Northern Illinois is everything N.C. State is not this football season.
The Huskies (9-0) are one of six unbeaten teams in the country and are ranked in the top 25 (No. 18 this week in the BCS). In senior Jordan Lynch, they have one of the best quarterbacks in the country and one of the best offenses.
Meanwhile, N.C. State (3-5) is one of 11 major conference teams winless in conference play.
It would be easy for Dave Doeren to wonder “What if?” about his old team as his new team prepares for a road game against Duke as a double-digit underdog. Despite the juxtaposition of programs, Doeren isn’t interested in a mulligan.
“I’m really happy for them,” Doeren said of NIU. “I don’t look back at all.
“I’m really excited about where I’m at and where we’re going. The people here will see what I’m talking about in time. It’s just a matter of time.”
If the future at N.C. State looks anything like what Northern Illinois has now, the wait will be worth it for the Wolfpack.
Lynch, who helped Doeren win 12 games and the Mid-American Conference title last year, has rushed for 1,150 yards and thrown for 1,871 yards. He has accounted for 31 touchdowns, and the Huskies rank fourth in the country in rushing, with 312.7 yards per game, and seventh in scoring, with 44.2 points per game.
N.C. State, conversely, ranks 50th in rushing and 97th in scoring. The Pack hasn’t hit the 20-point mark in five ACC games, a particularly difficult number to reconcile for today’s game when you consider Duke averages nearly 30 points per ACC game.
In an alternate universe where Doeren stayed at NIU, he would be one of the hottest commodities on the coaching market and likely out of N.C. State’s price range. That’s a point for any restless Wolfpack fan to consider, even if Doeren gets swept by four in-state opponents.
In the same universe, it’s fair to assume Tom O’Brien would not be winless in the ACC. Given O’Brien’s track record, the Wolfpack would have beaten either Clemson at home in September or UNC last week, maybe both (the loss at Wake Forest would have stayed the same).
Back in reality, N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow’s decision to replace O’Brien with Doeren last December was never about this season. Before she hired Doeren, Yow predicted this would be a rebuilding season (and did so in front of the returning players, much to their chagrin). But key injuries, a lack of depth and a lack of execution on offense have “rebuilding” on the edge of disaster.
And make no mistake, under any circumstance, a winless ACC record, which hasn’t happened at N.C. State since 1959, would be nothing short of disaster for Doeren.
Doeren was hired to recruit the necessary talent to win the program’s first ACC title since 1979 and contend for an annual spot in the top 25. That will take time, at least two full recruiting classes, before it’s even in the realm of possibility. The way Florida State and Clemson are going, maybe even longer. Still, Doeren remains undeterred.
“I have no doubt in my mind where it’s going,” Doeren said. “I assume they hired me here because they knew there might some things that needed to be fixed.”
When asked if NIU’s success is why Doeren is so confident, the coach brought up his experience at Kansas. Doeren was a defensive assistant for four seasons with the Jayhawks from 2002 to ’05.
“We were the worst team in college football the first year,” Doeren said.
KU went 2-10 in 2002, including 0-8 in the Big 12. The Jayhawks wins were against a Football Championship Subdivisionteam and a 1-11 Tulsa team. (N.C. State has a win against a FCS team, Louisiana Tech and Central Michigan).
“Five years later, that team beat Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl, so I know where the program is going,” Doeren said.
There isn’t an N.C. State fan who wouldn’t trade a disaster for a major-bowl payoff. It’s up to Doeren to figure out how to make that happen and avoid the full-blown disaster in the season’s final four games if possible.