The Wolfpack finished the regular season 6-6 after what could be universally considered a frustrating season. What are your overall thoughts on the year?
James Henderson: I thought it was an okay year, but far from the best mainly due to the lost opportunities.
NC State had chances to defeat East Carolina, Clemson, Florida State, and Boston College, so you get the sense that the Wolfpack left a lot of wins on the table. With that being said, the Wolfpack managed to reach bowl eligibility for the third straight year, and NC State has a chance to finish with a +.500 record for the third straight season.
Steve Williams: Before the season began I felt 6-6 was a fairly realistic goal for NC State. The problem is, seeing the way they performed against Clemson and Florida State left most fans expecting more. In the end I think the Pack finished up where most thought but the way State got there may not have been what folks were expecting. As a whole it was an up and down year. Obviously the victory over UNC was huge but the aforementioned losses were also huge.
Rob McLamb: The season has both a glass half full and glass half empty element to it. NC State clearly closed the gap with Clemson and Florida State but so did Boston College and Wake Forest -- with both of the latter heading to bowl games as well.
Remarkably, the Wolfpack ended up right about where it was supposed to be in the most adventurous of ways. Games that should have been won were lost, games that were expected to be wins were losses and NC State won once again in Chapel Hill when North Carolina seemed to be a much better team.
The bowl game versus Vanderbilt needs to be the genesis of NC State's ascent to the next level. The Wolfpack could use a victory in Shreveport as a start to being a program that does not allow the games that seem in the bag to slip away while also matching the record from the 2015 campaign -- which many saw as a disappointment.
Overall, the 2016 season will be remembered as one that marked the beginning of something, whether it is the end or a new era of success remains to be seen.
Bryant Carson: The result was pretty close to what I had imagined but, as per usual, I was surprised at how it all played out. Overall I thought State fielded a very physical and tough team that really excelled at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. After the three weeks of Wake, ND and Clemson I thought this team/program was on the verge of turning the corner. What I didn’t see coming was the toll the back-breaking loss to Clemson would have. I could be completely wrong but I still feel like that game gave the Pack at least a 2-week hangover that caused an all out ass-whooping at Louisville and a head-scratching disappointment against BC. Who knows though, if they had beaten Clemson maybe they’d have spent the next few weeks congratulating themselves and lost those games anyway.
State was seemingly close this year to finally getting a win against some of the heavy-hitters in the Atlantic Division with narrow losses to both Clemson and FSU. What do you feel like the Pack needs to do differently in 2017 to get over the hurdle?
James Henderson: Just stay together and keep building. When you're that close, stay committed, hungry and hope your experience returning and improved play can get you over the hump.
Steve Williams: Finding a reliable kicker would help a lot. I also feel that if State can hold serve with the defense and become more consistent on offense, they’ll be fine.
Rob McLamb: No amount of coaching or repetitions in practice can make a kicker hit the field goals (which likely would have won the games at East Carolina and at Clemson), catch an easy interception right in the hands (which likely would have won the game against Florida State) or keep a player completely out of the play from committing a penalty that negates a touchdown (which likely would have won the Homecoming game against Boston College). That essentially has to come from within.
Yet coaches will get blame for that. It is the business. For NC State to get over the hump next season the first chore will simply to maximize its potential and minimize the mental errors that kept them from being a potential 10-2 team this season.
NC State needs consistency from its kicker and a belief that it can be an elite program. The bowl game and the season opener in 2017 presents the Wolfpack with an ideal opportunity, as wins over SEC schools will generate enthusiasm and confidence.
Bryant Carson: State was right there in so many of their losses. In fact, a single play here or there would have made this season so much different. The best thing they can do is shake off all those ‘what ifs’ and go into their offseason workouts and spring practice with the same mindset as they had last year. In so many cases the team was in the right position to win but just failed to make the big plays when the opportunity presented itself. They cannot afford to make those same mistakes next season—that is if Dave Doeren is to remain head coach of the Wolfpack.
It seemed like State was on the verge of doing something out of the ordinary this season after a comfortable win against a solid Wake team and a gutty, tough-nosed win against Notre Dame and then…Clemson. Do you feel like the heart-breaking loss in Death Valley took a long-term toll on the Pack the rest of the way?
