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Adam Gold

In year six, time for NC State to take the next step

Posted August 31, 2012

Tom O'Brien is a wonderful football coach. He's smart, disciplined, consistent and a proven winner. He built a solid program during a 10-year stint at Boston College, with his last eight teams qualifying for a bowl game. In Raleigh, while completely rebuilding a program with players willing to abide by his rules, he's still managed to reach the postseason three times in five years.

He's developed dozens of players for the National Football League, including a pair of starting quarterbacks with very different styles in Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle's rookie sensation Russell Wilson.

He's not afraid to change the way his teams play offensively, as evidenced by the way he utilized the skills of Ryan and Wilson. And his teams generally played great defense with linemen and linebackers who were huge impact players.

At both BC and – hopefully – here at NC State, once the former Marine had the ship pointed in the right direction it was a parade of 8- and 9-win seasons. The only thing that O'Brien has failed to accomplish thus far in a 15-year coaching career is winning a conference – or division – title. And, while expectations for this team are not necessarily to finish atop the Atlantic Division – especially with the presence of national contender Florida State and defending conference champ Clemson in the way – it's a team that should be among the best in the ACC.

Shooting for just the second double-digit win season in program history should be among the goals this year.  Sorry if that bar seems a bit high for you, but it seems attainable to me.

This is by no means a perfect team. They don't have a deep corps of wide receivers. They don't have a ton of depth in the middle of the defensive line, and their linebackers are all major question marks. But, they have an experienced offensive line, solid running backs and, in Michael Glennon, they have a quarterback who got better each week a year ago and could end up playing on Sundays. They also have one of the best defensive secondaries in the conference and one of the best players in the nation in cornerback David Amerson.

Tonight in Atlanta, the University of Tennessee, one of the all-time winningest programs in the history of college football, stands between the Wolfpack and the start of a season Pack fans have been anticipating for a decade. Optimism was never higher than during the 11-win campaign in 2002. Now, after the Chuck Amato era fizzled out, it's time for O'Brien to bring that excitement back to Carter-Finley Stadium.

O'Brien has restored order to the Wolfpack program. He's undefeated against arch-rival North Carolina. And, he's even won the battle of soundbites with Butch Davis ("We're unquestionably the best program in the state") and Everett Withers ("That's a triple play").

But, let us not forget that, regardless of O'Brien's coaching resume, NC State was 21 minutes of football away from a coaching search a year ago. Inexplicably, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, State found themselves 27 points down to a Maryland team that had won just once all year against an FBS opponent. Fortunately for the Wolfpack, midway through the third quarter, the tryptophan wore off, the team woke up, and they scored 42 unanswered points, beat the Terrapins and followed that with a win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. 

Crisis averted.

Now, it's time for this program to continue to build on that success and take the next step in its development.  That step is not sweating out bowl-eligibility in late November.  That step is playing meaningful games in relation to the standings and the rankings well into October.  That step is seizing the opportunity to make a statement on a national stage and showing the college football-watching world what Wolfpack football is all about.  That step begins tonight against the Tennessee Volunteers at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

In year six, it's not enough to just qualify for a bowl game. ANYONE can qualify for a bowl game.  In year six, it's time to be relevant.  In year six, it's time for NC State football to start kicking down a few doors.  It begins tonight in Atlanta, and while the entire season doesn't hinge on a game that the wise guys actually think Tennessee should win, it will certainly be an indication of whether or not this program is ready for the next step.

31 Comments

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  • roberttherugguy Sep 2, 8:39 a.m.

    First WRAL should be ashamed of themselves, where did they come up with the question: Famous First Lady's? Bill Leslie must have had a college course on the subject, you were ambushed Adam! As to NC State, nothing easy about starting the season with two road games. It will be a "dog eat dog" when the Wolfpack take on the Huskies in East Hartford on September 8th. Do not pencil in a win for the Pack just yet.

  • NCSU84 Sep 1, 5:39 p.m.

    Maybe next year...

  • jrt0856 Sep 1, 11:21 a.m.

