NC State coach Dave Doeren was not blinded last summer by unrealistic expectations.
Heading into his first season, Doeren said he thought the team “had a chance,” but also knew there “was no margin for error.” The Wolfpack entered the season with just 11 returning starters -- one of the fewest totals in the nation -- and no proven quarterback. And yet NC State was picked by the media in July to finish third in the Atlantic Division.
That prediction was off. Way off.
The Pack crashed with a winless record in the ACC to finish last in the division standings and 3-9 overall. The already-thin roster was ravaged by injuries, and NC State ended the season with eight straight losses. While the 2013 season is not going to define Doeren’s career at NC State, it also can’t set the tone for the rest of his tenure there.
Clearly, he knows that.
“It won’t define my career by any means,” Doeren said. “I’ve been in this business for a long time and what I’ve done to get to this point stands on its own. I inherited a team that had the fewest number of returning starters, fewest number of returning lettermen, that had very little depth at certain position groups, and we had decimating injuries at every one of them. With that being said, we were in six of our losses in the fourth quarter where we either had a lead or were within a touchdown from winning. Our team was young, there were a lot of lineup changes. There was very inconsistent play at quarterback. All of those things are fixable.”
Not even Doeren, though, knows how long it might take to fix them.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “I’m here for the long haul. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to build it the right way and they’ll be proud of the product. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve shown that. I’ve never left a school where it hasn’t been better than when I got there. Never. That will happen here. How long it takes? Who knows. I can’t predict that.”
Athletic director Debbie Yow is willing to have some patience.
“He understands what needs to happen to make significant progress,” Yow said. “He is working hard to advance our program and we have a lot of confidence in him.”
Without enough depth and marquee players to give the Pack the fourth-quarter boosts it so desperately needed, NC State started from behind under Doeren. The program’s inexperience was exacerbated by injuries, as players listed on the two-deep missed a total of 67 games, and 45 games were missed by players who were listed as starters coming into the season. The quarterback and receiver positions were hit especially hard, as the quarterbacks missed seven total games and receivers missed 18.
Without the starting left tackle, fullback and no depth on the offensive line, the staff had to shuffle the lineup almost every game. A total of 20 players got their first career starts, as there were only four returning starters on offense and five on defense.
With the exception of two ACC games last season (Florida State and Maryland) NC State still had a fighting chance to win late in the game. In the other ACC games, the average difference in the score after the third quarter was just 7.1 points. NC State was also a very young team, with 11 true freshmen playing, including five who started. That experience should help next season, along with the presence of first-year starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who transferred from Florida and had to sit out 2013 because of the NCAA transfer rule.
“There’s a lot of bright spots,” Doeren said. “Our team knows where it’s headed, our staff knows where it’s headed. Recruiting is going in the right direction. Everybody on the inside of these walls understands what we’re doing here.”
Everyone on the outside is just waiting to see the results.