There is a certain symmetry to N.C. State’s football season.
The Wolfpack opened the 2012 season in an NFL stadium against an SEC team from the state of Tennessee and will close the season on Monday in the same fashion.
That’s where N.C. State would like the similarities to end. The Wolfpack sputtered out of the gates with a 35-21 loss to Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta on Aug. 31. The team is hoping to rewrite the ending against Vanderbilt (8-4) in the Music City Bowl.
“The way we look at it, it’s a heckuva chance to see how far we’ve come in,” interim coach Dana Bible said. “We know where we were after we played Tennessee. We’re going to find out where we are after we play Vanderbilt.”
It has been an uneven season for N.C. State (7-5) with a turbulent ending. The Wolfpack beat Florida State, the ACC champion, in October but lost to Virginia, the last-place team in the Coastal Division, in November. Coach Tom O’Brien was fired the day after a 27-10 win over Boston College on Nov. 24.
A week after O’Brien’s dismissal, new coach Dave Doeren was hired. Doeren, who led Northern Illinois to a 12-1 record and the Mid-American Conference title, will be at Monday’s game but only as a spectator.
Bible, O’Brien’s offensive coordinator for 14 years at both Boston College and N.C. State, will be in charge in his first and likely only game as a head coach.
Bible and O’Brien’s other assistants, only one of which (Des Kitchings) will be retained by Doeren, have tried to keep the focus on the Commodores.
Vanderbilt has won six straight under second-year coach James Franklin and blasted Tennessee 41-18 on Nov. 17 for its fifth SEC win of the season.
The Commodores hadn’t won five SEC games since 1935 and hadn’t finished the regular season with a winning record since 1982. Franklin, a former Maryland assistant, has a chance to win nine games in a season, which Vanderbilt hasn’t done since 1915.
“We’ve done some nice things this year but we still have a long ways to go in an unbelievably competitive conference,” Franklin said earlier this month. “We just want to finish this thing out the right way.”
The Commodores have won with defense, especially against the pass, and the combination of running back Zac Stacy (1,034 rushing yards) and receiver Jordan Matthews (87 catches, 1,262 receiving yards).
Vanderbilt ranks 10th in the country in pass defense, yielding an average of 175.8 yards per game, and has allowed only six passing touchdowns this season.
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon, who has thrown for 3,648 yards and 30 touchdowns this season, said the Wolfpack will be ready for Vanderbilt’s defense.
The players want to win for Bible and O’Brien, who led the Wolfpack to bowl wins in 2010 and 2011, and for the 16 seniors playing in their final game.
“It’s our last time together,” Glennon said. “We want to end on a high note for all the right reasons.”