James Henderson: No, I don't. I think NC State played 50-50 games that could go a variety of ways, and outside of Louisville, that basically happened.
Steve Williams: Personally I don’t. I believe it may have had some effect on the Louisville game but I definitely don’t feel it bled over into other games.
Rob McLamb: NC State was probably going to loss the Louisville game under any circumstance. Because the Wolfpack could not quite win at Clemson it is hard to say which of the two, if either, had an impact on the Pack's midseason slump.
Playing good defensive teams did not help. The Boston College loss, which seemed so troubling at the time, is not nearly as bad now. Like the Wolfpack, the Eagles will be bowling.
Bryant Carson: I absolutely do. The coaching staff and players said all the right things after the game and during the week leading up to Louisville about ‘no moral victories’ and ‘not letting 1 team beat you twice’ but those things are easier said than done. I remember talking to Henderson after that game and he said something along the lines of ‘that’s a loss you’ll remember when you’re 80 years old’. While I hope that’s not true I wouldn’t be surprised at all if it turned out that way. You’re talking about not only beating a top 5 team that you play every year and haven’t beaten in 5-seasons but also doing it on the road—I would think that would have been State’s biggest regular season win probably ever. Hard to get over all that in a week.
Win or lose what do you think was State’s best game and why?
James Henderson: Obviously the win over North Carolina. No one expected NC State to win that game as a 10-point underdog and they soundly defeated their rival on the road.
Steve Williams: Clearly the Clemson game was their best effort of the year. That was probably the most physical I’ve seen the Pack play in years. That day’s effort would win 9 or 10 games a year if you could replicate it every week.
Rob McLamb: NC State 28, North Carolina 21
Victories over rivals stand on their own. When it comes with a bowl game at stake, it adds to the luster. NC State gets another month of football due to its victory over the Tar Heels, which is highly beneficial on several levels. The biggest benefit might be the jump the Wolfpack gets on the 2017 campaign, a season many feel the team can move into the upper echelon of the Atlantic Division.
Bryant Carson: In my opinion there are few to choose from. Even though State lost I thought they played really well against Clemson and FSU. Probably their most dominant win was against Wake and though they made too many mistakes they beat Syracuse pretty soundly (even if the scoreboard didn’t reflect it).
However, to me it was certainly the UNC road win. Backs against the wall with probably very few people outside the program giving State even a mild chance to win and needing a 6th win to get bowl eligible and continue their season. Not to mention that UNC had a lot of Jr and Sr playmakers including a likely 1st round draft pick in QB Mitch Trubisky. I was personally convinced they were on the verge of handing the game over…again…in the 4th quarter but the team finally put their foot down and got the stop they needed to grind out the win.
Win or lose what do you think was State’s worst game and why?
James Henderson: I think Louisville. NC State just didn't show up that game, and really it was the only game this season I felt that way about. NC State lost to BC and ECU, but the Wolfpack had a chance to win both of those games, in fact, they led in the fourth quarter of both.
Steve Williams: Boston College was pretty bad but the Louisville game was horrible. The Pack looked completely unprepared and uninspired.
Rob McLamb: East Carolina 33, NC State 30
A loss at East Carolina would have not seemed worse than a homecoming defeat to Boston College prior to the season but as the 2016 season took its course the Eagles proved to be a solid team and the Pirates ended up a mess. NC State will have to wait until 2019 for its next crack at its rivals from the east.
Bryant Carson: Has to be BC. ECU was a bad loss too but that is a big game for the Pirates and it was on their field. The worst thing about the BC loss, in my opinion, is that I don’t count it among the games I thought State should have won. I honestly believe BC just flat out-played State that day and deserved to win more than State did—which is what makes the loss so bad. I have since gone back and re-watched the game and BC really took control from the start by staying on-schedule offensively on most of their drives.
State couldn’t get their questionable offense off the field that day and ultimately that cost them big. In a season filled to the brim with ‘what ifs’ this BC loss will go down in my book as the biggest head-scratcher of them all.