    Hey! Everyone listen up, This is college footbal, not basketball, you dont have the luxury of a month getting your act together. In football it starts with game 1. I am sooooo tired of hearing about slow starts, a good coach has his team ready to play on game 1 and bad coach takes 2 or 3 games. Guess what by game 3 the season could be OVER!!! Get IT!!

  • dawright72 Sep 1, 10:43 a.m.

    It's very telling that on GameDay, Herbstreit made the comment that the Tennessee's physicality was on display last night - Fowler interrupted with a joking, "but it WAS NC State Herbie...." Clearly an indictment of the state of State football...and a true one at that. Amerson should now feel normal again after getting burned for multiple TDs. It would be nice to take advantage of Glennon's last year, but he's going to have to do a better job of picking the right receivers. A lot of work to do guys...get it together!

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Sep 1, 8:01 a.m.

    Frankly, it could have been worse for Tennessee. I don't think it could have been much worse for State. Tennessee did have that one TD that they ruled a fumble. State also dropped a perfect pass on their first drive that would have given us a first and goal, then missed the field goal attempt.

    But look at Tennessee's first three touchdowns. They weren't scoring on sustained drive. They threw up big passes and had a big run where the guy got into the open and we couldn't get to him. Three touchdowns on drives of just four total plays. State was doing a good job stopping their drives, but then we gave up too many HUGE plays.

    I'm really trying to say this objectively. Once they got a lead, it changed the way they could play the game.

    But they were certainly the better team. That much was obvious. I wish we could have played them 3rd or 4th game instead of the first. TOB never has our team ready early in the season.

  • Gunnstigator Sep 1, 5:41 a.m.

    ^^^^

    Good to see you back here jc. You made good points. I'm surprised that Tennessee won last night, but I did find myself wishing that the Carolina/State game was the opening game of the season - maybe then Carolina would end the 0-5 streak:) This is the year I thought State would pick up where they left off last year and have a strong start to the season. I agree that TOB is a good, solid coach, despite the loss last night. That's only one game; state will regroup and rebound.

  • jcinncar Aug 31, 11:58 p.m.

    ^^^ Tennessee, like almost every SEC school, recruits better than almost every ACC school. Tennessee played the better game and deserved to win. Frankly, it could have been worse for State.

    But I also think that if these two teams were to play in the last month of the season it would very likely be a much closer game...if not a State victory. TOB teams always get better as the season goes along. But, by the same token, they always seem to be slow starters. This isn't the year for State to start slow. In years past injuries helped cause a few of those slow starts but better recruiting in the past would have helped minimize the effects of those injuries.

    In November State will be a good, fundamentally sound football team. Tonight they looked like any number of past State teams under TOB playing their first game. It has to frustrate State fans to some degree to always see the same results. Slow start. Strong finish. 8-5 or so at the end. But also at the end of each year feeling that next year they can avoid that slow start and have that special season...which never comes. It can still be a special season for State. But only if they not repeat the slow start which seems to be their routine.

    My point is this. TOB is a good coach. That much is clear. But he is not a strong recruiter. And if he doesn't win big with this State team I don't know that he ever will. Then again, 8-5 every year and beating your biggest rival is never a bad thing. But is it enough for State fans and the Athletic Department?

    Hard to say.

  • TruthBKnown Banned Again02 Aug 31, 10:49 p.m.

    We took the next step, alright.

    A step BACKWARDS.

    Actually, I think Tennessee is better than we thought. We made a lot of the usual first game mistakes, and also got pushed around tonight. I think we can still have a good season, just not a special season.

  • kornfan2448 Aug 31, 8:08 p.m.

    Oh Yeah, and to all you nay-saying UNCers, two words for 2012:

    SIX STRAIGHT!!!!!!

    — Posted by redistrumps

    Good to set goals.

  • redistrumps Aug 31, 6:49 p.m.

    Oh Yeah, and to all you nay-saying UNCers, two words for 2012:

    SIX STRAIGHT!!!!!!

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