N.C. State gets on the practice field for the first time on Tuesday morning and coach Dave Doeren wants his team focused on short-term goals.
The Wolfpack needs to fill holes on its offensive line, at receiver and on special teams. Those spots will receive particular attention during the month of August as the team preps for the opener Sept. 5 against Troy.
After winning four of the last five games in 2014, posting an 8-5 record and then putting together a top 35 recruiting class, Doeren said he is pleased with the direction of the program.
But the third-year coach wants his team focused on self-improvement. He said in his first team meeting that he told the players he didn’t want to hear any talk about a specific win total for the upcoming season.
“We need to be better,” Doeren said recently at the ACC kickoff. “Every guy in the room needs to be better, including myself. If that happens, the result will be more than eight.”
Doeren said the overall goal every season is progress. After going 3-9 and winless in the ACC in 2013, the progress was significant last season.
There has been progress on the recruiting front. Doeren’s first two recruiting classes, from 2014 and ’15, were both ranked in the top 40, according to recruiting site 247 Sports composite rankings. But N.C. State is still has a ways to go to close the gap with ACC powers Florida State and Clemson.
FSU (28-4) and Clemson (26-6) have the best conference records since the start of the 2011 season and have combined to win the ACC’s last four titles. Over the same four-year span, N.C. State is just 11-21 in ACC play.
Both FSU and Clemson lost significant talent in the offseason, while N.C. State returns many key starters who finished last year with a flourish. FSU lost the most players to the NFL draft (11) and Clemson returns only three starters from the top-ranked defense in the country.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the talent gap is closing, Doeren said.
“We’ve recruited well for two years,” Doeren said. “So have they. Now it’s can we develop those guys better than they can develop theirs? That’s what it comes down to.”
Recruiting services are not perfect but they offer a relatively accurate snapshot of how a program has accumulated talent.
Using 247 Sports’ composite rankings for the last five recruiting classes, FSU’s average class ranks 5.4 in the country, best in the ACC. Clemson is third (behind underachieving Miami) in the ACC with an average national rank of 17.
There is correlation, at least on the top and bottom ends, between the ranking and average wins per season. FSU (5.4) has averaged more wins (12) per season over the last four years than any other ACC team, while Wake Forest (67.2) has the lowest recruiting rankings and the fewest average wins (4.5).
N.C. State ranks ninth among 14 ACC teams in average recruiting class ranking (50.8) and ninth in average wins (6.5 per season).
Doeren’s first two classes (34 in 2014, 31 in ’15) have been a significant jump up from Tom O’Brien’s last three classes (59, 54 and 72).
Wisconsin (44) and Kansas State (61.8) are two programs who have recruited similarly to N.C. State over the past five years but have won more. Doeren cited both as a model for what N.C. State can be.
The right guys
Doeren was an assistant at Wisconsin for five years. He said the Badgers’ challenge in the Big Ten, with Ohio State, is no different than what N.C. State faces in the ACC with Florida State.
“They’re not signing the same kind of player that Ohio State is, but they’re beating them or they are competing with them,” Doeren said.
Wisconsin hasn’t had a recruiting class ranked higher than 33 in the past five years but has averaged 9.75 wins per season and posted an 11-3 record in both 2014 and ’11.
Doeren said, like Wisconsin, N.C. State can’t fill a recruiting class solely with four- and five-star prospects but that the Wolfpack is “getting some really good players.”
“We just have to get the right guys that fit our systems and then develop them better than the other teams,” Doeren said. “That’s going to be the tell two or three years from now, how did the ’14 and ’15 classes develop?”
Doeren said he will likely have to count on first- and second-year players to help fill the holes in the problem areas at offensive line, receiver and kicker/punter.
The highest-rated players in the freshmen class – running backs Johnny Frasier, Nyheim Hines – will get a chance to help on offense too.
When Doeren’s first answered the question about if N.C. State had closed the talent gap with Florida State and Clemson, he said, “not really.” But then he corrected himself.
“I think we’re better from a talent and competitive standpoint to play those two teams than we were two years ago,” Doeren said.
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio
Recruiting rankings can be flawed but there’s a correlation between highly-rated talent and wins. The recruiting ranking of the last five classes, according to 247 Sports composite rankings, and the average wins per season from 2011 through 2014: