RALEIGH — Dave Doeren’s facial hair is more than just a new look.
For the NC State football coach, now entering his 10th season on a contract extension that could keep him in Raleigh through 2026, the salt-and-pepper beard is a daily reminder of last season’s controversial ending.
The Wolfpack was set to take on UCLA in the Holiday Bowl on December 28 with a chance to win their 10th game for the second time in program history before the Bruins pulled out hours before kickoff due to COVID-19 issues. inside the program.
Doeren told reporters later that day that he “felt cheated” and said UCLA was deceitful when it came to the health of its players. The NCAA later ruled the game a void, leaving NC State with nine wins and leading Doeren to give the governing body for college sports a new acronym.
“The NCAA stands for No Clue At All in my opinion,” Doeren said in December.
Six months later, that anger remains.
“When I started (growing a beard), it was just my protest of how our season ended,” Doeren told the USA TODAY Network. “I was mad at the world when all that happened.”
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It’s the perfect narrative for Doeren to embrace as the Wolfpack enters the 2022 season with the highest expectations of any team in the past decade. It’s a show that thrives as an underdog but has struggled as a favorite; a place where they are this year.
“There is a lot of unfinished business,” Doeren said in May. “There’s been a big chip on our shoulder because we didn’t make it to the Charlotte game last year.”
Doeren, 50, is on pace to become the program’s all-time winningest trainer and is the only one to have led the Wolfpack to three separate nine-win seasons, including 18th in the final standings. college football playoffs and 20th in the AP final. Top 25 ranking last season.
But the greatest achievements of the game have remained out of reach. NC State has never played in an ACC title game (the conference began playing a championship game in 2005) and close losses to Miami (31-30) and Wake Forest (45-42) kept that streak alive in 2021. .
This season, however, the Wolfpack are hot picks to win the ACC Atlantic Division after defeating Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina last season for the first time in 20 years. There is a certain level of trepidation with the preseason hype, especially after seeing UNC stumble and fall last year after entering the season as a national title contender.
But NC State has the foundation for success.
All 10 assistant coaches on the field return with new contract deals, as do most of the starters from last year’s 9-3 campaign.
The excitement begins with the return of quarterback Devin Leary, whom Doeren has called the “best quarterback in the country” during several off-season interviews.
Leary returns for his fourth year in Raleigh after calming his detractors with a breakout season in 2021. Following a broken leg in 2020, Leary became one of the most efficient passers in the country with 3,433 yards, 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions while completing 65%. of the releases from him.
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This season, Leary’s blindside will be more vulnerable with left tackle Ikem Ekwonu turning pro. The 6-6, 330-pound Anthony Belton, Ekwonu’s backup last season, started at left tackle during the spring game and senior Bryson Speas and sophomore Timothy McKay could also be used at the position.
“There’s a lot of guys here who are excited for their opportunity to compete,” Doeren said. “By the time we get to August, we’ll have a good idea of where we are.”
The return of offensive lineman Chandler Zavala will provide a boost after the NCAA granted him a sixth year of eligibility. His initial request for a sixth season of eligibility based on injuries and a missed year due to COVID-19 was initially denied.
“I’m so excited to have the opportunity to play another year with my brothers,” Chandler told the USA TODAY Network. “We have the opportunity to do something special.”
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Leary will have some familiar targets at wide receiver in Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter. Thomas caught 51 passes for 596 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and the 3-for-6 Carter is poised for a break after 31 receptions for 556 yards and six touchdowns. Maryland transfer Darryl Jones could also have an early impact for the Wolfpack.
The biggest question mark on offense is who will run the ball for the Wolfpack.
Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person have left for the NFL, leaving NC State without a proven running back.
Junior Jordan Houston is the most experienced and obvious candidate to be NC State’s starting running back for the 2022 season. In 2021, Houston had 20 carries for a career-low 83 yards. He tore a ligament in his foot during the spring game that limited his abilities early in the season. In his first two seasons, he had double-digit receptions. In 2021, he had three.
Sophomore Delbert Mimms and freshman Demie Sumo have six runs between them and Michael Allen, NC State’s four-star running back from the class of 2022, hasn’t played a bit of college football.
“Those young guys, Delbert, Demi, they’re really good,” Houston said. “But I’m the oldest man in the room now, so I think naturally it’s for the best if I step up and be a leader in that room. I mean, this is what I’ve been waiting for.”
NC State lost six starters on defense last year, including All-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore, and still allowed just 19.7 points per game. The Pack’s defense finished among the best in all major defensive categories.
Wilson and Moore return this season along with Drake Thomas, who came in at middle linebacker to have 99 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, three interceptions and nine quarterback rushes. Also returning are All-ACC defensive tackle Cory Durden, cornerback Derrek Pitts Jr., safety Tanner Ingle and nickel Tyler Baker-Williams thanks to the extra year of COVID.
David Thompson is an award-winning reporter for the USA TODAY Network who covers NC State and Duke athletics. He can be reached at [email protected], 828-231-1747, or on Twitter at @daveth89.