The Wolfpack just got blown out in the Belk Bowl, so I'm just gonna pour out some scattershot nonsense. Here goes...
As much as we might have felt like the Bitcoin Bowl win over Central Florida was a momentum-builder for the NC State football program, it's hard to ignore how deflating it was to watch the Wolfpack get blown out by Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl.
There's no accounting for certain heavily luck-based plays, but there's also no denying that the Bulldogs had a much better team. It's a harsh realization but also a reminder that NC State is still for the most part very young. Jacoby Brissett did a hell of a lot to prop this team up over the last two seasons, despite his faults.
Now that Brissett is on his way out, it's fair to experience a bit of existential panic about the next phase for this program. The Wolfpack has a good foundation in places--at DL, at corner, at TE, at Jaylen Samuels, at running back--but for State to turn a corner under Dave Doeren, that's not good enough. It wasn't good enough this year, and it won't be good enough next year, when the schedule becomes more difficult.
Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville aren't going anywhere. NC State adds ECU and Notre Dame to its non-conference schedule. This begins to get the feel of a make-or-break season for Doeren, in a year where he'll be breaking in a first-year quarterback, with no kicking game to speak of. I think it could go really well, because we have Jaylen Samuels, and no other teams have Jaylen Samuels.
But I also wonder if the small cracks might ultimately compromise the entire operation. Doeren inherited a shitty roster, there's no denying that much. The depth on the defensive side was so bad, he had no choice but to go to a 4-2-5 defense. The depth at linebacker is not any better three years later. State's safeties are a minefield. His staff has added excellent talent up front, but the overall cohesion is not there. They have been exposed over and over by competent quarterbacks.
This team looked slow under Tom O'Brien. It still looks slow. If the quarterback play isn't there going forward, it could be the bottom falls out, and then where are we? I'm not hitting the panic button here, just trying to evaluate Doeren's prospects from a rational perspective.
I guess the bottom line is, if your recruiting effort hasn't translated into improved results, then how good should we feel about what's ahead? You can find a few good players regardless, or coach up a few others, but it doesn't really matter--against FSU or Clemson or Mississippi State or Insert SEC University, you're usually going to be slow and overmatched. This is the incredibly difficult set of circumstances that nobody at NC State other than Chuck Amato has been able to handle.
But Amato benefited from dreadful coaching at FSU, UNC, and Clemson simultaneously, which unfortunately is a thing of the past. NC State oddly enough was ahead of the curve in some major areas, like coaching staff compensation. It was a strange pocket in time. That margin has long since swung in the other direction. The whole environment has changed, at the expense of schools like NC State.
Maybe Dave Doeren can get back there, to that sun-glassed ideal--to the point where he can not only land talented players from North Carolina, but also shrewdly poach them from elsewhere. This season and this recruiting cycle suggest otherwise. Everybody's getting richer, but margins nonetheless close.
Doeren's NC State program is not making up ground, and his program doesn't have a lot of leverage. This might well sink him, fair or not--but what are we runnin' here, a school of apologies? Hey I'm sorry you punted that one time you shouldn't have, or that other time you shouldn't have. Either you're a good recruiter, or a great football coach, or just another guy with a whistle. Either you're that dude or you aren't; it's hard to mistake here. Amato wasn't that guy. I have a pretty good idea about Dave Doeren, but we'll know for sure pretty soon.