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Dave Doeren is building NC State Football

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The Wolfpack is trending in the right direction in all areas

NCAA Football: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Much discussion has been made around Dave Doeren’s contract extension that will keep him in Raleigh through the 2022 season. While Doeren certainly burned a fair amount of goodwill with the fan base, his return is to the overall benefit of the program. From recruiting rankings to advanced metrics to good old fashioned wins, there’s no denying Dave Doeren has the NC State Wolfpack Football program trending in the right direction.

Recruiting

(Recruiting data pulled from Rivals as that is the most complete recruiting database going back to the 2002 season. Also note that recruiting rankings were not available for the 2001 season, Chuck Amato’s first full recruiting class.)

NC State Football Recruiting

Year Coach Overall Rank ACC Rank Commits Average Stars Overall Score Avg Score/Commit 5* 4* 3* < 3*
Year Coach Overall Rank ACC Rank Commits Average Stars Overall Score Avg Score/Commit 5* 4* 3* < 3*
2002 CA 34 4 24 2.75 1338 55.75 1 4 7 12
2003 CA 7 1 28 3.14 1889 67.46 1 6 17 4
2004 CA 28 4 18 2.89 842 46.78 1 3 7 7
2005 CA 27 7 22 2.86 1077 48.95 0 5 9 8
2006 CA 51 9 20 2.45 478 23.90 0 0 9 11
2007 CA/TOB 49 10 25 2.64 565 22.60 0 2 12 11
2008 TOB 31 5 26 2.77 1151 44.27 0 6 10 10
2009 TOB 52 10 27 2.78 618 22.89 0 1 19 7
2010 TOB 34 6 19 3.05 1092 57.47 1 4 9 5
2011 TOB 86 12 20 2.75 134 6.70 0 1 13 6
2012 TOB 53 9 22 2.77 618 28.09 0 0 17 5
2013 TOB/DD 47 9 23 2.83 1425 61.96 0 0 19 4
2014 DD 30 6 31 2.94 1651 53.26 0 3 23 5
2015 DD 35 7 22 2.91 1515 68.86 0 5 10 7
2016 DD 43 8 23 2.83 1453 63.17 0 2 15 6
2017 DD 53 11 20 2.85 1320 66.00 0 2 13 5

The average Recruiting Score per Commitment:

  • Chuck Amato (2002-2006): 48.6
  • Tom O’Brien (2008-2012): 31.9
  • Dave Doeren (2014-2017): 62.8

Transition years were not included since circumstances are (obviously) different and commitments from those years are tougher to distinguish, even if they committed before the coaching change. Although if you want to look at those on the surface (by commitment date), in the 2007 class there were 2 four-stars signed (1 committed to Amato, 1 committed to O'Brien) and 12 three-stars (6 committed to Amato, 6 committed to O'Brien). In the 2013 class there were 0 four-stars signed and 19 three-stars (11 committed to O'Brien, 8 committed to Doeren). But again this gets tricky because often the new coach has to work just as hard to keep the commitment, but doesn’t get credit for it; thus, these were not considered.

I don’t, or at least shouldn’t, need to tell you that recruiting matters. There is a definitive correlation between recruiting rankings and on-field results, but let’s not waste words on the obvious here.

Amato was great at pulling in high end recruits, but focused so much on them that he had to settle for lower end recruits to fill out the remainder of his classes. O’Brien was a very lackluster recruiter who had two above average classes but also produced three of the four worst recruiting classes (by Average Recruiting Score per Commit) of the 14 full recruiting classes among the three coaches. Doeren, on the other hand, has produced three of the four best recruiting classes among those 14 full recruiting classes, not including the current 2018 class which is on pace to be the best of any State class of the last 17 years (best by Average Recruiting Score per Commit, and tied for the best by Average Stars per Commit).

Looking at the high-end recruits (four- and five-star), Chuck Amato brought in 3 five-star recruits and 18 four-star recruits in his five full recruiting classes. Tom O’Brien brought in 1 five-star recruit and 12 four-star recruits in his five full recruiting classes. So far (not including this year's class since it's incomplete, although it is mostly signed, including 5 four-star recruits) Doeren has brought in 0 five-star recruits and 12 four-star recruits (17, counting the 2018 class) in his four full recruiting classes.

Of the three-star recruits, where program depth is truly made for the non-elite Power Five programs, Amato brought in 49 recruits in this category over five full classes, O’Brien brought in 68 in five full classes, and Doeren (thus far) has brought in 61 in four full classes (76, counting the 2018 class that currently has 15 three-star recruits signed or committed).

Looking at recruits of less than three stars, Amato signed 42, O’Brien 33, and Doeren 23 (25, with 2 currently signed for the 2018 class).

