Practice doesn’t start until July 29 but the N.C. State players are already noticeably “locked in,” coach Dave Doeren said.
That’s because the Wolfpack will open the season with a high-profile nonconference game. After a string of openers against Louisiana Tech, Georgia Southern, Troy and William & Mary, N.C. State opens the 2017 season in Charlotte on Sept. 2 against South Carolina.
The Wolfpack players actually started talking about this game in the run-up to last season’s Independence Bowl, a 41-17 win over an SEC team (Vanderbilt).
The return to Bank of America Stadium, where N.C. State was embarrassed in the Belk Bowl in 2015, 51-28 by Mississippi State, also serves as obvious motivation.
“I don’t think I have to say anything about it,” Doeren said of the return to Charlotte. “The guys know.”
Doeren said many of the players, and 16 starters are back from last year’s team, used the Mississippi State loss as motivation against Vanderbilt. The opener against the Gamecocks is another chance for N.C. State to make its mark under Doeren.
In the previous 17 seasons, N.C. State has opened with a Power 5 opponent only five times. N.C. State has lost four of those games in a row, including a pair of games to South Carolina in 2008 and ’09.
N.C. State’s last win over a Power 5 opponent in an opener came in 2001 when Chuck Amato’s second team beat Indiana 35-14 at Carter-Finley Stadium. Mike O’Cain’s last team opened the 1999 season with a 23-20 win at Texas.
Doeren was criticized earlier in his tenure for playing too many soft nonconference opponents but the past two seasons have been considerable upgrade.
Last year, N.C. State lost at East Carolina and beat Notre Dame at home. This year, the Wolfpack will face South Carolina at a neutral site, go to Notre Dame and host both Marshall and Furman.
Given the choice, Doeren wouldn’t have played both South Carolina and Notre Dame in the same season.
“I would have loved to have had a (neutral-site) game like this when Notre Dame wasn’t on the schedule,” Doeren said. “That’s great from a competition standpoint, I love it, but you’d love to have a game like this in a normal season when (Notre Dame) wasn’t part of the rotation.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
NC State has opened the season from one of the current “Power 5” conferences (SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12) only five times in the 2000s:
Aug. 31, 2012
Sept. 3, 2009
Aug. 28, 2008
at South Carolina
Sept. 4, 2005
Sept. 6, 2001