The season was filled with ups and downs but the Pack finished the season with an unlikely win over rival UNC. Do you feel like the end to the season gives State a needed boost headed into post season play and more so into the 2017 season?
James Henderson: I think it can, but now it boils down to continuing that momentum with a win over Vanderbilt in the Independence Bowl.
State needed that win over North Carolina to get to that point.
Steve Williams: I think it does give them a boost headed into the bowl game. However, the Pack needs to win that bowl game to really get things moving for 2017 from both a team standpoint and recruiting.
Rob McLamb: It will give the Wolfpack a boost by default, since there would be no more games had NC State lost in Chapel Hill. The keys to the 2017 season will be ending this campaign with a bowl win versus a SEC school and opening up the following year with the same thing against South Carolina.
Bryant Carson: Yes, the UNC win was big for several reasons not the least of which was cooling some of the conjecture that Dave Doeren’s job was in jeopardy. I think this team needed a break and deserved a satisfying win and that’s what they got in Chapel Hill. When a season goes the way this one went I think it’s probably pretty easy to let some doubt creep in about how good of a team you really are so to go out and finally get a solid win, on the road, against an in-state rival that has been pretty good the last couple of years then it likely eases some of that doubt and allows you to celebrate all your hard work.
If the team can carry over the way they played against UNC into their bowl game and play ‘loose’ then you could add another victory to your 2016 resume which would also give some momentum going into off-season conditioning and spring practice.
How would you evaluate Coach Dave Doeren’s progress after year 4?
James Henderson: I think it's clear he has re-built the roster and has made NC State competitive in arguably the toughest era of ACC football.
With that being said, there are concerns, such as the conference struggles at home and the Pack's inability to secure an win over one of the elite programs in the conference.
Steve Williams: As a whole, I think coach Doeren runs a program that State fans should be proud of. His kids go to school, do things the right way and distractions have been limited for the most part. On the football field, I think he would be the first to admit that State isn’t where it needs to be. I do feel the talent has improved (and by quite a bit) but it’s time to see it in the win-loss column.
Rob McLamb: Dave Doeren has brought NC State back to where it was when he arrived and where it has been historically. It took him less time to do so than his predecessor. Doeren and the Wolfpack have left opportunities for fluff 10-win seasons on the table in 2015 and 2016 -- which would have been a major accomplishment for a football program that has only one double-digit win season in its history.
Bryant Carson: I continue to believe that good things are happening at State under Doeren’s watch. While this season was far from satisfying I thought the overall progress of the team was evident. Despite the rocky season this team is going to a bowl for the third consecutive year which will give them the chance to finish above .500 if they win. When you look at the assembled roster for the next few seasons you see a lot of upperclassmen with a lot of playing experience as well as some promising youngsters that have finally had the benefit of redshirting.
There is tremendous depth across the positions and a good blend of talent and experience. The wins weren’t there this season but I believe this is how you build a successful program and I really don’t think Doeren is that far away.
What, in your opinion, is Coach Doeren’s status going into 2017? Is there a line in the sand for Wins/Loses next season or just continued improvement in play regardless of game-outcomes?
James Henderson: It's hard for me to answer that, but I do think he has to improve on this season. I think anything less would be troubling for Doeren. With the schedule and returning talent, State has to take a big step in 2017.
Steve Williams: I don’t think there should be some magical number because you never know what the dynamics will be for 2017. However, if State stays healthy and relatively intact through the off season then I think most people feel 7-8 wins next year should be very do-able.
Rob McLamb: It is hard to say. The biggest factors that will weigh into whether Doeren remains after next season may be winning more of the "50/50" type of games where there is no clear favorite and eliminating the mental errors that have played a huge role in NC State losing most of them since he took over.
Bryant Carson: Going into next season I’m sure there will be talk of what, in people’s opinions, Doeren will need to do in order to keep his job. However, I’d be surprised if AD Yow operated under the same notion. For instance I doubt she’s thinking/saying, ‘he has to win 8-games or he’s fired’. The team and the program must continue to progress but I think as long Yow feels satisfied that has happened then Doeren will be fine to continue past 2017.
I also think some of the expectations for next season will depend on whether or not State loses some of the junior class or assistants in the next few weeks.
Do you believe the upcoming bowl game, win or lose, has anything at stake for Coach Doeren or his staff?
James Henderson: No, I think Doeren is fine, regardless of the outcome. As for the staff, there has been change after every season under Doeren so I think only time will tell.
Steve Williams: Obviously it puts him on more solid footing if he wins while a loss will just bring out the naysayers again.
Rob McLamb: Other than setting the table for next season and being a first win over a SEC school in a long time for the Wolfpack the game will have no more at stake then a typical bowl appearance. The Wolfpack do need to beat a school from the nation's best conference for the sake of providing a bright spot for a skeptical fan base and to end the skid against SEC teams before the South Carolina game next season but for Doeren that is all that is at stake.
Bryant Carson: It shouldn’t. To me, the best thing about getting to play in a bowl is simply the added practices the team will get. It would be great to win and officially finish the season above .500 instead of below it but I don’t think anyone should go spinning off a cliff if a 6-6 ACC team loses in the Independence Bowl to a SEC team.
