N.C. State “won” the NFL draft, definitely among ACC teams and maybe even the whole country if you grade on an Alabama curve.
That’s undoubtedly a good thing for the Wolfpack program and coach Dave Doeren.
College football is all about recruiting and thanks to the NFL’s elongated 72-hour format — and three-month build-up — the draft was a free infomercial for N.C. State football.
Given that five of N.C. State’s school-record seven draft picks were rated as three stars (including defensive end Bradley Chubb, a top-5 pick) coming out of high school, Doeren and his staff have proven they can both identify and develop top talent. That’s a win for State, no matter what.
But only Alabama (with 12) had more players drafted than N.C. State. The Crimson Tide (13-1) won the national title. The Wolfpack went 9-4 in 2017.
So did N.C. State win enough with its talent? The answer is both yes and no.
Rare top 25 finish
N.C. State finished No. 23 in the AP poll. When Doeren was hired in 2012, after Tom O’Brien went a respectable 15-10 in his final two seasons, Doeren was directed to build the Wolfpack into a top-25 program.
In Year 5, Doeren did that. In some corners of the SEC (or ACC), just getting into the top 25 is a relatively low bar. Consider, though, the AP poll has been around since 1936. That’s 82 seasons of college football. N.C. State has finished ranked in the final AP poll only 12 other times.
So only 15.8 percent of the time, the Wolfpack has finished a season (most recently in 2010) ranked. If you have one of those seasons in Raleigh, you have beaten the odds.
N.C. State went 6-2 in the ACC. It beat Florida State (27-21), Syracuse (33-25), Louisville (39-25), Pittsburgh (35-17), Boston College (17-14) and North Carolina (33-21) with losses to Clemson (38-31) and Wake Forest (30-24).
The first time the ACC schedule included six games was 1956. That’s 62 seasons of college football. N.C. State has won six ACC games only five other times (and never more). So only 9.7 percent of the time, the Wolfpack has won six ACC games. The last time N.C. State had won six ACC games was 1994.
Again, if you have one of those seasons, you did something right.
There was more to be had
As good as N.C. State was in 2017, an 11-2 finish, with New Year’s Six bowl, feels a lot different. (Heck, take out a mindless illegal-shift penalty late in the Clemson loss and maybe the school’s celebrating its first ACC title since 1979.)
Either way, the players knew there was more to be had.
“It’s not what we wanted, but hey, sometimes you don’t get what you want in life,” linebacker Airius Moore memorably said after the 33-21 win over UNC to close out the regular season.
There isn’t a person in the Murphy Center who thinks they should have lost to South Carolina or Wake Forest.
The Wolfpack dominated South Carolina in total yardage (504 to 246) and first downs (29 to 12) yet still found a way to lose the season-opener 35-28 in Charlotte.
The suspension of right tackle Will Richardson, a third-round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, proved costly in that game.
N.C. State similarly statistically dominated the Demon Deacons in a late-season loss in Winston-Salem with a 502-334 yardage advantage and 28 first downs (compared to 18 for the Deacs).
An excruciating fumble at the goal line, with 1:31 left in the game, hurt N.C. State but Wake quarterback John Wolford attempted 28 passes and wasn’t sacked once. Keep in mind, all four of N.C. State’s starting defensive linemen were drafted in the first four rounds.
That’s all a long way of saying, N.C. State had a good season but the draft was better.