NC State, Doeren look to 2018 after 9 wins, Sun Bowl victory

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) North Carolina State rode a senior-laden roster to one of its most successful seasons of the past two decades.

Now the Wolfpack will find out if coach Dave Doeren’s multiyear work to strengthen the program’s depth has the team prepared to handle some big personnel losses next season.

”Top 25 is the standard we want for this program and it’s where we want to live and this senior class got us to that point,” Doeren said after Friday’s 52-31 win against Arizona State in the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. ”That’s the standard we live by at this point and that’s what we want it to continue to climb.”

The Wolfpack (9-4) entered the season with hopes of contending for an Atlantic Coast Conference championship, a goal that was still alive into November before a home loss to College Football Playoff-bound Clemson. Still, North Carolina State earned only its second nine-win season in 15 years and finished 6-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference for the first time since 1994.

N.C. State knows it will lose a lot of veterans from a defense that will need an overhaul, particularly with the departure of star end Bradley Chubb – who won the Nagurski Trophy as college football’s top defensive player and was an Associated Press first-team all-American. The offense will also lose do-everything threat Jaylen Samuels, who had 47 rushing or receiving touchdowns in his career and also set the school’s all-time receptions mark.

The most pressing question is whether quarterback Ryan Finley returns to school for his final season or pursues an NFL career. Finley, a graduate transfer from Boise State, threw for 3,518 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 65 percent of his passes.

”As far as my decision, I’m just going to sit down with my parents and we’ll see what happens,” Finley said after the bowl win. ”I’m excited for both options though.”

If Finley returns, the offense could be in a strong position for a third season under coordinator Eli Drinkwitz. Four starting offensive linemen could potentially return. Speedy tailback Nyheim Hines could also return after a 1,000-yard rushing season, along with top wideouts Kelvin Harmon – who became the first Wolfpack player since 2003 to have a 1,000-yard receiving season – and Jakobi Meyers.

There’s also the stability of Doeren’s return for a sixth season after a flirtation with Tennessee about its then-vacant job. The school announced in November that it had agreed to a new contract for Doeren, whose went winless in ACC play in 2013 but has gone 31-21 in four seasons since with three bowl wins.

”We just wanted to leave a legacy for the younger guys coming up,” Samuels said. ”I wish the best of luck for those guys coming back next year.”

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