Are there any coaching issues you’d like to see adjusted—be it, a coordinator or assistant change or a general change in offensive/defensive philosophy/approach?
James Henderson: Not really.
Steve Williams: Personally, I wouldn’t mind seeing one coach dedicated to special teams.
Rob McLamb: Mental mistakes and missed field goals are tricky in that the coaches will get blame but stopping it is not quite simple, especially when the practice film shows those things not occurring during the week. Tactically, NC State is fine. There will be great play calls and bad play calls as no coach is perfect. What the Wolfpack needs next season is to essentially eliminate the errors that it can control, which is easier said than done.
Bryant Carson: I don’t see any glaring need or reason to go shaking up the staff this off-season. However, I would like to see what the Pack could do next season on offense using a little more tempo and targeting the WRs a little more. I do think that losing Matt Dayes will, to some extent, necessitate passing the ball more often in 2017.
What is your take on OC Eli Drinkwitz in his first year with the Pack?
James Henderson: I thought he did a good job given the circumstances. I think he and the Wolfpack must be more productive in the redzone. That was the biggest issue offensively for NC State this season.
Steve Williams: Well, it kinda sucks when the guy you replace is a finalist for the Broyles Award. However, I liked some of the things I saw. I felt the guys looked well coached and the fundamentals were sound for the most part. As mentioned previously, I think State just has to become more consistent.
Rob McLamb: It will be tough for NC State fans to take when juxtaposing the Wolfpack's point total, due to red zone failures, next to what Matt Canada has done at Pittsburgh. Overall, the Wolfpack is a young team. That may also be a big factor in the mental mistakes that riddled the team for a long stretch. Drinkwitz did alright this season. In 2017 he will face a bigger challenge as he attempts to navigate the ACC sans Matt Dayes.
Bryant Carson: Overall I thought he did a nice job in year 1. I thought the Pack offense was pretty good until they crossed over into the red zone. Without doubt the biggest problem this offense had was finishing drives and scoring points which ultimately cost the Pack a few games in 2016. Figuring out the solution to those problems will go a long way to the State having a much better year in 2017.
Give me one assistant or coordinator that you believe deserves praise for his work this season.
James Henderson: Dave Huxtable receives criticism, but the Wolfpack's defense was the team's strength this year and the linebacker play was vastly improved.
Steve Williams: Without a doubt, Ryan Nielsen. He has done a phenomenal job assembling one of the best defensive lines in the country.
Rob McLamb: Ryan Nielsen's defensive line should feel it can hold its own with most other schools in the nation. The play of several, including Bradley Chubb, Darian Roseboro, B.J. Hill and Justin Jones, should provide NC State with hope that next season is the one where the Wolfpack moves into double-digit win territory.
Bryant Carson: I think Ryan Nielsen deserves a ton of praise for the work he does both as a recruiter and as a DL Coach. However, if I’m giving away the top coaching award for this season it’s going to DC Dave Huxtable. Coach Hux has been with Doeren since arriving in Raleigh and I believe the defense has improved each season under his watch. It certainly helps when you have a young team start to grow up—as has been the case the last 2 seasons but in this era of offense offense offense across college football some of the stats this defense put up this year are just downright impressive.
Outside of L-Ville and an argument could be made for ECU, Hux’s D gave the Pack a chance to win every game. Holding Clemson to 17 regulation points, FSU to 24 and UNC to 21 is quite simply all you could ask. It’s crazy to think but if Chubb and Josh Jones decide to stay in Raleigh for their senior seasons (which is a huge IF) this defense could potentially be even better in 2017.
Arguably the best thing about the Pack drawing a bowl birth is simply the opportunity for more practice time. If you were coaching this team what would be your focus with those practices—incorporating more offensive/defensive wrinkles, working on fundamental basics, using the time to work your redshirting players more to get them ready for 2017 or simply focusing on your opponent and trying to win the game?
James Henderson: I do everything I can to win the bowl game. I treat each practice as if the only goal is winning that bowl game.
I'd deal with 2017 starting in the spring.
Steve Williams: First of all, just win the game. Beyond that, it’s bowl season so go out and have some fun by being a little unconventional. I always feel like these practices are probably more crucial for the guys that will be contributing for the first time next year.
Rob McLamb: There has to be a balance. NC State can only win its seventh game of the season against Vanderbilt in Shreveport while the Wolfpack can have one of its best teams ever in 2017. That said, the Wolfpack does need to win the game. It can provide good vibes that will carry through the summer and hope for better days next season.
There is also the symmetry of facing Vanderbilt, the same team NC State faced with Dave Doeren in the press box in 2012 as he watched the team he had just been hired to coach. If the Wolfpack, who lost to the Commodores in the Music City Bowl and finished 7-6 that season, can flip the result the record will be the same but the vibe could potentially be different.
Simply put, the Independence Bowl is a chance for NC State to assert itself against a solid team from a major conference, pick up a bowl win, set the table for 2017 and establish a criteria for success at a higher level that can be sustained for several years.
Bryant Carson: I think these extra practices should focus mostly on working in the redshirt players with the travel team and concentrating on fundamental basics of playing football. Keep it simple, work them hard and use each practice period to its fullest. Beating Vandy in your bowl game would be great but, to me, there is a bigger picture to consider here.