The NCAA recently announced that it was renewing college football for another season, which sparked excitement among viewers after the many unanswered questions of last season. What is the future of this Devin Leary character who only appeared in three episodes? Actor Devin Leary, who portrays the Leary character, is signed on for this season. Is Alim McNeil really gone? (Spoiler alert: yes). But the main question everyone wants to know is how good can NC State really be? Last season teased the possibility of something big coming this season but ended with a bizarre and kind of stupid plot twist involving a loss to Kentucky (not sure what the writers were thinking on that one). Luckily, the BTP roundtable returns to share its thoughts on all your questions.
What is a fair expectation for NC State this season?
Steven: I think my threshold is eight wins ... win more than that against this schedule, and the year is a huge success, but win fewer and it’ll feel a little disappointing. We all want to see improvement in the win column, but given the tougher schedule, the Wolfpack could be better than 2020 and finish with the same eight-win season. That should be considered a good year.
PirateWolf: An 8-win season is a fair expectation. This is a talented team, as deep as we’ve seen in a long dang time, and led by a QB with the highest ceiling of any signal caller Doeren has had on campus in Raleigh.
Essad: 8 wins, and that’s totally fine. Going back to division play will increase the challenge, but a veteran team should be able to match Dave Doeren’s floor of 8.
AlecLower: I want to default to 8 wins here and probably will, but there’s definitely a part of me that feels like there is something more here than that. I just think this is a well-rounded team without a lot of obvious weaknesses to exploit on either side of the ball, and that’s doing a lot for my optimism going into this season.
JEOHankins: With the returning talent, continuity in the coaching staff, and experience gained over the last couple of years...it’s fair to expect State to be a Top 25 program all year. More so than the record I think spending the majority of the year ranked and ending the season that way (AP, CFBP) is important for the perception of the program long term. 10+ wins is more important (but that would mean we were ranked anyways)...but the difference is I don’t think that expectation is quite fair considering the schedule.
NC State’s absolute ceiling this year is . . .
Steven: Ten wins, with a loss to Clemson and the Pack finding a way to split UNC/Miami, feels like the peak of an everything-goes-right season. There are a lot of tough games elsewhere, and to get through all of them unscathed would take staying healthy, improved play on both sides of the ball, and maybe a little bit of turnover luck as well.
PirateWolf: Playing in the ACC Championship Game. Clemson will be
rebuilding reloading, but State gets them early in the ACC slate and at home. Louisville, Syracuse, and UNC (who also has some retooling to do) will also be in Raleigh. The road slate is tough, but State shouldn’t be outmatched in any of those games. If things click right, this team could be an ACC title contender.
Essad: Agree with the above two, and will say 11 wins. This is obviously a HUGE stretch, and would be one of the best Wolfpack seasons of all time. If we’re talking in theoretical terms only, we can complain about being in Clemson’s division all we want, but technically speaking there’s no other other world beater stopping State from winning all their remaining games. I still doubt they’d beat the Tigers, but if they were going to, this is the year to do it. They’re young and this Pack team is old. Probably the best matchup we’ve seen since before the Fabio era. Even if Clemson goes undefeated again and wins the division, NC State winning all BUT that game and winning 11 would mean a NY6 appearance and likely top 10 finish. All time level season.
AlecLower: 10-2. I wouldn’t describe that record as likely, but I don’t think it’s impossible. That would essentially require three wins against Wake Forest, BC, Miami, and UNC, which is a tall task, but I also genuinely think UNC and Miami are kind of overrated, so I think doing so would be at the far end of the realm of possibility. I don’t think there is a world where State gives Clemson any sort of run though. It’s true that the Tigers are replacing some important guys, but it literally doesn’t matter at all. The guy replacing Trevor Lawrence could win the Heisman Trophy and no one would be surprised.
JEOHankins: All that said from me earlier...the ceiling? 10 wins hahaha. Until we beat Clemson I’ll always pencil that in as a loss...so for me that’s going 2 of 3 against Mississippi State, The U and Chapel Hill...with 2 of them on the road. Sure we could get the 10th in a bowl if we win only one of those but that’s hard to speculate on that without knowing our opponent.
NC State’s absolute floor this year is . . .
Steven: Five wins. State will get out of non-conference play at least 3-1 but could have a rough start to ACC play, and then you have to worry about that snowballing for a team that pumped itself up with a decent amount of preseason hype in August.
PirateWolf: Well, I’d rather not think about this, but since you took me into this darkness... the absolute, rock-bottom floor is 4 wins with another 1-win ACC record. This would take injuries, some much improved play from some conference opponents, and probably a ton of heart-breaking losses, but... okay, I don’t want to think about this anymore.
Essad: Missing a bowl, so 5 or less wins. This is the darkest timeline, so let’s just move on.
