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This will be Dave Doeren’s most complete team

Psssssst . . . it’s true

North Carolina State v Wake Forest Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

When NC State peeled itself off the mat after its disastrous 2019 season and surged back into the upper echelon of the ACC, which it had inhabited the two years prior, it did so on the back of a youth movement that paid off faster than expected. Now that core of talented underclassmen returns with high aspirations, but with one stark contrast to the last time the Pack generated some preseason excitement.

This figures to be Doeren’s most complete football team. In 2017, NC State had the likes of Bradley Chubb, Nyheim Hines, Ryan Finley, Kelvin Harmon, Jakobi Meyers, Will Richardson, B.J. Hill-ok you get the point. A lot of those guys returned in 2018 as well. But despite the high end talent, NC State still managed four losses in each of those seasons, a total that was contributed to by a disastrous kicking game and a secondary that competed for, and at one point held, the title of worst in the entire country.

The 2021 Wolfpack is not going to have the top end talent that those teams had, but it also won’t need that talent to try and compensate for a poopstorm at another position. It’s not likely to have a recently converted wide receiver on the two-deep in the secondary, and certainly not starting. It’s not going to make 50% of its field goals. It’s not going to fail to complement a strong running game with an impotent receiving corps. The Pack is as solid all the way around as it has ever been under Doeren. This is his most well-rounded and complete team.

Clearly, we’re going to talk about the secondary here, which has been a sore spot going all the way back to 2015 and the ultimate weak link in 2017 and 2018. The Pack had something of rebirth in 2020 though. Nowhere was the youth movement felt more than the back end of the defense, which it desperately needed.

State’s defensive unit ranked 76th nationally in passing YPG, which is far from great, but it’s the first time it cracked the top 100 since 2016. Now, the Pack returns 53 of 60 starts in the secondary from a season ago, brings back two corners with starting experience that missed the season with an injury, and brings in two potentially immediate impact transfers. This group is deep and experienced, and that’s new.

Elsewhere on defense, State returns every player that started a game outside of Alim McNeil. In fact, the only position on the whole team that does not return a majority of starts from a year ago (not counting quarterback, which comes with a disclaimer) is tight end. Basically everybody is back at the skill positions, State is solid at quarterback for the first time since Ryan Finley left, and only two starters are gone from the offensive line, one of which only started four games. The Pack must replace very little across the board from a team that went 7-3 in the ACC.

Returning Starts

Position group % of returning starts
Position group % of returning starts
QB 25%
RB 100%
WR/TE 79%
OL 72%
DL 72%
LB 100%
DB 88%
K 100%

This isn’t to say that every part of the team will be great, but the lack of gaping holes in this coming year’s roster is a new circumstance for Dave Doeren and certainly a welcome one. It’s a unique opportunity, at least to this point, for him to put this complete of a team on the field. What the ultimate value of that circumstance is won’t be known for months, but that just means there is plenty of time to get excited about it.