RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) The next step for North Carolina State is finally here.
The Wolfpack had a five-win turnaround to reach eight victories in Dave Doeren's second season, ending with a bowl win that pumped plenty of optimism into the program. Saturday's opener against Troy marks the debut of a team that talks confidently about following that up by contending in a tough Atlantic Coast Conference division behind star quarterback Jacoby Brissett.
''It's not really to help people see what we can do,'' running back Matt Dayes said of the opener. ''It's just basically for ourselves to get the confidence early on and just keep building from that.''
N.C. State entered last season with fragile confidence after a three-win season in Doeren's first year that included the program's first winless ACC record in a half-century. But a strong finish provided a jolt of confidence, including a road rout of rival North Carolina.
''At this point ... you're around 43 to 44 practices (since spring) without a game,'' Doeren said. ''The guys are ready to get on the field and the coaches are ready to see them play.''
It also marks the first game for Troy coach Neal Brown. The 35-year-old coach is second youngest coach in the Bowl Subdivision and has returned to the program where he served as an offensive coordinator before stints at Kentucky and Texas Tech.
''It will be a different experience,'' Brown said. ''It's obviously the first time I'm going to run out there as a head coach, there will be some things that I will have to get used to, but I'm looking forward to it.''
Here are some things to know about Saturday's Troy-N.C. State game:
FAMILIAR FACE: Troy's defensive coordinator should be very familiar with N.C. State. Vic Koenning spent the past three seasons running UNC's defense. ''We expect to see some of the same and some different from him,'' Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said, ''and that's kind of what you get in every opening game.''
NO THORNTON: The Wolfpack won't have top rusher Shadrach Thornton due to a two-game suspension. His absence means a start and bigger role in a strong running offense for Dayes, a junior who had a big performance in a game when Thornton was suspended once before in 2013. ''It's a great opportunity,'' he said, ''and I've just got to take full advantage of it.''
TOP RECEIVER: N.C. State will have to find a go-to receiver. Juniors Jumichael Ramos, Johnathan Alston and Bra'Lon Cherry figure to earn key roles, but it's the arrival of freshman converted running back Nyheim Hines that has created the most buzz. ''Whoever has the hot hand will play,'' Hines said. ''I believe each game there may be a different go-to guy until somebody separates themselves.''
EXPERIENCED SECONDARY: N.C. State has plenty of experience back with all five starters returning to the secondary in a 4-2-5 scheme. ''We have a lot of guys that have been in the system for quite a long time,'' cornerback Jack Tocho said. ''There's no worry about miscommunication.''
TROY'S CHANGES: Coach Neal Brown inherits a team that needs a boost on both sides of the ball. The offense averaged about 22 points last year, but returns quarterback Brandon Silvers and the team's top two rushers in Brandon Burks and Jordan Chunn. The defense allowed an average of 36.2 points in a three-win season. ''I think it is hard to speak on confidence until you've played,'' Brown said. ''If you want to talk about trust, I trust them.''
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