Yes, I am writing about a sport that won’t be in season for almost seven months. What am I supposed to do, talk about that other sport with the ring thing and the round ball? Nah, I’ve never heard of such a sport.
Dave Doeren’s crew had an up and down 2016, with most of the up coming at the end of the season in the final two games. Carrying this momentum into the offseason and combining that with a roster that returns almost everyone has the Pack at least appearing in a much better position than it seemed they would be for the most of the year. State must capitalize on this opportunity. This coming year must be the year for the program to take a measurable forward step. Last year’s team had a chance to do that, but kept inconveniently placing roadblocks in front of itself at every possible juncture. If next year’s team can avoid doing this, they have a chance to win a lot of games.
How many games is enough games though? What is the minimum that needs to happen for this year to actually be considered a success, and to actually be able to say that the program took a forward step?
The South Carolina game, which opens the season on September 2, feels like the x-factor for this year. This is a big stage against a team which would be not be a stretch to call bad. The game feels like the kind of game that old fashioned NC State would lose, so it should be a good early test to see if this team can actually be different. Marshall and Furman follow South Carolina and let’s not imagine a scenario where State drops either one of those games. If the Pack isn’t starting the season 3-0, it will be behind schedule.
Having a winning conference record and a victory over a ranked opponent would be indicative of progress, as both these things have never happened in the Dave Doeren era. Louisville at home is the best chance to get a real groundbreaking win. Being that it’s a Thursday nighter, it should have a more national audience, so there is some added benefit to winning this one. Clemson, despite the players they have to replace, seems like a tough sell and a road game in Tallahassee is probably even tougher, But State almost beat both these teams last year so who really knows?
Win one of these games, sweep the threesome of Syracuse, Wake Forest, and Boston College, and then win a home game over a likely regressed North Carolina team and we’re already looking at five conference wins. There are certainly no freebies in there, but that seems fairly doable.
8-4 with a 5-3 conference record feels like the minimum to feel good about the direction of the program after this coming year, although running the table out of conference is probably not an unrealistic expectation. Road games at Pitt and Notre Dame (4-8 last year) definitely look like winnable games, but now we’re getting into double digit win territory and let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. The Pack was definitely close to a breakthrough last season. If it can get out of its own way this year, then it might finally happen.
What do you think would qualify this season as successful?