clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Which NC State football team was the best since 2002?

We debate, and then you do

Bitcoin St Petersburg Bowl - North Carolina State v Central Florida Photo by Alex Menendez/Getty Images

There is not really any debate that Philip Rivers’ junior season produced the best NC State football team since the turn of the millennium. The 2002 Wolfpack won 11 games and crushed Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl. A more interesting debate, however, would be which team was the best since that season.

Here are some of the candidates. Below, each BTP contributor will give his thoughts. Feel free to include yours in the comments.


The 2010 team certainly has a case based on its on-field results. This is a testament to Russell Wilson’s ability to make everything okay, as State was far from a complete offense this year. It was nearly last in the ACC in rushing, but first in passing. This year’s team went 9-4 with a 23-7 win over West Virginia in the Champs Sports Bowl. It nearly won the ACC Atlantic but lost its season finale at Maryland.


The 2017 group also went 9-4, finishing the season with 52-31 win over Arizona State in the Sun Bowl. This team reeled off six straight wins after a heartbreaker to start the season against South Carolina, but couldn’t close the deal against Clemson, ultimately finishing second in the Atlantic Division as a result. It also produced seven draft picks in the following NFL Draft.


The 2018 team got off to a 5-0 start and finished with the best regular-season record since 2002, claiming its ninth win with a 58-3 destruction of ECU in the season finale. It earned wins over solid Virginia and Boston College teams and blew out Florida State, but fell short against Syracuse and Wake Forest and got blown out by Clemson.


The 2003 team was loaded with pros including senior Philip Rivers at quarterback. It was probably better than its 8-5 record, the worst of the teams on this list, but tough losses to Wake Forest and Maryland led it there. It took Florida State and Ohio State to multiple overtimes, both on the road, and absolutely demolished Kansas in the Tangerine Bowl.


To me, It’s 2017, 2010, 2003, and then 2018 after a decent gap. That 2017 team was just so complete compared to the other options. It was missing a competent secondary (which was still better than 2018’s) and it was poor on special teams, but everywhere else that team was championship quality. I still think it was the best team in the ACC, but those two shortcomings, and some bad injury luck, were enough to hold the title just out of reach when it could’t finish against a Clemson team it should have beaten.

2017 had all-time great units at receiver, defensive line, offensive line, and quarterback. And Jaylen Samuels was on the team. Offensively, it could beat you on the ground or through the air, something you could not say about 2010, 2018, or 2003. Nothing about State’s offense in 2010 was particularly impressive outside of the quarterback. 2018 was really just Finley and his receivers. State was poor running the ball for most of the year, and the 2018 defense, understandably, was not as good as 2017. I don’t have much to add about 2003 as I was seven years old.

2017 also stands out because State didn’t lose to anyone that was totally garbage. Clemson and Notre Dame were national title contenders, and South Carolina and Wake Forest finished 9-4 and 8-5, respectively. The 2010 team lost to ECU, the 2003 team got blown away by Wake Forest, and the 2018 team dropped a Thursday-nighter at home to, again, a pretty bad Wake Forest team.


Jaylen Samuels is the Big Joker...we all know that...2017 is hard to argue against. But I am going to argue that 2010 was the best NC State team since 2002. Its a squad that featured 15+ future NFL draft picks/players, had the most well rounded team overall and had the best season of the others.

Of the teams on this list, 2010 features multiple players who have been to the Superbowl and two winners. While the impact of the guys from 2017 & 2018 is yet to be known and there are plenty of guys from 2010 that have great pro accolades...yet what we will focus on is Russell Wilson as a future Hall of Famer. This isn’t someone who bloomed in the NFL either, his high caliber of play could already be seen in just his second year as a starter...accounting for over 4000 yards that season. Since Phil, Russell is the best player to have put on the Wolfpack uniform and that’s with having only played 3 years. Of the QBs who have come since, not a one measures up and never will.

A lot of talk about Russell, but 2010 was solid across the board while 2017 & 2018 had some clear deficiencies. Now there were some really good players in those 2 years, but the weakness can be attributed to the secondary and, to a lesser extent, at linebacker. Looking at 2010, they are incomparable to Irving, Cole, Manning at linebacker, Amerson, Dontae Johnson, CJ Wilson at CB and Bishop, Wolff as safety. On offense you had your prototypical position receiver in Jarvis Williams, your route master in Owen Spencer and the speedy gamebreaker in TJ Graham. This doesn’t even mention one of the best TEs in school history with George Bryan as well as MOOSE at the RB position averaging 4.5 yards a carry. Add in a solid OL, an underrated DL and reliable FG takes the proverbial cake.

Lastly, 2017 and 2018’s problem is that both lack a bit of drama. The wins over teams like Chapel Hill and FSU are great, but the only exciting games those seasons were in heartbreakers, losses no one wants to revisit. 2010 had the most memorable wins with the 4 yard Hail Mary in Chapel Hill, the win over FSU with a recovered fumble in CFS and when Nate Irving took the entire town of Winston-Salem to Suplex City. While 2017’s losses were to better teams, 2010’s 4 losses were to bowl teams, 3 of which were on the road and the other at home against the eventual ACC Champion, Virginia Tech. 2010 lost 4 games by a combined total of 25 points (including one in OT) while 2017 lost their 4 games by a combined total of 41 points (2018...85 points). Speaking of ACC Championships, it took two poor coaching choices to keep this team from claiming at least a division title...punting at Clemson, and putting an LB on Torrey Smith. If TOB makes the right decision in one or both cases, he probably retires here as head coach. 2010 has to be considered the best since 2002.


