The second half of the schedule has given each of Dave Doeren’s first six N.C. State teams more problems than the first.
The Wolfpack has started 5-1 in each of the past two seasons under Doeren, and it has been at least .500 after the first six games every year under Doeren. Last season was the first time one of Doeren’s teams won more games than it lost (4-2) over the final six games of a regular season.
A big part of the problem has been scheduling. Doeren’s teams have done well against teams outside the ACC early in the season. Then when the heart of the ACC schedule hits in October and November, the struggles begin. Despite going 11-5 in ACC play the past two years, Doeren’s conference record is 20-28 after six seasons.
Key injuries haven’t helped, either. The loss of running back Matt Dayes affected the end of the 2015 season, and running back Nyheim Hines was banged up for the Wolfpack’s most important losses in 2017.
N.C. State will hit the second half of the 2019 schedule with a disjointed break in October. The ACC and N.C. State have an unofficial agreement to avoid a home game for the Wolfpack during the State Fair, which covers two Saturdays every October.
The Wolfpack only has two total games in the month of October and no home games on a Saturday. It has an open date on the first Saturday of the month and the Thursday night game with Syracuse is Oct. 10. The Fair starts a week later across the street from Carter-Finley Stadium.
On Oct. 19, State goes to Boston College and then closes the month with its second open date of the season (there are two this season due to where Labor Day falls on the calendar).
After the trip to BC, the Wolfpack plays at Wake Forest on the first Saturday of November. So N.C. State will have a home Saturday game on Sept. 21 and then not another until Nov. 9 (Clemson).
A look at how the second half of the season breaks down:
At Boston College
Date: Oct. 19
Time: TBA. TV: TBA
Series: Boston College leads 9-7 (last meeting: 28-23 win, 2018, Raleigh)
N.C. State has won its past two games at Boston College and three of the past four overall meetings. That’s significant progress for the Wolfpack, which lost seven of the first 10 ACC meetings with the Eagles.
Like Doeren, BC coach Steve Addazio is in Year 7. Unlike Doeren, Addazio hasn’t found a way to win more than seven games in a season. He had his best team a year ago, and it closed what was once a promising season with three consecutive losses and had the bowl game canceled by lightning.
Like N.C. State, the Eagles are in a transition phase this season with newcomers all along both lines. If running back A.J. Dillon can stay healthy, the Eagles should be treading the same waters as N.C. State, Wake Forest and Florida State on the Atlantic Division side.
Without Dillon (who missed the loss at N.C. State last year), the Eagles could be tracking closer to the five-win range.
At Wake Forest
Date: Nov. 2
Time: TBA. TV: TBA
Series: N.C. State leads 66-40-6 (last meeting: 27-23 loss, 2018, Raleigh)
Every N.C. State fan either just screamed, stopped reading or both at the words “Wake Forest.”
That’s because losses in winnable games against Wake Forest have prevented the Wolfpack from reaching the 10-win plateau in each of the past two seasons.
The loss in Winston-Salem in 2017 hurt. The loss in Raleigh last year was somehow even worse. For the most part, the home team wins in this series. The Demon Deacons had won only once at Carter-Finley Stadium since 1984 and that was by arguably the best Wake team in school history (in 2006) against an N.C. State team that finished the season 3-9.
To make matters worse for the Wolfpack faithful, N.C. State was a three-touchdown favorite, ranked No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings and in position to make a major New Year’s bowl for the first time in school history.
And ... Wake was down to its backup quarterback, a freshman making his first start.
And ... Wake was down 23-13 in the fourth quarter until said freshman quarterback (Jamie Newman) rallied the Deacs to a 27-23 win.
All of this is a long way of saying, N.C. State has miserable luck when it comes to the Deacs (and that Dave Clawson is an excellent coach). There’s no real reason to believe that will change in Winston-Salem where N.C. State has won once (2015) since 2001.
Date: Nov. 9
Time: TBA. TV: TBA
Series: Clemson leads 58-28-1 (last meeting: 41-7 loss, 2018, Clemson, S.C.)
The good news: N.C. State played well enough against the Tigers in 2016 (an epic 24-17 road loss) and 2017 (a 38-31 home loss) to get their attention.
The bad news: Fully focused and locked in on the Wolfpack, after those close calls in the previous two years, the Tigers shredded the Wolfpack 41-7 last year in Death Valley. Precocious Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence put on a laser show in what turned out to be a precursor for what the Tigers would do to Alabama in the national title game.
For N.C. State, after two years of coming so close, it was a large step back. Terrifyingly enough, Clemson will be better this season on offense with Lawrence a year older and the supporting cast back basically in tact.
Date: Nov. 16
Time: TBA. TV: TBA
Series: Louisville leads 6-3 (last meeting: 52-10 win, 2018, Louisville, Ky.)
This is typically a good spot to catch N.C. State (after the Clemson game), but this is not an ACC game the Wolfpack can afford to lose.
Louisville has to start over after Bobby Petrino’s second go-round predictably left the program in ashes. After losing seven games by 30 points or more, the Cardinals will almost certainly show more fight under new coach Scott Satterfield this season.
That doesn’t mean the talent isn’t magically going to revert to a 2016 level for the Cards. This is a massive rebuilding project for Satterfield, who hired former N.C. State offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford to run the offense.
At Georgia Tech
Date: Nov. 21
Time: 8 p.m. TV: ESPN.
Series: Georgia Tech leads 19-10 (last meeting: 56-23 loss, 2014, Raleigh)
How the ACC managed to set up a short turnaround in a season with two open dates is somewhat perplexing. The Pac-12 actually has a league rule against teams playing on short rest. The ACC should follow suit.
The Yellow Jackets host Virginia Tech the Saturday before this Thursday night tilt in Atlanta. Who knows what the Jackets will look like by November under first-year coach Geoff Collins. The option offense is back on moth balls with Paul Johnson’s exit. Collins, who was Temple’s coach last season, will have a difficult transition, but this could be a danger spot for the Wolfpack.
Back when these teams played annually (pre-2004), the Jackets were a regular thorn in the Wolfpack’s side. Chuck Amato’s best team (9-0 in 2002) notably had its perfect season ruined by a perfectly average Chan Gailey outfit.
Doeren’s just 2-4 in the rotating Coastal crossover games, including a home loss to GT in 2014.
Date: Nov. 30
Time: TBA. TV: TBA
Series: UNC leads 66-36-6 (last meeting: 34-28 win, 2018, Chapel Hill)
Mack Brown lost his first five games to N.C. State. Then Dick Sheridan resigned before the 1993 season and Brown won five in a row as the Tar Heels went on a seven-game winning streak to close out the decade.
Twenty-plus years later, Brown returns to UNC and this rivalry has completely changed since his exit. N.C. State has won nine of the past 12 meetings.
Doeren has won three in a row and has a 4-2 mark against the Heels. Oddly enough, both of the losses (in 2013 and ‘15) were in Raleigh.
There’s a chance the Heels could collapse under the weight of their early difficult schedule. There’s also a chance they could catch fire in the second half of the season. Either way, this series has a tendency to zig when you expect it to zag.