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2017 NC State football: a glimpse at the schedule ahead

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It's not going to be appreciably easier--and perhaps it will be harder--for Dave Doeren to break through next year.

Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Prior to the 2016 campaign, it was consensus among the denizens of BTP that a six or seven-win season would be acceptable given the rise in schedule difficulty and the vagaries of breaking in a new starter at QB. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know that the schedule didn't get as much tougher as expected in the nonconference portion due to East Carolina and Notre Dame having terrible seasons. That, and the excruciating manner in which the Pack plodded to 6-6 amidst so many missed opportunities, left the final mark feeling fairly unsatisfying.

Along with the "just get bowl eligible against this schedule and it's a pretty good year" notion of 2016, a common refrain I've seen, and propagated myself, is that 2017 should be the year Dave Doeren breaks through because the schedule eases up a bit, and, for the first time in his brief tenure, Doeren will have a veteran team.

The veteran team part holds up—NC State will return a lot of starters—but next year's nonconference schedule may actually look tougher "on paper" than this season's slate, especially considering how the Irish and Pirates underperformed. DeShone Kizer has announced his intentions of entering the NFL draft, but it's still hard to imagine that Notre Dame won't be improved in 2017. And State has to go to South Bend. South Carolina, at a neutral site, is a step up from a home game against Old Dominion in both talent and conference affiliation if not actual on-field footballing results. Furman and Marshall should be gimmes, but then again ECU should've been as well.

As State is no lock for 4-0 in nonconference games, improvement will need to come in league play. A couple of weeks ago, a road test against Matt Canada's explosive offense would not have seemed to be any sort of step down in comparison to this year's tilt with Miami in the rotating Coastal Division opponent portion of the schedule. However, Canada took the money and ran to LSU, thank goodness, and his quarterback, Nathan Peterman, is a senior. Adding to the fortuitous turns for the Pack is James Conner's intention to enter the NFL draft.

The Pitt game is looking a lot more winnable. Perhaps State goes 4-1 against the rotating part of the schedule rather than the 3-2 it posted this year. That would go a long way in the march to eight or nine wins and the removal of the "hot seat" tag from Doeren.

Here's a handy chart showing the rotating portion of the '16 and '17 schedules. I used Sagarin ratings since they include FCS teams. The bottom line is that each year includes three top 100 teams. All of the top 100 opponents were at home this year; none of them will be next year. Things aren't getting easier, but 4-1 still doesn't seem like too much to ask.

2016 Opponent

Record/Sagarin Rating

2017 Opponent

Record/Sagarin Rating

East Carolina

3-9/120th

Furman

3-8/148th

Notre Dame

4-8/57th

Marshall

3-9/160th

Old Dominion

9-3/82nd

Notre Dame

4-8, 57th

William & Mary

5-6/177th

South Carolina

6-6/84th

Rotating ACC Opponent

Record/Sagarin Rating

Rotating ACC Opponent

Record/Sagarin Rating

Miami

8-4/20th

Pittsburgh

8-4/27th

As for the conference slate, a lot will depend on early entrants, or lack thereof, in the NFL draft. State will get Clemson at home, but will it be a Tigers team with or without Deshaun Watson? State will get Louisville at home, but Lamar Jackson will be back. Will it be early season Ville or late swoon Ville? State will have to travel to an FSU team that was firing on all cylinders by year's end. Will juniors Dalvin Cook and Rod Johnson, a three-year starter at left tackle, be back? Could State see its own early-entry attrition from Bradley Chubb (and/or others)? Regardless, it's hard to imagine State being favored in any of these games (of course they nearly won two of three this year as dogs, so who knows).

Rounding out the Atlantic slate is a home game against improving but certainly not intimidating Syracuse and roadies at Boston College and Wake Forest. The only time State swept BC and Wake on the road in the same season was 2015. Actually, that's the only time the Pack beat either of them away from home since BC joined the league. Yikes. But you've pretty much got to sweep these three and go 4-1 against the rotating part of the schedule to get to eight wins.

And of course we cannot forget our old friends from Chapel Hill. UNC loses four senior starters on offense, including the much beloved Ryan Switzer, and Mitch Trubisky is nearly a lock to leave early as a projected first round pick (perhaps even first overall). Elijah Hood could jump as well. It's unlikely the Heel defense suddenly becomes physical against the run. This one's in Raleigh. We gon win. (Yes, I am ignoring that we've been alternating winning on the road and losing at home in this series). So, there's your eighth win without needing any major upsets.

Of course that eighth win is assuming a 7-1 mark against noncons, Pitt, BC, Cuse, and Wake. That's a lot to assume. I do think it's a safe assumption that the Pack faithful won't be as forgiving with 6-6 next year regardless of what the schedule looks like in hindsight.