2013 SEASON IN REVIEW: Dave Doeren isn't used to losing, so his debut season in Raleigh may be one he would rather forget. The Wolfpack went a mere 3-9 overall and failed to secure a single victory in the ACC, the first time that has happened to the team since 1959.
Doeren had to do a lot of patchwork in the backfield, as quarterback Brandon Mitchell went down in the season opener and missed five games. Backup Pete Thomas played in his stead, but didn't really shine.
Despite the injury to Mitchell, the season opened with two straight wins over Louisiana Tech (41-14) and Richmond (23-21), followed by a competitive loss to powerhouse Clemson (26-14) and a blowout win over Central Michigan (48-14).
However. the wheels fell off the cart after that, as the team went winless in the months of October and November, losing eight straight games to close out the season, seven of which came by double digits.
OFFENSE: There is reason for optimism in year two under Doeren, as the team returns seven starters on the offensive side of the football. Gone are both Mitchell and Thomas, but the program is excited to have junior Jacoby Brissett suiting up. The Florida transfer may be a perfect fit for what Doeren wants to run.
Doeren is excited to have Brissett in the fold and has high praise for his new signal caller.
"Well, it starts with how you were blessed, and Jacoby is a gifted player. I mean, he was blessed with size and ability. He's a driven player, which is how he was raised. I think he's a very determined young man, and he's one of those guys that shows up to work. He's very, very competitive. He's very hard on himself. He doesn't ask people to do things that he's not doing himself, and I think players respect that about him.
"He wants to win, and it's personal. He's got to go do it. We've got to get players around him to help him and all those things, but he has the skill set and the intangibles that you look for when you recruit that position."
Tailback Shadrach Thornton returns to headline what should be a deep backfield. As a sophomore, the 6-1, 203-pounder showed flashes of brilliant play, leading the team with 768 yards on 4.7 yards per carry.
Four starters return along the offensive line, which also will see senior tackle Rob Crisp (6-7, 285) return after missing most of last season due to injury.
There is some talent on the outside as well for NC State, led by speedster Bryan Underwood, who caught 32 balls last season.
DEFENSE: The defensive unit for NC State had its ups and downs as well last season, yielding just under 400 yards per game, while foes scored just over 30 points per game. Seven starters return on this side of the football as well for the Wolfpack.
Three of the four starters from last year's defensive line are back, headlined by senior defensive end Art Norman (30 tackles, 4.5 sacks). Senior Brandon Pittman leads the way in the linebacking corps and is the team's top returning tackler after recording 62 stops in 2013. Junior safety Hakim Jones was right behind with 61 tackles and two interceptions and will once again be called upon to be a leader in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game is another area with experience returning, as both senior place kicker Niklas Sade and senior punter Wil Baumann are back in the mix. Sade was 19-of-23 in field-goal attempts last year with a long of 48 yards. Baumann averaged a steady 42.1 yards per punt and placed 19 of those inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
OUTLOOK: There is nowhere to go in the ACC but up for NC State in 2014. After a winless run through the conference in 2013, the Wolfpack have a chance to be much improved thanks to a nice nucleus of returning talent. Just how many of the league rungs they climb remains to be seen.
The teams has a real chance to exceed last year's win total just in non- conference action, as the Wolfpack should top Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, USF and Presbyterian.
The league slate will once again tell the tale. ACC foes that come to Carter- Finley Stadium include Florida State, Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Starting the conference slate with the Seminoles is daunting to say the least and could be a ream momentum stopper. To make matters worse, a road trip to Clemson follows the FSU game. Other ACC road tilts include playing at Louisville, at Syracuse and at North Carolina.
Building a winning program isn't going to happen overnight, but Doeren sees progress coming off last year's disappointing campaign.
"I think it's been great for the mental toughness for our players. None of them want to relive it. So, when you see things go a different way than you want, you can snap them back into it by telling them this is what's going to happen if you want to live like that. I think it���s always there and it's not something we want to talk about or need to talk about a lot. It's in the back of their minds. The only thing you can do when you have adversity is face it. That's what we've tried to do and be real with our guys and building the program the right way. I feel like we've been able to do that so far."
The Wolfpack aren't going to be vying for a conference crown this year, but doubling up on last year's win total is a realistic goal in Doeren's second season at the helm.