Dave Doeren’s first season at NC State left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans. The year was 2013, and the Wolfpack lost their final eight games of a 3-9 campaign. The future under Doeren wasn’t bright -- or at the very least, the light of success was at the end of a long, long tunnel.
What a difference a year makes. On Friday, NC State beat UCF 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field, giving the Wolfpack its third straight win and eighth of the season. Suddenly a cellar-dwelling program looks like it’s headed in the right direction under Doeren, all with a quarterback who can handle the spotlight.
That big piece of NC State’s puzzle starred against UCF. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett, who transferred from Florida before the 2013 season, took the reins of the Wolfpack’s offense this fall and emerged as one of the ACC's most dynamic quarterbacks. Brissett completed 15 of 26 passes for 262 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 31 yards against the Knights. He led NC State to a 17-10 lead at halftime and finished the intermission with more yards of offense (226) than UCF’s entire team (181).
The Knights made things interesting in the second half by scoring two fourth-quarter touchdowns to cut NC State’s lead to 34-27 with 1:44 to play. But the Wolfpack recovered the onside kick and ran out the clock for the win. UCF entered the game allowing only 97 rushing yards per game -- fifth in the country -- but gave up 187 to Brissett and company.
Brissett likely made Florida fans sick to their stomach this season. He threw for 359 yards and three touchdowns in NC State’s 56-41 loss to then-No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 27, a game the Wolfpack led 24-7 at one point. Brissett ran for a career-high 167 yards in a 35-7 rout of North Carolina on Nov. 29. On Friday the redshirt junior put his mark on his program’s resurgence, which was his goal when he teamed up with Doeren.
“You put all your trust in one coach, and then things change,” Brissett told SI.com’s Martin Rickman in September. “Then you sit back like ‘Dang, this can’t be real.’ When I was [at Florida] I understood the business part of college football. I came in [to NC State] thinking all these coaches are the same. That’s why I had my guard up a lot when I first got here. But at the end of the day, they aren’t. Some coaches are different.”
NC State’s turnaround season included losses to Georgia Tech, Clemson and Louisville along with Florida State. That means there's work to be done. But considering the forecast at this time last season, folks in Raleigh can’t be disappointed with the current climate. Success breeds expectations, however, so the question now is how far Doeren can take this program in an ACC that sent 11 teams to bowls this year.
For now, the coach and his quarterback can celebrate revitalizing NC State for at least one season. Where it goes from here will be worth watching.