The 2016 football season came to a close on Monday night, and it ended on a very positive note. The Pack dispatched SEC foe Vanderbilt 41-17, giving Doeren his second bowl win and finishing the year at 7-6.
The dominant bowl win, coupled with the rivalry game victory in Chapel Hill, provided a great ending to a season which to that point had made us all want to fall on the floor and cry for three straight hours. Both those games displayed the talent and potential that this football team had, but also at times displayed the Pack’s inability to get out of its own way, which was the biggest obstacle this year to a really good season. The first quarter of the bowl game was a disaster as State seemingly did everything they could not to score. The next two quarters though, they rolled and looked like the team we had hoped they would be.
Now Dave Doeren and his football team turn towards next season, which very well could be a make or break year for the fifth season head coach.
The 2017 edition of NC State is going to be arguably the most talented team Doeren has coached. If nobody leaves early to enter the pro ranks, then State will return nine starters on defense including the entire defensive line, which was one of the best in the conference. Think about that defensive line with one more year behind them. Yeah. Four starters will also return on the offensive line to go with a strong group of skill position players and a quarterback that deserved more credit than most people gave him. Player for player, this team is very exciting.
There aren’t a great deal of question marks on the depth chart. This team really should be able to win a lot of games and might be receiving some (relatively) lofty preseason predictions, which will only add to the pressure that Doeren might already be under after a 7-6 season that could have seen double digits wins. The nonsense crap that cost State so dearly so many times this year must be rectified next season. State cannot derp away games they should win like they did this year, Doeren cannot let that happen.
The wildcat is still in the playbook, which is one of the easier issues to deal with. Doeren as the head coach has the power to rip out the pages that have the wildcat sets on them and burn them to a satisfying dust, but he has not done that yet. He has the power to, you know, NOT punt on 4th and 5 from the 34 yard line, but that continues to happen. It wasn’t all poor coaching that made this season excruciating for the largest part of it. A coach didn’t drop a crucial interception or fumble a punt, but junk like faking field goals at Eastern Carolina or garbage red zone play calling must be fixed, because Doeren probably cannot afford to go 6-6 and lose a bunch of close games again next season.
Doeren has received quite a volume of criticism this year, and he probably deserved close to all of it. I’ll be the first to tell you that I was not on board the Doeren train for much of the season, but with the way the season ended and the team he has coming back next year, I’m willing to give him his chance. He’s earned it, but next year has to be different.