Last spring when I looked over the NC State Wolfpack football schedule, keeping in mind the absolutely awful first four seasons under head coach Dave Doeren, I penciled in a 6-6 regular season record and a bowl game win over South Florida or some other minor directional school.
My record reasoning was valid: three wins in four non-conference games and three wins in eight Atlantic Coast Conference games. The breakdown would be similar to the previous three seasons. In four years, Doeren's teams compiled a miserable 9-23 conference record. I figured the 2017 season would result in wins over Syracuse, Wake Forest and North Carolina, the latter because of annual hope for beating the Tar Heels.
However, when the Pack fell to South Carolina on opening day, I adjusted my thinking and lowered my expectations to 5-7 overall with two non-conference wins (Marshall and Furman) and another loss at Notre Dame. I even doubted my ACC prediction of 3-5. The Wolfpack made it through the first three games 2-1 and I was still on track to be right.
When Florida State's quarterback went down (injured and out for the season) in the Noles first game of the season, I told friends and foes that the Wolfpack could win that game if the sub-QB was rattled in the least. And it happened. 3-1.
Then, after an excellent first half against Syracuse, the Wolfpack hung on (looked familiar to other Doeren coached teams) to win as predicted to go to 4-1. The Wolfpack then caught Louisville at the right time (in the shadow of a basketball recruiting scandal) and pressured its Heisman Trophy QB into mistakes to get a fifth win. As good as the wins against Florida State and Louisville seemed, a sixth win in a game at Pittsburgh was probably the best of the season.
So, after seven games in the 2017 season, the Wolfpack is 6-1 and has a week off before plowing through the final five games. How do I feel? Mixed is a good way to say it. I'm ecstatic about winning. I remain a Doeren doubter.
In his first season, he took a suspect squad and made it worse, going 0-8 in the ACC. Instead of using the little talent he had in the best way possible, he made the season a "my way or the highway" approach and lost them all. No doubt, Doeren is blessed (not beatitudes blessed but some other kind) to have a patient Athletics Director who last year fired the guy she hired as basketball coach soon after she arrived at NC State. He was doing an okay job with a team that had a revolving door of players coming and going. He had just one of those one-and-done quality players that Duke is relying on to win, and that player has to be suspect in the FBI investigation of college basketball though his name does not appear anywhere publicly in the probe.
The AD has lived through four miserable football seasons but she says the football program has been making progress. Other coaches subject to her kingdom have been fired for better records. As a matter of fact, the previous football coach was 22-28 in the ACC and got canned. Doeren has to be 13-3 total in the ACC for this year and next to match that mark. He seems to be on that path with a 4-0 ACC record this season. By the way, the progress the AD sees is at the ticket booth. Season ticket sales and attendance has not dropped while Doeren has been coach. On the contrary, the numbers have increased, and since she is more about the money (spending it wildly as she did at Maryland), it's easy for her to stick with a loser and hope he becomes a winner.
With a 6-1 record and being on top of our ACC division, I've decided to get on the Wolfpack bandwagon if there's room. I see no one jumping off and there seems to be unlimited space. There are five games remaining on the schedule: at Notre Dame, Clemson in Raleigh, at Boston College, at Wake Forest, and North Carolina in Raleigh. I believe the Wolfpack should (not will, not might but should) win them all and play in the ACC Championship game in which a win might get the Wolfpack into the four-team playoff for the national title. I'll be disappointed in anything less.
None of the five remaining games are easy; all have subplots. Notre Dame is much stronger this season and is out to revenge the loss in Raleigh last year; Clemson needs to win out the season to stay in the hunt to win a second straight national title; the Wolfpack seems to have a tough time with BC, going 5-9 since 2005; Wake Forest has flashes of brilliance against State; and it's a week before the Wolfpack's game with North Carolina which looks more and more like Furman and Marshall but could be a season-ending spoiler. Doubtful and a loss to the Tar Heels might be reason to lose a job.
I discount all of that and say the NC State Wolfpack will be 11-1 overall and 8-0 in the ACC when the regular season is over. Dave Doeren will ride off the field on his player's shoulders and there will be jubilation in Carter-Finley Stadium that hasn't been seen since...well...maybe a close win against Florida in the early 1970s. Doeren will play down the win, knowing his team is headed to Charlotte for the ACC title game.
Unfortunately, the head coach will be wearing that stupid-looking t-shirt that he's been displaying this season. It's not a collared shirt; it's worse than the Dabo Sweeny sweat shirt look at Clemson. Doeren looks less the part of a head coach and more that of a field hand, which he wants NC State to project, a team that gets dirty and work with it's hands. And all this time, I though my alma mater has been trying to rid itself of the Cow College image that made it so great, Maybe Doeren is convincing those image-makers otherwise. If he wins, he'll get more of what he wants, the school be-damned.