Luke DeCock

Nine wins well within reach for Wolfpack

N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren yells to his team during N.C. State football's first spring practice at the Dail football practice complex in Raleighon March 3.
N.C. State head coach Dave Doeren yells to his team during N.C. State football's first spring practice at the Dail football practice complex in Raleighon March 3. ehyman@newsobserver.com

It took Tom O’Brien four years to win nine games at N.C. State, and it took Chuck Amato three years, and it took Mike O’Cain two. As Dave Doeren enters his third season at N.C. State, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t get there as well, in roughly the same time frame as his three predecessors.

That’s where the bar is set for the Wolfpack this season: Nine wins, at a minimum, with third place in the Atlantic Division eminently attainable. Ten wins and a solid, attractive bowl game are within reach – and with an upset or two and some help elsewhere, perhaps even a very slim shot at the division title.

Either way, with what should be four guaranteed nonconference wins to open the season against Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion and South Alabama – which sounds like the roster of teams at a low-grade holiday basketball tournament in some wind-blown beach town otherwise shut down for the winter – N.C. State is in prime position to make another leap forward in the win column.

Other than the games against Florida State and Clemson, which mercifully do not fall in consecutive weeks this season, a Friday night visit to Virginia Tech looms as the Wolfpack’s toughest test. N.C. State gets Louisville, Syracuse and North Carolina at home, and its other ACC road games are at Wake Forest and Boston College – certainly very winnable if all goes well for the Wolfpack.

The schedule isn’t the only thing that points in N.C. State’s favor this season. Over his first two seasons, while waiting 11 games for his first ACC win, Doeren wasn’t shy to point out some of his team’s shortcomings. Many of them have been rectified, some even before the end of last season, which concluded with a road drubbing of North Carolina and a bowl victory over Central Florida.

Doeren, last season, took pains to point out N.C. State’s lack of redshirt seniors and preseason all-ACC players. The Wolfpack has six redshirt senior starters and one preseason all-ACC player, even if Shadrach Thornton will be suspended for the first two games of the season. Perhaps more important, Doeren lauded the leadership of his underclassmen this August. That matters.

Doeren, during his first season, lamented the inconsistency and inaccuracy of his quarterbacks. This year, he has a returning starter in senior Jacoby Brissett for whom the sky is the limit and is surrounded by weapons such as Thornton (eventually) and freshman Nyheim Hines of Garner, who could be a breakout ACC star.

Doeren, after his debut in 2013, complained about Carter-Finley Stadium being empty in the third quarter as fans filtered back in from the parking lots. That hasn’t changed. N.C. State hasn’t altered its pass-out policy – although if this team plays up to its potential, fans will have every reason to hurry back in after halftime.

Across the board, reasons why the Wolfpack couldn’t win have become reasons why the Wolfpack can win. There’s even a new indoor practice facility sitting across the parking from Carter-Finley, a tangible sign of progress to go with last season’s 8-5 record.

Between Brissett, the new freshman skill players and a defense that returns eight starters, this is unquestionably the most talented roster Doeren has had. The schedule is unquestionably the most favorable. In-state recruiting has been a tremendous success, at least in terms of ratings and rankings. It’s time to put it all together on the field.

Three years in, this is where you expect to see progress where it matters. There’s no reason why the Wolfpack can’t do that. Nine wins is realistic and 10 wins aren’t out of reach, but eight should be expected, and there’s no excuse for anything less.

DeCock: ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock, 919-829-8947

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