Nothing says more about how a coach feels about his team than the schedule.
N.C. States four-game nonconference schedule against a Conference USA team, a Mid-American Conference team, a Football Championship Subdivision team and East Carolina screams Lets just get to a bowl.
Thats how Tom OBrien set it up for 2013, with eight home games including all four outside of the ACC when he knew he would have to replace quarterback Mike Glennon. The schedule stands as OBriens biggest parting gift to N.C. State fans and new coach Dave Doeren.
Big games dont happen by accident, especially in college football, where nonconference schedules are set three-five years out. When a coach has a team loaded for bear, hell go away from home and play a name-brand team (see Tennessee or Connecticut last year) or even face a good team from a lower-profile conference (see Central Florida in 2010) on the road.
But when a coach knows there could be trouble, the schedule has to be set up to equal six (as in the number of wins to qualify for a bowl).
With only four regular* (thats a different blog post) starters back on both offense and defense, N.C. State will be in transition this season, and more than just on the coaching side.
Other than moving to the Coastal Division, and avoiding Clemson and Florida State, N.C. States schedule could not be more suited for relative success in Doerens first season.
The games on States schedule can be sorted into three categories:
Games: Clemson, @ Florida State
Keep in mind, N.C. State went 16-3 at home the past three seasons under OBrien and beat both Clemson and Florida State on their last trips to Carter-Finley Stadium (and both as top-10 teams).
But the odds of a repeat win against either the Tigers or Seminoles (especially at Florida State) are long.
N.C. State gets Clemson at home for a Thursday night game Sept. 19. The Wolfpack has to travel to Florida State on Oct. 26, one of only two trips out of the state this season.
One key to any success for N.C. State is handling potential lopsided losses to these two teams. If Clemson puts up 60, the Pack will have to forget it and move on to Central Michigan the next week.
If Florida State, which posted a 34-0 shutout in 2011 in Tallahassee, runs up the score to avenge last years loss in Raleigh, then N.C. State has to wet it, wipe it and say goodnight because UNC is next on the schedule.
It happens all the time, and it did last year (UNC to Virginia), but you cant let one loss turn into two and amnesia will be a must for Doerens first team.
2) Must have
Games: Louisiana Tech, Richmond, Central Michigan
If theres any team in a bigger transition than N.C. State its Louisiana Tech, which lost coach Sonny Dykes to Cal and replaced him with Skip Holtz.
The Bulldogs led the country in total offense last season under Dykes but offensive innovation and Skip Holtz arent exactly synonymous. In short, the Bulldogs still will be respectable, but theyre not the team that traded paint with Texas A&M in a 59-57 shootout last season.
Richmond has a history of coming to the Triangle and putting a wrench in the bowl math, but the Spiders still are a FCS team and one N.C. State should not lose to at home.
Central Michigan, which had the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft last season (remember him?), will return to Raleigh for the second time in three years. State handled the Chippewas 38-24 in 2011. The Chips also went 7-6 a year ago, which included a 55-24 loss to Doerens Northern Illinois team. Safe to say, if theres one team Doeren will be ready for, and familiar with, its a MAC opponent.
Games: @ Wake Forest, Syracuse, UNC, @ Duke, @ Boston College, ECU, Maryland
If N.C. State is 3-2 in those games, it will need to win three of these seven to qualify for a bowl.
Keep in mind, while N.C. State was 16-3 the past three seasons at home, it was 6-10 on the road. Also keep in mind, going back to Chuck Amatos final season, N.C. State is 2-18 in division road games.
Theres also the matter of N.C. State typically winning a game it shouldnt and losing one (at least) it shouldnt.
There are not three obvious wins on this list, although Im inclined to go with Wake Forest, Duke and Syracuse, which would put Doerens first team in a bowl.
The ECU and Maryland games will be at home and its not unreasonable to predict a split, although keep in mind the Maryland game is its last in the ACC and the Terps have had a way of winning every meaningful (or quasi-meaningful) game played between the schools this century.
That would leave N.C. State at 7-5 and 3-5 in the ACC. Doeren was surprised the Wolfpack was picked third in the division and so was I (I think Maryland and Boston College will finish ahead of N.C. State in the division), but I can understand why the media couldnt collectively decide on a better viable option behind Clemson and FSU in the division.