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.
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.