clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2017 was Doeren’s First Shot at an ACC Title, but it will not be the Last

Doeren’s best years are ahead of him if State wants them

North Carolina v North Carolina State Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

NC State hasn’t won an ACC championship since 1979. There was a wind of cautious optimism that blew into Raleigh this summer about the 2017 team. This was going to be the best football team to wear Wolfpack uniforms since 2002. The dry spell, the prolonged suffering of a fanbase and football program yearning for any kind of nationally relevant success, might finally come to a close. It didn’t.

The optimism was not misguided by any stretch. State had a good team. State competed for an ACC Championship. State came within two plays of beating Clemson. State came within two plays of playing Miami for the long awaited conference crown. But it didn’t.

2017 became where State would fall just short of its goal. This was the best team Dave Doeren had put on the field in Raleigh though. It was his best chance to date to lead the team out of the overpopulated clutter of mediocre college football teams and kick down the door into the upper echelon of the sport. It was his best chance to date to win a conference championship. It didn’t quite happen. Make no mistake here though, it was by no means his last chance.

“The stars had aligned” was a common phrase heard this year. It signifies a belief that this was State’s one chance for a significant chunk of time, and that it would be waiting in irrelevance for several years to get back to a point where it could play for something meaningful. This is a very prominent belief, even if some don’t even know they believe it. This is how us State fans think.

The perfectly undisturbed state of mediocrity that Pack football exists within has trained us to think this way. NC State so rarely competes for conference titles, and essentially never does so in consecutive campaigns, that we’ve subconsciously, or very intentionally, formed the belief that our average program has to wade through the average years to get to our shot. State fans wanted it now. We wanted it this year, and there is no fault to be had in that. I know I wanted it this year. We didn’t get it, but while so many of us look back at what could have been, we miss the fact that State’s chance to be good didn’t just end. It has actually just begun.

This is because Doeren is succeeding in laying a foundation for long term success, something his predecessor never did. As noted, 2017 was Doeren’s first team that competed for the ACC. It was also his first senior class. Every player he had graduated prior to this season, except transfer Jacoby Brissett, was a product of an old regime. Undeniably, the strongest part of a Dave Doeren led football program is its ability to draw talent into the program and develop that talent once it arrives. It was not a coincidence that the most experienced group of Doeren players was the best team in some time.

Thus, Doeren’s biggest impact on State football to this point has been his success in repopulating the roster with better football players. He’s put together strong recruiting classes each year, even if the star ratings don’t always do them justice. The impact of the 2014 class was tremendous on the success of this season, and the Pack has brought in equally compelling classes in the years since.

This is a trend that will continue for State, as evidenced by the 2018 recruiting class. The talent level is not only rising, but it is flowing into the program at a more consistent pace than any point before. This is how State takes its program up a level. The talent infusion Doeren was tasked with instilling is well underway, and the Pack will have the opportunity to reap the benefits of it for years to come if it chooses.

Don’t look back on this team and the stars on it as State’s dream team that couldn’t get the job done. Look at it as an example of what’s to come. If State can continue the trajectory it’s on, nobody will be waiting for the stars to align, because nothing cosmic will be required for State to compete at the highest level of the conference. This is the concept of building the program. It isn’t about hoping to strike gold on that one year where you can make history. It’s about getting to a point where you don’t have to strike gold, and this year was the first step in that.

The coaches have put in the dirty work on the recruiting trail and on the practice field to take the right steps. It’s not fair to them to pretend like this was “the year” and it won’t come again. It will.

Now, If State can take advantage of the opportunities it will create for itself is a perfectly fair thing to be skeptical of. This is a coaching staff that has routinely doused great opportunities in gasoline and willingly handed over the match. That can’t happen, but in the biggest moments it consistently has. I can’t guarantee you that State will actually be able to kick down the door next time it’s as loose on its hinges as it was this year, or the time after that. But State will not wallow in irrelevance within the ACC for years to come. That much is clear.