RALEIGH — After a season filled with close losses and questions about its coach’s job security, the N.C. State football team is back in the national spotlight.
The Wolfpack started the season with higher expectations than usual thanks to a veteran roster entering head coach Dave Doeren’s fifth season.
After a season-opening hiccup against South Carolina, N.C. State has won four straight games, including a signature win at Florida State for arguably the biggest win of Doeren’s tenure.
Now, the No. 24 Wolfpack (4-1, 2-0 ACC) — ranked for the first time since the final poll of 2010 — gets a shot at No. 17 Louisville (4-1, 1-1), led by reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, on Thursday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
On Wednesday during the ACC’s weekly teleconference, Doeren said he’s been impressed with the resiliency of his bunch following a season filled with close calls.
“I think just as a coaching of staff, as a football team, it made us really come together,” said Doeren, who is 29-27 at N.C. State, with the last two wins moving his ACC record to 11-23.
“Everybody on the outside was saying what they were saying, but we knew we had good coaches. We knew we had good players and it was just a matter of time. You just keep pounding the rock.”
N.C. State nearly upset eventual national champion Clemson on the road last year, but Kyle Bambard missed a 33-yard field goal for the win at the end of regulation in an overtime loss. That game threw the Wolfpack in a midseason funk, which included a 54-13 loss at Louisville.
“(It) definitely made us more cohesive and have more respect and love for each other here. I think any time you have adversity, you’ve got two choices and we chose to face it,” Doeren said.
“As the leader, I chose to face it the right way. I think there was a lot of times, you know, as a coach where things are going well and people are giving you this and that and the other and then you have some tough times. I think for me, just going through it all, you’ve got to have really good blinders in this seat that I’m in.
“Regardless of what happens, it’s a one-week-at-a-time approach during the season and a one-day-at-a-time approach for the kids. It made me better — not that I would want to relive it — but I know it made me better and I know it made our coaching staff and our football team mentally tougher.”
The Wolfpack’s journey to the top of the Atlantic Division will continue against the Cardinals.
Louisville’s visit to N.C. State will mark the first game between two ranked teams in Carter-Finley Stadium since 2000. In that game, Florida State won 58-14 when Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was an N.C. State freshman starter.
“You watch Louisville on film, obviously it starts with Lamar and he does a tremendous job, not just as an athlete but as a passer, and has improved quite a bit,” Doeren said. “They play hard. They are well-coached and very balanced and play with good tempo on offense and their defense has nine seniors on it.”
Seven of NC State’s Thursday night games have been against top-25 teams and the Wolfpack has posted a 4-3 mark in those contests. The Wolfpack is playing its first Thursday night game since 2013 — Doeren’s first season. That year, the Wolfpack lost 26-14 to Clemson at Carter-Finley Stadium.
Louisville has spent the past two games since the Clemson loss earning lopsided wins against Kent State and Murray State by a combined margin of 97-13.
Rodd Baxley can be reached at 910-416-5182. Follow him on Twitter @RoddBaxley.