Wolfpack Postseason Hopes Bowled Over With Seventh Loss
ATLANTA -- The NC State football team didn't just lose a game Thursday night. With its 28-26 setback at Georgia Tech, the Wolfpack lost any chance of finishing its season in a bowl game.
With seven losses on its record and only one game remaining, coach Dave Doeren's team can no longer reach the six-win plateau needed to gain postseason eligibility.
It's the first time since Doeren's initial season of 2013 that State will be home for the holidays, a reality that had already begun to sink by the time his disappointed players met with the media following the game.
"We’re extremely disappointed," sophomore linebacker Isaiah Moore said. "Guys like (defensive end) Deonte Holden has been here for six years and he’s never missed a bowl game. It hurts. It hurts a lot.
"We leave it all out there for the guys everyday and we left it all out there today. We didn’t come out with the win. It hurts."
To its credit, State played the second half of Thursday's game at Bobby Dodd Stadium with the urgency one would expect from a team faced with what it described as a "sudden death" situation.
The problem is that the Wolfpack had already dug itself into a 21-3 hole by then.
Despite a valiant comeback that fell a late failed two-point conversion attempt from sending the game into overtime, State's bowl hopes expired with a whimper rather than a bang.
It was a result that hit the few seniors on the roster especially hard. Win or lose, State's season will end after next week's rivalry game against North Carolina.
"It’s real tough," said graduate transfer receiver Tabari Hines, who played perhaps his best game of the season Thursday with four catches for 88 yards. "You strive every year to go to a bowl game. That’s the baseline minimum, that you go to a bowl game.
"For me and all the other guys, it’s kind of tough the process right now. Next week will be our last game. We don’t get to enjoy that bowl game experience. We went through a lot this year. The best way to go out if you can’t go to a bowl game is to win."
Coach Dave Doeren said he plans to do everything possible to make next week's finale at Carter-Finley Stadium a special experience for his departing upperclassmen.
"I feel bad for our seniors," Doeren said. "I love those kids and for them not to have a bowl game ... we are going to make this a special week for them, with the last week, Senior Day at Carter-Finley against our rival."
Adding to the intrigue of that final game is the fact that the Wolfpack could potentially be the spoiler that also keeps the Tar Heels out of the postseason. UNC currently has four wins, but plays FCS opponent Mercer on Saturday.
Beating its rival would at least give State bragging rights and send it into the offseason on a positive. It would also leave open a microscopic possibility for the Wolfpack to sneak back into bowl contention if not enough six-win teams are available to fill the entire postseason roster.
As unlikely as that is to happen, it's still a possibility.
If the season were to end today, there would be 12 bowl spots available for five-win teams. Those spots would be filled based on Academic Progress Rate rankings. State is tied 14th in those those standings, but only eight of the teams ahead of the Wolfpack already have five wins.
With two weekends still remaining in the regular season, the number of spots will almost certainly shrink. Considering how things have gone for State this season, it's highly unlikely that things will break just right for it now.