Caulton Tudor

Gamecocks a gateway opportunity for Pack, Doeren

Posted September 1

It hasn’t happened very often over the years, but the 2017 ACC football season has started without a league coach on the hot seat.

That statement may not be entirely accurate by Sunday morning, a day after Florida State and Alabama wrap up an opener in Atlanta with the national No. 1 ranking in the balance.

But while all 14 ACC coaches easily could be back in their current offices on kickoff day 2018, the need for immediate success is legitimately high for a few, primarily NC State’s Dave Doeren, Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall and Boston College’s Steve Addazio.

Among the three, Doeren clearly has the most to gain if his fifth Wolfpack team can begin with a win over South Carolina in Charlotte.

It’s not that a competitive loss to the Gamecocks would be an automatic signal for panic, of course. State could lose the 3 p.m. game and still escape September with a 3-2 record and be 1-1 in the league by beating Syracuse in Raleigh (Sept. 30) and losing at Florida State (Sept. 23). The Pack’s schedule gets more difficult in the season’s second half, but the final three games against Boston College, Wake Forest and UNC should be plenty winnable.

That said, it’s undeniable that Doeren needs to crack the 8-win overall mark and go at least 4-4 in the ACC this season, and the easiest way to put the two in motion at once would be with a win over the underdog Gamecocks.

Doeren went 8-5 in his second season at State, but that came with a 3-5 league record and four walkover wins in non-league play. That 2014 team ended with a bowl victory over Central Florida, but the 2015 team again went 3-5 in the ACC and could not sustain postseason success after taking a pounding from Mississippi State in Charlotte’s Belk Bowl.

Overall, Doeren’s resume has been fairly average. It’s a trend that generally has marked Wolfpack coaches since Dick Sheridan retired after going 9-3-1 in 1992.

But if 2017 can begin strong with a win Saturday and finish strong, Doeren’s cushion will expand significantly.

The 2018 non-league lineup includes only one team from a Power 5 conference – West Virginia in Raleigh – plus games against James Madison and Georgia State and a road trip at Marshall. Notre Dame will go off the slate, and the second crossover Coastal game changes from a trip to Pitt to Virginia in Raleigh.

Doeren hasn’t come remotely close to circling South Carolina as a must-win, and he's correct to feel that way. But he also has been prudent enough to understand its implications and opportunity.

“We’re looking forward to the opportunity to play in Charlotte against South Carolina,” Doeren said in mid-week. “It's been a good week of practice with the guys. A little break in the weather for them, as well. It's nice to be into this mode of the season. Looking forward to seeing a lot of hard work from our coaches and our players against a great opponent at an incredible venue for them to play in.”

The Gamecocks probably aren’t a “great” team, but it could be a game of great importance for both sides. It definitely qualifies in that regard for Doeren and his program.

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