AlecLower: When you factor the injury bug into these types of things, the floor can get pretty low, but assuming nothing absurd happens on that front, I’d think six wins and scraping into some low level bowl game. I want to believe that State is over this sort of thing by now, but there is absolutely a world where the Pack lights itself on fire in Starkville and then starts 0-3 in the ACC, after which it would still have to go to Wake Forest and play UNC.
JEOHankins: I choose to live in a world where no significant injuries happen...there will be none...so it is written, so it shall come to pass. The floor is 7 regular season wins. I have been concerned about this schedule since the end of last year and while there are 4 games that stand out as big challenges, sports are sports. There’s nothing to say we couldn’t catch BC, Louisville or ya know Wake on a mediocre day. Also...what if FSU just goes on and finally figures it out? That said...we will be bowling by hook or by crook
If NC State were to exceed your expectations, it would be because . . .
Steven: Team health is understood, so aside from that, if NC State does a good job replacing Alim McNeill while the secondary shows improvement and the defense as a whole becomes something closer to strength rather than just an average unit, it’ll go a long way. I’m not worried about much when it comes to the offense, so defense is it for me. Forcing turnovers on a more regular basis wouldn’t hurt, either.
PirateWolf: Overall health, first and foremost. Offensively, it would be because an over-the-top deep threat emerges from the receiving corps. Defensively, it would be because the secondary continues to improve and allows the LBs to be completely free to seek and destroy any and everything they deem worthy of such destruction.
Essad: Tim Beck got the offense to get the ball in the dang endzone much much more often. He’s improved from previous regimes, but college football is in a maximize scoring era. If you have any hope of keeping up with the big dogs, you can no longer just manage the game, nurse a 7 point lead, and hope to get out with a W. Nick Saban showed the world that he had to become the thing he avoided (and often derided) for a long time by revamping his offense over big chunk plays and running up the score. We need to see the Pack average 35+ points per game, while obviously giving up less than that. As Alec says, you can’t give up more points than you score to have any hope of winning.
AlecLower: Continued improvement from the secondary and cleaner play. State improved a lot on the back end of the defense last year and is as deep as it's ever been now, so I think the former should be reasonable to expect. A big thing for me is the question of how clean NC State can play football. State really got sloppy over the last four games last season. It was able to survive that in most instances because it was just better than its opponent, but you’re not going to beat UNC or Miami with 14 penalties. State is good enough to beat any team on the schedule other than Clemson, but it’s not good enough to beat them if it also has to overcome itself.
JEOHankins: The chemistry and leadership built over tough 2019 & 2020 seasons comes together in full. It felt like when we struggled in 2019 and in the losses last season, we didn’t have enough leaders at every position group to push us through when things go wrong as they sometimes will. We have that this year and games where we need a big comeback or those where we are trying to maintain a lead should have the right checks, right mentality to bring us across the finish line.
If NC State were to fall short of expectations, it would be because . . .
Steven: The defensive front struggles to generate pressure in the backfield or plug the run without McNeill’s special talent on the field, and maybe there’s another rash of injuries in the secondary to compound matters. I’m choosing optimism and expect Devin Leary to stay on the field all year, but obviously his loss would be crushing, given that NC State doesn’t have a power-conference-caliber quarterback behind him. (Ben Finley and Aaron McLaughlin may eventually be of that caliber, but they ain’t getting there in 2021.)
PirateWolf: Overall health, first and foremost. Wait, did I use that one already? Offensively, the O-line doesn’t gel and struggles. Defensively, the middle of the D-line can’t replace the production of Alim McNeill and the secondary regresses.
Essad: How much time do you have? I mean, did you see the baseball team have their first scoreless game in two years and lose the ACC championship? We’re built for this. But to be honest, I will take a cue from Dabo (shudder) and say the Pack has to win the “middle 20”. The final 10 minutes of the first half + the first 10 minutes of the second. Go into and out of the locker room like a bullet, and it can put many games out of reach.
AlecLower: The universe hates us. And also the refs. But seriously, I’m going with a reversion from last year’s success in the fourth quarter. I look around this team and I don’t see anything that scares the crap out of me. Replacing Alim McNeil is a popular point of intrigue, and no doubt he was special and there will be step back at that position, but he’s not being replaced by some scrubs. There are some really good football players taking over that role. I think State will be really competitive with everyone except Clemson, but it will be in close games with the better teams on its schedule. It’s traditionally been terrible in close games but flipped the script last season. I think if State ends up 6-6 or 5-7 this year, it will come on the back of three or four different one-possession losses.
JEOHankins: Haven’t spoken about the coaches much! But this is where I think if we continue to play conservatively on offense then we cannot reach that next level. For the first time under Dave we have a QB whose arm is his distinguishing feature...let him rip it. We have a deep RB room, but if a guy is hot give him the green light and forget the rotation When we are up by 10 in the second half, don’t burn clock...take some shots downfield...bury some teams. If the staff plays not to lose, with a team constructed like this...we will absolutely fall short of expectations.
Sound off with your thoughts on these questions in the comments below! Or don’t, I mean it’s really up to you. I’m not the boss of you.