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Are we ready to live in a post SSUPO world?

(raises hand)

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Florida State Melina Myers-USA TODAY Sports

After the loss to Miami, nobody knew what to expect from this NC State football team. At the end of the latest episode of “One with Wolfpack Football”, Coach Dave Doeren shared some insights into his message to the team. Following the win over FSU, Coach Dave Doeren says he told the players at that time:

“We truly are writing a 12 chapter book right now, and the pen is in our hands. We’re the authors of the story, currently, we don’t need anyone else’s help. Whatever we put down, every week, is going to be in there. Each week’s a new chapter, and this (FSU win) was another one.”

He went on to say,

“And so the guys have really embraced that. One of the goals in the preseason was staying in the moment. Being a 1-0 football team. They’ve embraced ‘us not beating us’ as much as they have who we play each week. And so I think that’s helped our team stay in the moment, be better, more consistent.”

When we talk about SSUPO, it’s an open-ended statement. We are scared shitless, in perpetuity, until such time as we are satisfactorily proved otherwise. What are the requirements to being proven otherwise? Maybe it’s a “we’ll know it when we see it” situation. Does it require a division championship? A conference championship? Other?

I stopped believing in any voodoo NC State shit a long time ago. I’m too old for that, although my resolve was questioned when the NCAA pulled the rug out from under the baseball team. But by and large, it comes down to execution. Either you executed or you didn’t. When NC State has had some big wins in football and men’s basketball those felt like one-off games. A confluence of quality play with the opposing team’s poor play resulted in a good win. These haven’t been recipes for sustained success. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be a fan of a team like Alabama. What it must be like to root for a team expected to win, and just executes week after week, year after year. This is what Wes Moore is building with the women’s team. He didn’t wait, he just came in and did the damn thing. His message is very similar. It’s not luck, they’re just outright better than their opponents.

A consistent message that I’ve always heard from players and coaches on great teams from all sports has been about maintaining focus. Consistent focus, play after play. Going through all these clips each week in the Film Room series only makes me more and more bullish on this year’s Wolfpack team’s ability. It feels like the right combination of experienced staff and veteran players to finally have the right alchemy for consistency. Doeren has told his players not to get too high up or too low, stay even-keeled. This week he shed light on the mindset of the approach to this season:

“Going back to the preseason, I think the staff and this team knew we had a chance could be really good...if things happen the way we thought they could happen. During training camp I met with a bunch of the leaders, and it became very clear to me that for us to become who want to be it has be about us getting better everyday and not about chasing a championship. We’ve talked enough about that. We need to focus on just getting better, and staying in the moment as a team, and not allowing what we want at the end of the season to happen to get in the way of how we get to that place.”

That was a player-delivered message to me that I really loved. So it’s been me and our staff holding them accountable to that goal that they set, to stay in the moment. To really be a 1-0 team each week, to stay there and not let people talk us out of it. I know everyone says the next game is the most important game, and that’s true, but not everybody embraces that, and I think this team has.”

It’s not just lip service

That last quote is quite illuminating. I haven’t heard of NC State players taking that much ownership before. It would be simple to pass off all those comments as merely talk. But watching the players consistently espousing the same message every week all season long, it becomes clear how deeply they believe it. It’s encouraging to think this leadership message is setting the tone for the young players on the team who will be assuming that mantle in a few years, and they can pass it onto the next. It’s this “institutional knowledge” we’ve always waited for. It’s great to have a legend like Philip Rivers play for the team, but who comes next? Are the players on the bench seeing players lead by example in their preparation everyday, not just on game days? I get the sense now that these guys are doing just that.

Dave Doeren has matured as a coach during his tenure here. His approach is more refined now, and he leans on his players to lead the team.

Former DE Alim McNeill did an interview while preparing for the NFL draft last year. He was asked about the players he left behind at NC State. The question was posed as congratulating them on an eight win season. He said “just eight wins isn’t the goal”. That really stuck with me, that they have higher designs and expectations for themselves. He said the players he was leaving behind are good enough to play with anyone. It could be easy to shake that off as just hyping up your former team, but there was something about the way he said it, he earnestly believed it.

So what about Wake Forest?

What makes me the most nervous about the Wake Forest game is that this NC State team is absolutely capable of beating Wake. What I mean by that is if they lose, it would be because they didn’t play up to their own potential they’ve shown this season, as opposed to just getting stomped by a better team. I would wager that they’re all around better than Wake. This will be the only time this season Wake plays a team in the top 25. It’ll be BY FAR the best defense Sam Hartman will face, with Clemson the week after for them.

It’s been great seeing the veteran leaders who are unfortunately injured continue to hype up the remaining players. This is the difference with this squad, and why this team needs to strike NOW. The schedule broke out well with getting Clemson out of the way first instead of having them loom over the year. It’s just our luck that the year State finally gets past Clemson that Wake Forest just HAS to be having their best year of all time, right?

This does not mean this week’s game is the end-all, be-all of the season. They still have to go out and compete the next two weeks plus hopefully the conference championship game and a bowl. That’s potentially four more opportunities after this week. If they lose, all is not lost, we shouldn’t set the internet on fire with mean tweeters and comments. There’s more football to be played. That being said, the magnitude (POP POP!) of this game hasn’t been seen around these parts for nigh on a decade-plus. This is the biggest opportunity for a program defining win of the Doeren era. And it’s weird to have this funny feeling this what confidence feels like? It’s a new sensation, I’m not familiar with it.

The consistent message by the team has just been to play their game, if they do that and live up to their potential then they should win in Winston. They can not go out and put the years and decades of shortfalls on their shoulders. All they can do is execute on this play, and the next, and the next.

BUT ... We have seen this story before. An NC State team poised for greatness, with the talent to win, but will they show up? Will they lay an egg? Highly doubtful, but this is the ultimate test of SSUPO. I am ready to finally be proven otherwise. I am ready to stop worrying if the other shoe will drop. Will we ever live in a post-SSUPO world?

The one thing I know from closely watching this Wolfpack team is they aren’t afraid to step on the field with anyone. They’re going to bring it. I could be setting myself up for disappointment. In the words of Michael Scott, I am ready to get hurt again.

But that’s what sports is, in the end, isn’t it? It’s the hope for “more”. We’ve waited for the Wolfpack to turn the corner and start a new chapter. Will it happen? I really don’t know how to predict the game, but I know I can’t freaking wait to watch.