Dave Doeren’s second year as the head coach of North Carolina State can be summed up in one word: successful. After finishing a mere 3-9 in his first year with the program, Doeren coached his team to a 5 win turnaround, good enough for the second best win improvement from the previous year in the FBS (only behind Mississippi State). The Wolfpack went 3-5 in ACC play after starting the year 4-0 out of conference, and then closed out a successful campaign with a nice win over Central Florida in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl. This huge turnaround could not have been accomplished without the strongly consistent play of junior QB Jacoby Brissett, a transfer from Florida playing in his first year for NC State. He amassed over 2600 passing yards and over 500 rushing yards, with 26 total touchdowns and just 5 interceptions. Brissett’s uncanny ability to evade pressure and make critical plays gave his team the chance to win plenty of games this year, and compete at a fairly high level. NC State started off the season picked to finish 5th out of 7 teams on the ACC Atlantic Division, and finished the season 5th overall, if you look at total record (in and out of ACC play). They were expected to have an average year, with improvement from the one before. In the end, however, they had an above average season, with some impressive play at the finish.
In the nonconference section of State’s schedule, there were not any super challenging games. The Wolfpack wisely scheduled a little easier, seeing as how they would have some difficult games once ACC play set in. They quickly got off to a 4-0 start, taking down Georgia State, Old Dominion, South Florida, and Presbyterian pretty easily. Then, the ACC season started off with a matchup at home against the number 1 team in the nation, Florida State. The Wolfpack started about as strongly as possible, and quickly took a 17 point lead before blowing it in the second half, in the first of many FSU comebacks. They lacked the ability to close the game, and some inexperience showed as a couple of key turnovers turned the momentum away from NC State. After playing so well against such a good opponent, it looked like the Wolfpack was destined for a good season in conference play. However, the next game, at Clemson, was the worst game of the year for State – by far. They were completely manhandled by the Tigers, and lost 41-0. State would later lose to Boston College and at Louisville, both difficult matchups for them. Then, they picked up their first ACC win in nearly two years as they won at Syracuse. This win turned the tides for the young team from Raleigh. After a loss against a faster and better Georgia Tech team, NC State picked up another ACC win in a home game against the dismal Wake Forest Demon Deacons. State dominated this game en route to a 42-13 victory. A couple weeks later came NC State’s signature win of the season, in which they marched into Chapel Hill and dominated the Tarheels, winning by 28 points. This win was the defining moment of the season, and it is what many State fans would say made the season successful. A huge win over their biggest rival was State’s greatest accomplishment. Later, NC State added to the success by winning an exciting game against Central Florida, a 9-3 team at the time, in the St. Petersburg Bowl.
Thus ended a successful season for NC State. Expectations were never too high in Raleigh, but NC State got what they wanted from the football team. After one of the worst seasons in program history, the Wolfpack went 8-5 and won a nice bowl game. They closed out the season winning 4 of their last 5 games, and rode the hot streak to the end. At times they looked overpowered, and at times they looked overpowering, which is what they are hoping for in the future. It is this future that the Wolfpack can now look forward to. They have Brissett for one more season, and should be able to polish him up into one of the better dual threat quarterbacks in the ACC. He is a solid quarterback and possesses many skills as a leader and a player. Around him, the Wolfpack have one of the most balanced offenses in college football. The rushing attack was huge this year, as State, led by Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes, totaled 2659 yards and 26 touchdowns on the ground this year, leading to the best rushing season in school history. Passing, Brissett had 2606 yards and 23 touchdowns. This shows the great balance and ability of both aspects of offense. Another feature, not only of the offense, but of the whole team, is the youth and majority of underclassmen. NC State featured 21 freshmen on a much improved defense by the end of the year. These guys will stick around and make the Wolfpack defense a strong force in the years to come. In fact, 85 of the 117 men on the roster were freshmen and sophomores, which is astounding. These guys will improve a lot with more experience, which was already showing by the end of the season. The Wolfpack also boast a solid recruiting class for the next two years, which will help out even more.
Overall, NC State had a successful season, finishing better than many expected of them. With the second best turnaround in College Football, and a very good and competitive QB to lead the way, as well as tons of young guys with room to improve, there is plenty to look forward to in Raleigh.