NC State enters football season a step ahead of ACC rivals Duke, UNC

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren found himself in a club of one Thursday morning during the Pigskin Preview luncheon.

On the main dias sitting with four other head coaches, including his Triangle ACC counterparts David Cutcliffe of Duke and Larry Fedora of North Carolina, Doeren was the only one coaching preseason all-ACC players.

When the league announced the team on Wednesday, N.C. State discovered that three of its players were selected in media voting. Wolfpack defensive end Bradley Chubb and punter A.J. Cole were selected at their positions while the versatile Jaylen Samuels was the voters’ pick at the newly created all-purpose slot.

While Cutcliffe and Fedora will begin practice without any preseason all-ACC players, Doeren enters his fifth season at N.C. State with plenty to brag about.

“I’m proud of our staff and how we recruit,” Doeren said. “N.C. State has great things to talk about with recruits. But I’m equally proud of our strength staff and trainers and our assistant coaches and how they develop people. That’s the fun part about our football team. These are all young men that I recruited. We’ve had them freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior years now. To be able to finish the journey with them and watch them grow up as men and see them gain muscle and get faster, it’s fun. It’s very rewarding as a head coach.”

The Wolfpack went 7-6 last season, winning a bowl game for the second time in the last three seasons. The media at last week’s ACC kickoff predicted N.C. State to finish fourth In the Atlantic Division behind Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, who are all expected to be among the nation’s top 25 teams when the season’s first poll comes out.

At Duke, Cutcliffe is trying to lead his team back to a bowl. The Blue Devils played in bowls in four consecutive seasons from 2012-15, including winning the 2013 ACC Coastal Division championship, before going 4-8 in 2016.

Entering his 10th season at Duke, Cutcliffe said he wasn’t surprised no Duke players made the preseason all-ACC team. He also had no arguments with the Blue Devils being picked sixth in the ACC Coastal Division.

“I don’t know how you wouldn’t,” Cutcliffe said. “They know we have a returning quarterback. Everyone is talking about that. But as they looked at us, they didn’t see an all-ACC performer on our team. There is no obvious strong suit to people. So you deal with it.”

Cutcliffe hasn’t asked his players individually if they are bothered by the low opinion of their team. But he said he didn’t have to to know that it did.

“It resonated with them,” Cutcliffe said. “They are human. It resonated with me. I’m human. And that’s ok. We’ve been there and done that at Duke and done well off years like that.”

North Carolina, under coach Larry Fedora, is trending in the wrong direction. The Tar Heels won the ACC Coastal Division in 2015, finishing with an 11-3 overall record. Last season, UNC finished 8-5.

This season, having lost its top skill players on offense, UNC is picked No. 5 in the Coastal Division with no players on the preseason all-ACC team.

“We have a lot of unknowns,” Fedora said. “But for the first time in six years we bring back a defense that is experienced. We feel good about where we are on that side of the ball.

“On offense, we lost a quarterback, four wide receivers and two running backs to the NFL draft. We’ve got some holes to fill. We’re excited about some new names and new faces stepping out and hopefully being a household name by the end of the season.”