The 2017 team was the best of the group in my eyes, because of the balance on offense and the strength in the front seven of the defense. Ryan Finley came into his own that year, but the offense wasn’t reliant on him to move the ball like it was in 2018. Dude still threw for 3,514 yards and had fellow future NFL weapons Kelvin Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, Jaylen Samuels, and Nyheim Hines at his disposal. Four players (Harmon, Meyers, JaySam, Stephen Louis) had over 500 receiving yards on the year. The ground attack averaged 177.1 yards per game at 4.7 yards per attempt with three players (Hines, Reggie Gallaspy, JaySam) going over 400 yards on the year.

The front seven on defense featured Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Justin Jones, Kentavius Street, Germaine Pratt, Jarrod Fernandez, and Airius Moore. I mean, freaking stacked. On the surface it looks like teams had success running the ball, but outside of Notre Dame (with Josh Adams), Clemson (with their forever stacked running game), and Boston College (with A.J. Dillon), no team broke 135 yards in a game against the Pack. And when it really mattered in a short-to-go run situation, the Pack D stood up or pushed back way more often than not.

The team also played the hardest schedule, according to Sports-Reference’s Strength-of-Schedule calculation, of any NC State team since Monte Kiffin’s 1981 squad squared up against four Top-10 teams.

If the secondary and kicking game were stronger, that 2017 team goes 11-1 in the regular season, is playing for the ACC Championship, and never gets the chance to blow out Arizona State in a bowl game as they’d have bigger fish to fry.

I’ll argue the second best State team since 2002 was the 2003 team. They had senior year Philip Rivers - basically a QB cheat code - plus a banged-up but still wildly efficient when healthy T.A. McLendon running the ball, with Jerricho Cotchery and Tramain Hall leading an underrated receiving corps. The offense could have been even better if Chris Colmer didn’t have to miss the season, as he would have manned the opposite end of the O-line from Sean Locklear.

The defense was also stout, featuring future pros Mario Williams, Manny Lawson, John McCargo, Stephen Tulloch, Andre Maddox, Pat Thomas, Tank Tyler, A.J. Davis, Lamont Reid, and Devonte Edwards. And that’s not even to mention studs like Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay and Oliver Hoyte. Chuck Amato could recruit, man.

The 2003 team played arguably a tougher schedule than the 2010 team (three of the losses in 2003 were to teams that finished ranked in the Top 20) and they were much deeper overall - just look again at that list of players up there.


The first two teams that immediately sprung to mind for me were 2017 and 2003. I would put both well ahead of any other team we’ve seen since the 2002 breakthrough, including the 2010 squad. Russell Wilson was great and that ‘10 team nearly made the ACC title game, but looking at the talent on the roster compared to the other two, it’s not particularly close.

The 2010 couldn’t run the ball for shit, and the skill players were mostly just adequate.

In terms of net yards per play (offensive YPP - defensive YPP), the 2003 is actually well ahead of the other two at +1.0. The 2017 team follows at +0.4, and the 2010 team was actually under water at -0.1.

Still, and maybe it’s recency bias speaking, I feel like the ‘17 group was just maybe a tad better than that ‘03 team—more balanced overall, I think, and also more diverse offensively. Philip Rivers was an insane trump card but even with his arm to keep people plenty honest, that offense barely managed 100 yards rushing per game on 3.3 per carry. The defense on that team was also a huge liability at times, showing its youth in painful ways (the Wake Forest game jumps to mind). It’d be another year before Mario Williams and company would transform into football superheroes on that side.

The 2003 and 2017 teams both have in common lots of missed opportunities. The Rivers team should have beaten both FSU and Maryland, and who knows what might have happened if Chuck Amato had the stones to go for two at the end of regulation or in the first overtime against Ohio State rather than let that game draw out far too long.

The 2017 obviously should have beaten both South Carolina and Wake Forest after dominating both statistically and had a shot late at upsetting Clemson. The Notre Dame contest was the only one State was out of in the fourth quarter. But the ‘17 Wolfpack did deliver a pair of wins against teams ranked in the top 20 at the time of the game—FSU, Louisville—and finished strong with decisive wins over UNC and Arizona State.

A discussion of the 2003 team does give me an excuse to talk about Philip’s absurd three-game run of play late in that season:

Those are his combined numbers against Duke (win), UVA (win), and FSU (OT loss). He completed almost 78% of his passes while averaging 12 yards per attempt, which is just stupid dumb.

If you want to take that Rivers team because he was just that good, I’m not going to argue with you. I just like what the 2017 team brings to the table as a collective group a little bit more.


Which NC State football team was the best since 2002?

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    (30 votes)
  • 71%
    (148 votes)
  • 0%
    (0 votes)
  • 13%
    (27 votes)
  • 0%
    A different year
    (2 votes)
207 votes total Vote Now