In 2014, a year after Dave Doeren debuted with a 3-9 campaign, NC State escaped its non-conference schedule despite the fact that two of the four games were in doubt during the second half. That NC State team dropped its next four games, which came against Florida State, Clemson, Louisville, and Boston College.
In 2015, the non-conference trip went a whole lot better--the Wolfpack skated every week and finished off that portion of the schedule with an impressive 50-point victory. You cannot manufacture "momentum" better than that, and NC State had every bit of that nonsense heading into league play ... and once again stumbled out of the gate.
It felt different this season partially because of how NC State finished 2014, winning its last three games, but at the same time there was no denying that conference play was going to be a massive reality check. Louisville is at least as talented as NC State, but not decisively better, and certainly far less interesting. But the Cardinals got out of town with the win.
Where does that leave NC State, with the evidence that lives on the table? NC State played Louisville tough on the road in 2014 despite a bunch of kids being suspended. Should we consider 2015 an improvement, given what we saw in the second half, and what little came from Louisville's passing game?
Paint me some context, future!
Losing at Virginia Tech on Friday night doesn't put Dave Doeren behind schedule, just as a win wouldn't put him ahead of the curve. That result simply will be a football thing that happens, which we'll absorb. But the next step for NC State is turning some of these 50-50 games against the top half of the league into decisive wins while taking care of games that have been a problem in the past, and that's where Virginia Tech can be a start.
Over the three weeks following the VT game, NC State plays at Wake Forest and Boston College, which is now starting to feel like a decisive sequence in the Wolfpack's 2015 season This shit is not easy, not in the least bit, and NC State has been learning that the Atlantic-Division way. Those games are winnable, but does Dave Doeren have a program ready to take control for him in year three?
If State can't dig its way out from another unfortunate conference start and take advantage of certain scheduling gifts--among those is a road game at Wake Forest while the Deacs are terrible--then it's fair to question our assumptions about the 2015 season.
That's not a shot at Dave Doeren, should things evolve that way; it's merely acknowledging that 2015 might not be much different than 2014, which is okay. Honestly I have had no idea which way this will go. We should know some more stuff about this 2015 team on Friday. Maybe, or else probably not.
College football is a good time.