So while the high end recruits (four- and five-stars) to this point under Doeren might not quite match what Amato was able to do, he’s not too far behind. Doeren is, however, pulling in the high end recruits better than O'Brien. However, the real indication is when looking at the Average Recruiting Score per Commit among the three coaches.

The quality of the average recruit under Doeren is double that of what it was under O'Brien and nearly 30% higher than under Amato. Additionally, Doeren recruiting classes have (up to this point) consisted of fewer recruits that were graded at less than three-stars (24% for Doeren to 29% for O’Brien and over 37% for Amato).

Again, this doesn’t even count the 2018 recruiting class, which is on pace to be the best recruiting class of the last 17 years for State in terms of average score per commitment (74.00).

Advanced Metrics

With relatively so few games played in college football, it’s beneficial to get a better understanding of how things are really going by looking under the surface. Thankfully, advanced metrics are available and can provide a deeper understanding of performance in a way that is better defined than simple wins-and-losses (although we’ll look at those in the next section).

Looking at the advanced metrics (metrics are all from pre-bowl games), one thing jumps out at you: where in the heck did that 2010 season come from?!

Talk about your outliers.

Anyways, while Amato and O’Brien struggled to establish firm trends (especially in the direction you would prefer to see), Doeren has been able to put State on a path towards continuous year-over-year improvement. That’s no easy feat.

Here are the advanced metrics for Tom O’Brien:

And here are the advanced metrics for Dave Doeren:

A few interesting observations can be made

  • Trendlines on all metrics are improving under Doeren
  • Under O'Brien, only Defense and FEI were trending in the correct direction, and even then at a rate less than any single metric trendline during the Doeren years
  • The last two years under Doeren were the two single toughest years from a SOS standpoint (with a 15-10 overall, 9-7 ACC record), while the last two years under O'Brien were the two single easiest years from a SOS standpoint (with a 15-11, 8-8 record)

There are two other items which can be discussed from looking at the Doeren metrics:

  1. Is the defense truly moving in the right direction? Looking at the numbers, you have to believe that either a) the 2016 defense was an outlier of an over-performing unit, or b) the 2017 defense is an under-performing outlier in an otherwise positive trend. The argument against (a) is that, well, the 2016 defense was really that good. The argument against (b) is that, well, this is a senior-laden defense featuring an all-timer at defensive end; if the defense can’t perform at a high level with this group, will it ever under Dave Huxtable?
  2. Much debate could be had over the decision to fire Matt Canada and bring in Eliah Drinkwitz.

Either way, the 2018 season will go a long way towards providing answers for both of those questions. I’ll let the BTP community discuss these items in the comments.

Wins

At the end of the day, recruiting and advanced metrics don’t mean a dang thing if the wins aren’t there. Let’s take a look at the on-the-field results of Amato, O’Brien, and Doeren.

The argument that is often made - and not necessarily incorrectly so - is that Doeren has produced on the field at the same level as O’Brien. Both O’Brien and Doeren (2017 bowl game pending) produced identical 33-30 overall records through their first five seasons at NC State. O’Brien went 18-22 in ACC games during that time while Doeren is 15-25 in ACC games. For sake of fair comparison, Chuck Amato was 39-23 overall and 20-20 in ACC games in his first five seasons in Raleigh. Amato finished his time at State with a record of 49-37 (25-31 ACC) while O’Brien finished 40-35 (22-26 ACC).

However, possibly the most important factor to keep in mind isn’t necessarily the total number of wins as it is the trendline of those wins. After a rapid rise in the third year of the Chuck Amato era (in that forever-dear-to-us 2002 season), Amato’s win totals took a solid downhill run.

While O’Brien’s trendline was slightly up overall during his tenure, taken into consideration with the above mentioned fact that his last two teams played the two easiest schedules of all the years evaluated and his recruiting was lacking, it was easy to see that O’Brien’s tenure had, at the very best, stagnated. Doeren, meanwhile, has a very apparent upward trajectory on his win totals, both overall and in ACC play.

Conclusions

Each of you are free to draw your own conclusions from the above, but what I gathered from this research is:

  • The end of the Amato era probably wasn’t as bad as it seemed to be at the time, but the decision to move on was still well warranted.
  • O’Brien failed to deliver on stabilizing NC State football and delivering consistently solid teams.
  • Doeren is building the NC State Football program in a way his two immediate predecessors could not. He’s recruiting better overall and trending in the correct direction on-the-field in both wins and in advanced metrics.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will a perennially successful NC State Football program, but Dave Doeren is putting the pieces in place. He’s building something that State hasn’t had in decades... if ever. He’s the right man doing the right job at the right time for NC State Football.