Matt Carter/The Wolfpacker
NC State head coach Dave Doeren is 4-0 in season openers, but the opponents were Louisiana Tech, Georgia Southern, Troy and William & Mary. Of the four, only Georgia Southern proved to be a worthy opponent. The Eagles went 9-3 in 2014, and it had close losses on the road to NCSU and Georgia Tech, a pair of ACC teams that won bowl games (Georgia Tech won the Orange Bowl).
The other three however went a combined 13-22 with the best record being William & Mary going 5-6 last season in the Football Championship Subdivision.
Hence, this season’s opener against South Carolina in Charlotte is a new experience for Doeren and his players, and Doeren is quick to acknowledge that opening versus a border school from the SEC certainly catches the attention of the players as they work through the offseason conditioning program.
“It helps a lot,” Doeren said. “When you are sitting there talking about playing maybe a 1-AA type school, the focus is more about you.”
Apparently for some Wolfpack players, the game has been circled since last season ended, after beating Vanderbilt 41-17 in the Camping World Independence Bowl in December, NC State’s first win over an SEC team since topping South Carolina in 1999.
“It started after the bowl win, when we were in the locker room and one of the guys, I don’t remember who it was, said, ‘Hey, let’s not stop with one. We got another SEC team first game of the year next year, let’s make sure we’re locked in in the offseason,’” Doeren recalled.
Doeren would be remiss if he did not acknowledge some mixed feelings about the game. He is not a huge fan of losing a seventh home game, but that is overridden in part by seeing his players get the experience of playing in an NFL Stadium.
“These kids growing up dreaming about playing in the league,” he said. “They share a locker with an NFL player, use his locker, that’s a pretty neat deal.”
As for South Carolina itself, Doeren said that he has already spent “a lot of time” looking at the team. He admires how well second-year South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has recruited and believes that the return of Gamecock senior linebacker Skai Moore should be a big boost for its defense.
Yet Doeren does not want to put too much stock into one game.
“Obviously you would like to start with the momentum any team has when they are a 1-0 team, but that’s not going to determine where we end up. It’s going to be the beginning of it,” Doeren said. “I would love to continue with the momentum we finished with more than anything.”
DOEREN NOT A FAN OF SOME RULES CHANGES
There has been a number of changes instituted by the NCAA during the offseason, and Doeren has his issues with some of them.
“How long do you have?” Doeren added.
Among those that particularly rub Doeren the wrong way are allowing official visits from April through June and forbidding players from participating in any football-related activities on their day off.
The former rule, Doeren argues, has several problems.
“April, May and June we are going to have 12 weekends now we have to bring kids on campus,” Doeren said. “Every single employee I have are going to be in the building. Where they used to be weekends off, now they’re not. So that’s going to be really good for staff morale and wife morale. Not good.”
Doeren added that junior colleges have long been allowed to sign in December yet they were never allowed to take official visits in the spring.
“The unintended consequences of that rule are crazy,” Doeren added. “The sad part of it is at our coaches’ meeting every single coach in the room said we don’t want spring visits and we still got it. That’s disappointing. We’ll make it work, figure it out, but it’s not good for college football.”
One of the issues with the official visits is that players are not allowed to be a host when they have a day off anymore.
“Now we have to train on a Saturday if we want them to host on Saturday,” Doeren said. “How’s that good for a player?”
One potential rule being discussed is stretching the college football season to 14 weeks.
“As long as they don’t go into July I am okay with it, for two reasons,” Doeren stated. “Starting fall camp during summer school is taxing on our players, so the earlier you start, the more of that you have. You’re also now taking more time away from our families as coaches, not just coaches but our personnel that works for us, and they’ve already done that by taking 12 weekends in the spring.
“You say we’re going to take these 12 weekends away from April to June and now start a week earlier, I worry about the future of families in our profession. I just don’t think that is the right way to go.”
“We have a lot of time between the last week and the bowl game already. Take one of those weeks.”
• Long-time sportswriter Barry Jacobs asked Doeren who had the best football IQ on the team.
“On defense I would say [senior safety] Shawn Boone or [senior linebacker] Airius Moore,” Doeren answered. “On offense I would say [redshirt junior quarterback] Ryan Finley, just incredible football IQ, [senior tight end] Cole Cook … [redshirt junior linebacker] Germaine Pratt would be another one whose football IQ is off the charts.”
Doeren added that Pratt had a promising spring and for the first time the Pack has a linebacker corps that goes two-deep at both spots.
• The biggest competition on offense could be at slot receiver, Doeren noted, and the depth at receiver outside redshirt junior Stephen Louis and sophomore Kelvin Harmon.
“I am excited to see that in [redshirt sophomore] Jakobi Meyers and [fifth-year senior] Gavin Locklear, [redshirt junior] Maurice Trowell and some of those guys,” Doeren said. “Two new faces that I am excited to see: JuMichael Ramos who was a really good player for his freshman year, had a bad sophomore season and came back as a junior and had a really tough injury and redshirted last year. It’d be a great story for him to have a great season as a senior.
“[Redshirt freshman] C.J. Riley is the guy we were most excited to watch last year and he tore his ACL in the summer. He’s now a year from that injury. He’s 6-5 and ran a 4.59.”
Defensively, cornerback depth may be the biggest question mark.
“I’d probably be most concerned about our corner depth, not our talent but our depth,” Doeren said. “[Senior] Mike [Stevens], [sophomore Nick] McCloud and [fifth-year senior] Johnathan Alston are three guys we’re excited about. Camp will be about figuring out who that fourth and fifth guy is going to be, whether it’s Bryce Banks, Vernon Grier, Chris Ingram or James Valdez is we unsuspend him.
Banks and Valdez are a pair of redshirt freshmen, while Ingram just enrolled as a true freshman. Grier is a redshirt sophomore and former receiver.
“Knowing what it could be. We have seven players there, and we have [fifth-year senior walk-on] Nicholas Lacy there who is a great kid. It’s not a matter of we don’t have anybody there nobody can get hurt. We have them, how are they going to handle it? Just like last year we don’t know how Steph Louis were going to be, how Kelvin Harmon was going to be. I’m hopeful at the end of camp we’re going to be able to say we’re in great shape.”
• Former NC State linebacker Dantonio Burnette made a significant impact in his first season as the Pack’s strength coach, and it did not go unnoticed by Doeren, who said that Burnette and his staff “in my opinion are as good as they get.”
“I am just thankful he is part of our life and blessed that he’s our strength coach,” he added. “I think that he’s awesome.”
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