It is Year 4 for head coach Dave Doeren at NC State, and his roster is almost entirely his.
An unofficial review of the squad shows only 10 players remaining who made their original commitment to the Pack when Tom O’Brien was the coach. The most notable name on that list is senior running back Matthew Dayes, who nearly switched his pledge to Vanderbilt following the coaching change and essentially had to be re-recruited by Doeren and his new staff.
It is a squad still a bit light on seniors. With the knee injury to receiver Jumichael Ramos keeping him out for the season as a redshirt, just 11 recruited scholarship seniors remain. However, there are 17 juniors (although it is possible linebacker Germaine Pratt could redshirt with a shoulder injury).
Thus, it is an older group than the teams Doeren fielded in his first three years at NC State. More importantly, a lot of those juniors have been playing since they were freshmen.
It is safe to say that, aside from quarterback and the depleted receiving corps (three expected contributors lost for the season with injuries), this is Doeren’s most talented team yet.
However, expectations seem to be down from where they were a year ago. Then, the Wolfpack was coming fresh off an 8-5 season that included a routing of archrival UNC on the road and a bowl win over Central Florida, which was still nationally relevant at that point, to cap the year.
The Pack, though, failed to win a game of substance a year ago. The 7-6 record was largely the product of a soft schedule that was destined to load up wins.
There is no such break on the slate this year. Five opponents were ranked in the preseason coaches’ Top 25 poll, and Miami (26th) almost made it six. Facing such a challenging schedule could actually serve to cut Doeren a little slack in Year 4.
On paper, the Pack has six games where it will be favored: home versus William & Mary, Old Dominion, Wake Forest and Boston College, and road dates at East Carolina and Syracuse. The latter two may be trickiest because both programs will be led by new head coaches. That’s especially true of ECU since that contest is in Week 2.
NC State looks to be the underdog at home against Notre Dame, Florida State and Miami, and on the road versus Clemson, Louisville and UNC.
Falling short of a 6-6 season — a .500 finish would be the most reasonable expectation — is not going to cost Doeren his job.
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