. “We had way too many.”

Doeren, who is a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, said he showed his players the clip of a key offsides penalty on the Chiefs from their loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.

“We show those kinds of plays to our players and just how important everything is in the game,” Doeren said. “How one little thing can cost you so much and just not beating us.”

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Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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