Yes, NC State absolutely can win ten games.
It has been said time and time again, but it’s true that last year’s team was only a few plays away from reaching the ten win mark. By my count, the Pack returns 17 starters from that team including multiple All-ACC caliber players on both sides of the ball. From a personnel standpoint, this is without question the best team of the Doeren era, and when you combine that with a mostly favorable schedule, I see no reason why this team can’t win ten games for the first time since the Rivers days.
This team will be deeper, more experienced, and more talented than the teams of years past. There aren’t very many areas on the roster that will cause preseason nightmares this year, which is a luxury we have not had in a while. Ryan Finley is a more than sufficient quarterback and he has legitimate playmakers at wide receiver to throw to, which is something else State hasn’t had in a long time. Jaylen Samuels, an offensive line that returns four starters, and a promising stable of upperclassmen running backs round out an offense that has a lot of promise. The defensive line should be one of the best in the conference and help compensate for some weaknesses on the back end of the defense and the linebacker corps is yet another veteran group.
The Louisville, Clemson, and Florida State games are spaced out on the schedule for what seems like the first time in forever. There’s no stretch of death this year where the Pack has to play the Atlantic superpowers back to back or all three in a four game stretch (shakes fist at the sky and curses 2014). Both of State’s Coastal Division draws, Pitt and North Carolina, had solid seasons last year but both have some rebuilding to do this year after the loss of key personnel. Notre Dame and South Carolina are both very winnable games as well, because those teams are not particularly good. Furman and Marshall make nine games that look winnable at the very least. Win the winnable games and pick off one of the Clemson, Florida State, or Louisville and there are your ten wins.
No, you’re insane. NC State cannot win ten games.
This team has a lot of promise, but expecting it to win every winnable game is not realistic. A lot of these winnable games are coin-flip games and State has not shown much of an ability to win these games. Keep in mind this is still the same group that went 2-4 in games decided by seven points or less and made a solid effort to lose both of the games they won. There will be close games this year and the Pack’s ability to close them out is questionable.
One of the reasons for this is consistently poor late game execution and management over the last few years. Another is the continuing nightmare of placekicking. For all the great players and deep position groups talked about above, kicker was not discussed, and tight games often end up on the shoulders of a kicker. If you’re ready to assume a kicker who made a good but not spectacular 68% of his field goals at the division two level last year is going to solve all our problems, then maybe slow down just a bit here.
Also, there are concerns in some other position groups, notably the secondary. State has been plagued in the past by secondary issues and this year’s unit is replacing arguably its two best players. There is very little here that is proven.
Games like Notre Dame, South Carolina, Pitt, and UNC are games the Pack can definitely win, but when was the last time NC State won every game that it could win. Never. And also let’s not overlook the other Atlantic Division teams. Wake Forest appears to be a team on the rise and Syracuse is starting to become more formidable as well. These games might not be gimmes anymore, especially a road game at Wake, which has never been a gimme regardless of everything.
6-6 to 10-2 is a major jump. A lot of things that have killed State in the past would have to cease to be an issue to make that big of a jump. Thinking that is possible is putting a lot of faith in a lot of unproven things.