By 2017, N.C. State football fans will be quite familiar with the Sun Belt Conference.
The Wolfpack has added another home-and-home series with a Sun Belt foe. The Troy Trojans will open the 2015 season in Raleigh and the Wolfpack will pay them back with a visit to southeastern Alabama in 2017.
N.C. State will play three different Sun Belt teams over the next four years, including a home game with Georgia Southern to open the 2014 season. The Wolfpack is also scheduled to play at South Alabama in 2015.
The quality of N.C. State’s nonconference schedule has drawn some groans from some Wolfpack fans. The ACC’s agreement with Notre Dame will help some. The Fighting Irish are supposed to play in Raleigh in 2016 and the Wolfpack is tentatively scheduled to go to South Bend, Ind. in ’17.
Notre Dame is a full conference member in all sports but football. The Irish will play five ACC teams a season, starting with the 2014 schedule.
With the strength of N.C. State’s ACC schedule and the current rebuilding mode of the program – coming off of a 3-9 finish under Dave Doeren in 2013 – it’s not prudent to be more aggressive outside the ACC, athletic director Debbie Yow said.
Yow, who inherited the South Florida and Presbyterian games on the 2014 schedule and the trip to South Alabama in 2015 from former AD Lee Fowler, said she realizes there are valid complaints about the quality of the schedule.
This year’s home slate in particular, with Georgia Southern and ODU both making the transition from the Football Championship Subdivision, and no date with North Carolina or Duke is unappealing.
“And I understand the complaints, in partial context,” Yow said, “but we have to give ourselves a chance to be competitive.”
Yow pointed out on the upcoming schedule, the Wolfpack will play Florida State, Clemson and Louisville in a four-week span with no extra time off to prepare for any of those three games. The Clemson and Louisville games are on the road.
Florida State went 14-0 and won the national title last season and hasn’t lost an ACC game since a trip to Raleigh in 2012. Clemson finished 11-2 at No. 8 in the final AP poll after an Orange Bowl win over Ohio State. The Tigers only two ACC losses in 2012 and ’13 were to FSU.
ACC newcomer Louisville went 12-1 last season and finished ranked No. 15. All three schools finished in the top 15 in 2012, as well. All three are in the Atlantic Division with N.C. State, which is why Yow has been less inclined to seek out a big game out of the league.
Yow has spent more time trying to get home games. The Wolfpack will play Old Dominion at home in 2014 but to do so, it has to go to Norfolk, Va. in 2015. Yow also bought out a return trip to Central Michigan for $350,000 to open up a home slot on the 2014 schedule. The Troy game in ’15 still leaves the Wolfpack six home games, after playing eight in 2013.
Football schedules can be complicated and N.C. State has had its issues with locking in opponents. The school had a home-and-home with Pittsburgh on the books, and the two played in Raleigh in 2009, but then Pitt joined the ACC.
The series with East Carolina is also about to hit a lull. The two teams will play in Greenville in 2016 but only two other times – 2019 (Raleigh) and 2022 (Greenville) – over the next nine seasons.
The ACC coaches will meet next month to discuss the possibility of adding a ninth conference game to the schedule. Any possible changes to the league format would not happen before the 2016 season, though.
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