NC State gets stiff test to No. 23 ranking; next up for Wolfpack _ Virginia Tech

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Natanu Mageo heard screams of joy as he walked to class. R.J. Mattes reads all about it when he checks his Facebook page.

The North Carolina State campus is buzzing about the Wolfpack's unexpected 4-0 start.

With seemingly every victory for N.C. State comes another milestone. Already off to their best start since 2002, the 23rd-ranked Wolfpack find themselves in the Top 25 for the first time since '03.

Now comes the next challenge: Staying there.

And that's why Mattes says he has paid particular attention to the message being preached by offensive coordinator Dana Bible.

"Don't drink the Kool-Aid," the offensive lineman said Monday. "Everybody's going to be coming over to you saying, 'Hey, y'all are great, y'all are good.' ... We're not a bad team, but we're not as good as people are telling us we are."

That humble, middle-of-the-road approach may wind up suiting the Wolfpack well this week when they play host to Virginia Tech. The Hokies were the preseason pick to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, but have stumbled with early losses to No. 3 Boise State and FCS member James Madison.

While it's too soon to order tickets and book hotel rooms for the ACC championship game in Charlotte, it's also hard to blame the Wolfpack faithful for getting carried away with their success.

After all, N.C. State hasn't had this many reasons to brag in a while.

The Wolfpack (4-0, 1-0) won their first four games for the first time since Philip Rivers was a junior in '02. Last week's convincing victory at Georgia Tech propelled them to their first appearance in the national rankings since Rivers' senior year. They have a winning record in ACC play for the first time since Chuck Amato's final team started the league schedule 2-0, then dropped the final seven games of 2006.

That's why Mageo said he and teammate Jarvis Williams were serenaded by someone shouting "4-0" as they walked to class. Or why Mattes said he's seen plenty of Facebook posts that read "4-0" and "Go Wolfpack."

"I don't really think the team's surprised," said Mageo, a defensive tackle. "I know the people are surprised. But going into summer camp, we kind of knew that we were a pretty good team. We just needed to prove it."

They've done so behind the most productive offensive player in the ACC and a defense that has shown a knack for making timely plays.

"They're really an exceptional football team that's playing with a lot of confidence and playing fast, and we're going to have to have a great week to prepare for them," Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.

Russell Wilson leads the league with an average of 299 total yards, and the dual-threat quarterback is the triggerman of the ACC's top passing offense, averaging 289 yards through the air. The defense, ranked in the middle of the pack in both yards and points allowed, has forced nine turnovers — only Maryland (10) has forced more — and is the league's best on third down.

"There's still room for improvement," Mageo said, dismissing concerns about overconfidence. "We need to try not to let the spotlight take us away from our approach to the game, and we still have got to work hard. And it starts from practice on the field to the weight room, and off the field to the classroom. We've still got to maintain our focus."

Coach Tom O'Brien said he gave his players Saturday night to soak up the Georgia Tech win, and expressed pride in the leadership his captains and upperclassmen have shown to this point.

But clearly, this week presents the biggest challenge so far — both tactically, against a Virginia Tech team that is 2-2 but might have the most talent in the ACC, and mentally, with the hoopla that the Wolfpack players are sure to face all week around campus.

"I think that it's all part of them understanding where they are and how they got to this point, and how they have to continue doing what they've done for the past month," O'Brien said. "This team, we'll find out if they're mature enough to handle it or not. The proof won't come until Saturday afternoon."


AP Sports Writer Hank Kurz Jr. in Virginia contributed to this report.