RALEIGH, N.C. - The lights seem brighter, the atmosphere more electric and the stakes much greater. It all comes together when the national television cameras focus their lenses on Thursday night football in the ACC.
This week, the stage will be Carter-Finley Stadium when #17 Louisville (4-1, 1-1 ACC) visits the 24th-ranked Wolfpack (4-1, 2-0) at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
The timing for a prime time national showing couldn't have been better for the Wolfpack, which appears in both national polls for the first time since 2010.
It was the potential for games like this that swayed NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb towards returning for his senior year instead of availing himself for the NFL Draft last April.
"I'm hungry for every game," Chubb said, "but these ACC games are the games that I came back for and a lot of guys on this team came back for. We love these big moments, especially here at home. It's going to be a great game."
The spotlight will no doubt be on Chubb trying to track down Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, who's trying to put himself into contention for a second straight Heisman Trophy. Even the most casual of football fans have to relish the opportunity of seeing one of college football's best defensive ends going against perhaps the game's best offensive player.
While Chubb lead the ACC in sacks (5.5) and tackles for loss (11), Jackson tops the league in passing (327.2) and total offense (414.6 per game).
It's a match-up that could be a preview of things to come at the next level.
"He's twitchy, he's fast and he has a great arm," said Chubb. "He's just a great overall athlete and quarterback. He's one of those players you only see every couple of years. We just have to do our jobs and try to contain him."
Jackson first made it known that he would be a force to be reckoned with the last time he played at Carter-Finley in 2015. A freshman at the time, he came off the bench and unleashed a stunning 63-yard touchdown run that set the tone for a 20-13 Louisville victory.
The Pack then got another strong dose of Jackson's magic a year ago when he passed for 355 yards and three scores in a 54-13 Cardinals win.
"He's probably going to be the fastest guy on the field and he's probably going to be the most agile guy on the field," NC State linebacker Airius Moore said. "You have to make sure you leverage the ball and every guy has to run to the ball. He can make video game like plays, so we have to run to the ball and limit that as much as possible."
Last year's meeting between the two teams occurred one week after NC State had suffered a devastating overtime loss at Clemson, an outcome that clearly left psychological scars that lingered on the road trip to Louisville. The Cards took advantage, pouncing on the Pack in what was a non-competitive game from the outset. It was unlike any game NC State played all season.
"I think we're a very different team than we were last year," said Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley. "It speaks to the maturity of our guys and the number of veterans we have on our team. This team has been through a lot. Through fire and adversity, I think that's when you learn. We're at a really good point right now culture-wise and mental-wise. We're just excited to get out there and play."
Finley is certainly in a good place. The redshirt junior has completed 72 percent of his throws for 1,409 yards and nine touchdowns. His streak of 257 passes thrown without an interception dating back to last season is the longest such streak in the nation, and ranks third in ACC history (27 away from second).
With Louisville averaging 575 yards of total offense and 40 points per game, it will be incumbent on the Pack's offense to stay on the field and take advantage of each and every scoring opportunity.
"Getting off to a fast start is definitely important in this game," Finley said. "It's one of Louisville's strengths on offense to put up points early. I definitely don't think we want to get behind and be at their tempo. We want to control the tempo of the game and part of that is getting off to a fast start."
With a win on Thursday, NC State would be off to a 3-0 start in the ACC for the first time since 1994.
Thursday also will mark the eighth time the Wolfpack will clash with a nationally-ranked opponent on Thursday night football. State owns a 4-3 record in such contests.
"This is actually my first Thursday night game," said NC State H-back Jaylen Samuels. "It can't get much better than that, especially at the 'Carter.' I'm really looking forward to it."