Dave Doeren enters his 4th season in Raleigh and will try to shatter the glass ceiling of mediocrity surrounding NC State football. He'll also welcome Notre Dame to town this fall for the first regular season meeting between the two schools.
2015 Record: 7-6
F/+ Rank: 49
S&P Rank: 36
FEI Rank: 59
Wins: Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, South Alabama, Wake Forest, Boston College, Syracuse
Losses: Louisville, Virginia Tech, No. 2 Clemson, No. 14 Florida State, No. 15 North Carolina, Mississippi State
It feels just like yesterday that Dave Doeren was hired by NC State but oddly enough it feels like it's been about 10 years since Tom O'Brien roamed the sidelines in Raleigh.
Doeren is yet another one of those hires that came out of the MAC after just a couple of years of head coach seasoning. He went 23-4 at Northern Illinois for 2011-12 and quickly burst onto the scene as one of the best young coaches in the country.
The progress at NC State hasn't been all that admirable which makes you wonder how much of Doeren's past success was due to Jerry Kill building up NIU and that program having Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch at quarterback. Prior to Doeren taking over in 2011, the Huskies had just gone 11-3 under Kill, for reference.
The Wolfpack are difficult to get a read on since they've fallen out of the spotlight in recent years. Doeren slid back to a 3-9 season as a debut in 2013--and although he's gone 15-11 since--it's come against some really, really weak schedules.
Doeren is 6-18 within ACC play and is 0-10 against ranked opponents since coming to NC State. Perhaps worse, all 10 losses have come by double digits.
You'd be hard pressed to find a more uninspiring set of 7 wins in college football history than we witnessed with NC State last year. That included 4 non-Power 5 programs and 3 ACC teams who won a combined 10 games and went 3-21 in league play.
NC State hasn't had many opportunities to make noise across the nation when it's not in ACC play. They had a decent opportunity matching up against Mississippi State in the Belk Bowl this past year.
Although the score was 31-21 in favor of the Bulldogs into the 3rd quarter, NC State fell behind thereafter and allowed three straight touchdowns. Only a garbage time touchdown shortly before the final whistle prevented the score from looking worse than the final 51-21 line.
It's tough to pick a true high moment with those collection of wins by NC State, although their 24 points was the third most allowed by a very stingy Boston College defense last year.
NC State admirably went toe-to-toe with Clemson which I guess can qualify here. The Wolfpack scored 20 points in the first half and even led 20-19 late in the second quarter. Unfortunately, they would end up allowing 623 yards and losing 56-41 but that's still a bunch of points against Clemson's stout defense.
Home: William & Mary, Old Dominion, Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Boston College, Florida State, Miami
Away: East Carolina, Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse, North Carolina
Somehow, the Wolfpack 2015 schedule was only ranked 64th by Sagarin but playing a trio of Top 15 teams surely boosted that ranking.
For 2016, their schedule gets markedly more difficult. Their out of conference patsies are cut in half and replaced with Notre Dame and East Carolina, plus they drop Virginia Tech in favor of Miami within league play.
S&P Projected Rank: 40
According to this projection NC State will be the 7th toughest game on the Notre Dame schedule. This forecasts only a slight drop from No. 36 last year.
I'll echo my sentiments from above that NC State is so hard to get a read on for this year. They have the pieces to be ranked this high by S&P but with a tougher schedule I think they are more likely to lose a couple more games and not be seen as a very good team.
Predicted Kickoff Spread: Notre Dame (-8.5)
I'm conflicted on any NC State prediction. I think their defense is going to come together really well and be a strength. But having such unknown commodities at quarterback in addition to re-tooling the offensive line makes me pull back the reins a little bit.
Therefore, I swing wildly on what the Wolfpack can achieve this year. I can see McClendon being a solid quarterback and NC State surprising a lot of folks. I can also see the quarterback situation taking a sharp downturn without Brissett and Doeren going on the hot seat.
I do think this spread will be under 10 points, though. Notre Dame will be coming off a neutral site visit to MetLife Stadium the week prior and in recent years the Irish haven't always played super great on the road under Brian Kelly. I can definitely see a trip to North Carolina being a bigger struggle some may be anticipating.
Additionally, NC State has a bye after week 3 and very well could be 4-0 heading into this game. I think there will be a lot of focus on Duke being the underdog ACC school who could jump up and bite the Irish but with this game on the road, possibly moved to a night game, there's very real upset potential for the Wolfpack.
NC State has won 2 out of their last 3 at home against Florida State and taken 1 out of the last 3 home games against Clemson while being competitive in all 6 games. I'm telling everyone, don't sleep on this road trip.