RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina State accepted a bid Tuesday to play in the Gator Bowl, the school's third straight postseason game in Florida under coach Chuck Amato.
The No. 21 Wolfpack (10-3) will play either the winner of the Pittsburgh-West Virginia game this weekend or Notre Dame. N.C. State lost to the Panthers 34-19 in last year's Tangerine Bowl.
The Wolfpack were likely ticketed for the Peach Bowl, but a 17-7 win over ACC champion Florida State on Saturday upped their stock in the eyes of Gator Bowl officials.
After a series of meetings Monday, the Gator Bowl decided not to wait to pick among N.C. State, Maryland and Virginia and invited the Wolfpack to the New Year's Day game instead of the Terrapins or Cavaliers - two teams that beat N.C. State a few weeks ago - and who have games left this weekend.
"Most of you people don't realize how important that win over Florida State was," Amato said.
The Gator Bowl will give Amato another opportunity to recruit in Florida, a state where the Wolfpack coach has lured some top talent to Raleigh. In his three seasons, N.C. State's bowl games will have been in Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville.
N.C. State's last trip to the Gator Bowl was in 1992, a 27-10 loss to Florida.
"It's another way of getting free advertising for your university in a state that has a lot of numbers," Amato said. "It gives us exposure for seven or eight days."
The New Year's Day game also gives his rising program more credibility in recruiting circles.
"It's all part of building a program," Amato said. "It's all part of getting one step closer to the ultimate. It's all part of being able to walk into a young man's home and say, `Look at what we've done since we've been here and every time it's a little bit better.'
"It makes things a little easier because they know you're doing something right. We still have a way to go, but if we can continue to have senior classes like this senior class was this year, we'll be in a bowl forever and ever."
Some of the Wolfpack seniors were surprised by the pick, saying they were chanting `A.T.L., A.T.L.' in the locker room after beating the Seminoles, thinking they were headed to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
"This is a great honor for our team," linebacker Dantonio Burnette said. "A lot of teams don't have a chance to play an extra game."
Amato and athletic director Lee Fowler made a visit to Tangerine Bowl officials last year to lobby for a bid, but no such exchange took place this year between N.C. State officials and the Gator Bowl.
In the end, the Gator Bowl made the early selection because it believed N.C. State was the most attractive team to select.
"We're 15 points away from being undefeated," Amato said. "Don't lose sight of that."