The Wolfpack team that will face WVU (9-3) starts only three seniors on each side of the ball, plus its redshirt junior star quarterback, Russell Wilson, who is destined to head to baseball after being a fourth-round draft pick by the Colorado Rockies this past June.
O'Brien is 24-25 in four State seasons, with 5-7, 6-7 and 5-7 records in his first three years. But he said the 2010 performance was more significant for his team's confidence than for him.
"I think it was crucial for the kids," O'Brien said. "If you look at the previous two years, as we turned the program over (from previous Coach Chuck Amato), two years ago we lost 12 players for the year and last season we lost 16 for the year. It forced us to play a lot of young kids.
"Last year, we started 11 different defenses in 12 games, and that, coupled with using walk-ons and freshmen as we turned the program over, that's helped us a lot this year. A lot of guys took a beating last year, but we still won five games; we beat Pittsburgh; we beat North Carolina, a rival."
That set the 2010 tone for the 'Pack, as did wins at UCF and Georgia Tech, sandwiching a Thursday night home triumph over Cincinnati for a 4-0 start. N.C. State has played nine teams that are in 2010 bowls. In the ACC, only Florida State (10) played more postseason-bound foes.
O'Brien said the schedule "caught up with us a bit" as State played three of its final four on the road - Clemson, North Carolina and Maryland. A 14-13 loss at Clemson and a 38-31 defeat at Maryland were large. A win in either of those?
"A point away, a touchdown away, a game away from playing Virginia Tech for the conference championship," O'Brien said of an Atlantic Division title that went to the Seminoles. "It's disappointing sure, but this is still a young team.
"If we made a lineup change this season, it was totally warranted, but because we had to - and that's the first time that's happened to us here."
It's obvious O'Brien regards the Champs Sports Bowl-producing season as the first step toward what he wants for the Wolfpack. Getting to nine wins would be special for State. Only one team in school history, the Philip Rivers-led 11-3 club in 2002, had more than nine victories.
For O'Brien and his aides that made the Boston-to-Raleigh move, it's also the 10th bowl berth in the last 12 years, and eighth eight-win season in a dozen years.
"I think what's overlooked is the fact that these kids, picked at the bottom one-third of the ACC, not picked to be here, won eight games and were playing for a chance to play for the conference championship," O'Brien said. "At the end of the year (after losing at Maryland), people have the tendency to look at the glass as half-empty; you didn't make the championship game.
"Instead, maybe we should look at it as half-full ... what this team accomplished, where it came from, what was expected, and the tough sledding it went through to get to eight wins.
"Other than the Philip Rivers year, there hasn't been a nine-win season since 1994. If we can find a way to beat West Virginia, it's nine wins. Not only that, but it will be the season that kick-started everything for us."
Contact Sports Editor Jack Bogaczyk at ja...@dailymail.com or 304-348-7949.