To accomplish that feat, Doeren and NC State will have to navigate through the rocky waters of league play. As maligned as the ACC has been in football, the head coach entering his third season in the conference is under no illusions as to the challenge he faces -- even if most fans and pundits do.
“When you are a coach there is nothing you can do about who is on your schedule from a conference standpoint, you have just got to take what they give you,” Doeren said. “I am just happy that we have got a bye week in the middle this year. To me, if you talk about the difference in the schedules is this year we don’t have to play eight straight with the meat of the schedule like we did last year.”
There has been plenty of conjecture as to whether the balance within the conference is balanced or even fair. The ACC’s Atlantic Division has become a meat grinder and if NC State hopes to advance to Charlotte to compete for a league title, the Wolfpack will have to earn it.
Florida State, which has won three straight league titles and reached the College Football Playoff after winning the national championship in 2013, was picked to finish second in the Atlantic Division behind Clemson. The Tigers, who thrashed NC State by a 41-0 score in Death Valley last season, have reached double-figures in victories in each of the last four years.
With Louisville, Boston College and Syracuse also, the Atlantic is not simply a top-heavy division. Even Wake Forest has been a thorn in the Wolfpack’s side in Winston-Salem -- where the schools meet this season -- as NC State has not defeated the Demon Deacons on the road in the last six meeting between the schools.
“Right now it is inequitable, but I know that one time it was the other way,” Doeren said of the difference between the Atlantic and Coastal divisions. “They are going to say if you're in the Coastal at one time it was the opposite, and it probably was, but that's not today. Is it unfair? I don’t know if you can say that. It is tilted right now.”
Doeren also feels that it the Atlantic as a division and the ACC as a whole has compared favorably to the SEC over the past two seasons.
“The ACC Atlantic had more players drafted than the SEC West or the SEC East last year, so there is a high degree of talent that we face on our side of the division right now,” Doeren said. That is just how it is.”
“I don’t think we have gotten enough credit as a league the last two years,” Doeren added. “I don’t think it is anyone’s fault particularly, it is just for seven years in a row the SEC was ‘the league’ so they earned their credibility and then all of a sudden the ACC is winning all of the awards, teams are playing or beating the SEC on the field, our bowl records are better. It just hasn’t become a reality in society yet for whatever reason. The perception is the SEC is still stronger. They have more money, they have a network but they haven’t done the same things on the field that the ACC has done for the last two seasons.”
With the improvement made over his first two seasons at NC State, Doeren does not shy away from expectations or hope of reaching a top-tier status.
“I told the guys in our first team meeting I don’t want to hear talk about end goals from a numbers standpoint,” Doeren said. “We need to be better. Every guy in the room needs to be better, including myself. If that happens, then the result will be more than eight (wins), and that is what you want -- to show progress every year.”
“Guys can say they want to win the ACC, but that is not how you win it,” he added. “You win it by not dropping as many passes, by not turning the ball over. You win it by being good on third down. [It is] focusing on the little things, and that is what I will be doing everyday.”