As if you didn’t need another piece with someone talking out their rear and putting pressure on an already crazy hyped preseason, hours away from kickoff no less, here comes another outlandish premise: This game is really important, guys.
NC State’s Week 1 matchup against South Carolina is the most important non-conference game of the Dave Doeren era. It may not seem like it, it’s a long season and all that, but a win on Saturday is extremely valuable to the 2017 Wolfpack season.
- Firstly, it's the season opener (duh). This one is a no-brainer, but still, the point remains. Doeren has yet to lose an opener as the head coach (just jinxed it, I know). With so many expectations going into the season, winning a game like this will set the tone for the rest of the year. Not to mention the fact that the conference schedule is so dang tough, the Wolfpack can't afford a stumble out of the gate.
- These are the last 10 season openers NC State has played:
2007: UCF, Loss, 23-25
2008: @ South Carolina, Loss, 0-34
2009: South Carolina, Loss, 3-7
2010: WCU (FCS team), Win, 48-7
2011: Liberty (FCS team), Win, 43-21
2012: Tennessee, Loss, 21-35 (This is the last time this nightmare will be mentioned)
2013: La. Tech, Win, 40-14
2014: Ga. Southern, Win, 24-23 (unnecessary nail biter)
2015: Troy, Win, 49-21
2016: William & Mary (FCS team), Win, 48-14
As you can see, playing talented teams to start a season is exceedingly rare for NC State. With the exception of Tennessee (sorry, did it again), South Carolina is the strongest opponent NC State has faced to start a season in over a decade, since well, playing the last home and home with South Carolina.
Looking for high profile openers beyond that, you would have to go back to the Marcus Vick (remember him?) Virgina Tech game back in 2005, they were #7 at the time. On the non-conference side, you have to go ALLLL the way back to the Donovan McNabb led Syracuse team from 1997. Donovan McNabb! The man practically played an entire NFL career in the time it took State to schedule a strong week 1 opponent.
During this time, FSU was scheduling strong games against Miami and the like. The best teams don’t shy away from good competition to start a season. It doesn’t always have to be cupcakes. If you want to be the best, you have to play the best. You can fault him in other ways, but Chuck Amato was a big proponent of this.
This is not to say South Carolina is a juggernaut. Preseason rankings have them somewhere between 40th and 67th nationally. However, they are a talented team from a Power 5 conference. Speaking of which...
- Here's the complete list of non-conference opponents of the Doeren era.
La. Tech: (WAC, greatest conference name ever)
Central Michigan (MAC, second best conference name)
East Carolina (AAC, boring)
Bowl: None. If you recall, this was the season the team started 3-1 and finished 3-9 (0-8), just in case you needed something to temper your 2017 expectations.
Georgia Southern (second year in FBS)
Old Dominion (first year in FBS)
South Florida (AAC)
Bowl: UCF (AAC)
Troy (Sun Belt, meh on conference name)
Eastern Kentucky (FCS)
Old Dominion (second year in FBS)
South Alabama (Sun Belt)
Bowl: Mississippi State (SEC)
William & Mary (FCS)
Old Dominion (who scheduled these guys 3 years in a row?)
Notre Dame (Independent)
Bowl: Vanderbilt (SEC)
South Carolina (SEC)
Marshall (Conf USA)
Notre Dame (Independent)
Bowl games have many uses, but they don't count towards strength of schedule. Vanderbilt was barely .500 and the less said of the game against Mississippi State the better. With that said, playing Power 5 teams provides a great opportunity to gauge where your program is compared to others nationally. South Carolina has had up and down years, like NC State. It wasn’t too long ago we were watching Clowney highlights on a loop. A win would prove we’re headed in the right direction.
- The neutral site will give the flavor of a bowl game. There will be a ton of SC fans there, creating a good early test away from home since the first true road game is @ FSU. Ugh, yay.
If we are truly expecting to bank on having the most experienced team in the ACC, then that maturity needs to shine through in showing the young guns how to be prepared right from the jump.
Strength of Schedule
- This one is the most important, in my opinion. Increasing SoS is first step towards the eventual goal of being a highly ranked team. If you want to be taken seriously on the national stage, the conversation starts with, "well, who did you play??" Yes, there's a strong conference schedule, but this can be outweighed by a list of cream puffs outside of the conference. How many times has the basketball team been on the bubble for this exact reason?
Here’s that list from above with all FCS and non-Power 5 opponents removed, regular season only:
That’s it. Remember when I said this was rare?
Notre Dame technically doesn't meet the above criteria, since they’re independent, but their street cred precedes them. Also, they've been circling the ACC for so long, and they have a unique agreement with the league scheduling-wise. The win against the Fighting Irish was fun to watch, hurricane and all, and it was a good win against team that started the season in the top 10. But they finished 4-8 on the season,
However, winning in South Bend would be a huge bonus for the Wolfpack’s resume. Preseason rankings put them between the upper teens and low 20’s, and they were a few spots ahead of NC State in the “Others Receiving Votes” bucket for the AP and Coach’s Poll.
IF if if if if if if if if if (times infinity) NC State manages to put all the pieces together season, capitalize on all their pro-level talent to win to win double digit games this season, it needs to have “excusable” losses on the record.
Losing a road game to a ranked or almost-ranked non-conference opponent would be excusable in the big picture, and would likely not be held against the team. But South Carolina isn’t ranked, they aren’t a cupcake, they’re just a solid Power 5 opponent, in a game played at a neutral field. Not to mention, losing to SC would greatly reduce the margin for error in conference play. Seems like all the pieces for a must-win game to me, wouldn’t you say?