10 reasons NC State is in the Top 10 for first time since 2002
RALEIGH — It’s a historic week for the NC State football program coming off a perfect 4-0 start to the season.
The Wolfpack are ranked No. 10 in the AP Top 25, the school’s first appearance in the Top 10 since 2002. Philip Rivers, now retired from the NFL and coaching high school football, was the quarterback for that NC State team.
Additionally, the Pack will head to Clemson to take on the No. 5 Tigers this weekend in the first top-10 matchup in program history. NC State will have a chance to climb higher than No. 10 for the first time since 1974 with a win over the Tigers, as the Pack really are experiencing a moment of history in this special 2022 season.
It’s all going well for NC State right now, and here are 10 reasons the Pack are back in the Top 10 after so many years away:
Isaiah Moore decided to return and the dominoes fell
NC State was dealt a huge blow in a loss to Miami last year, as leading linebacker Isaiah Moore went down with a knee injury that ended his season.
A month later, Moore announced that he would be returning to NC State for one final season in 2022. Moore’s announcement sparked a quick chain of events, as Payton Wilson, Devin Leary, Tanner Ingle, Grant Gibson, Cory Durden, Drake Thomas, Thayer Thomas and more announced that they also were returning.
The Pack had a clear “run it back” mentality, kick-started by the team’s unquestioned leader in Moore. His decision to return made a massive impact on the state of this year’s NC State roster.
That domino effect of everyone deciding to return had even more of an impact for the Pack than just the talent coming back. With the veteran group staying for a final season, NC State came into this year with leaders all over the field.
On offense, Leary is back for a third season as the starter. Gibson leads an experienced offensive line and is a captain once again, while Thayer Thomas and Devin Carter are old voices in a pretty young wide receiver room.
On the other side of the ball, the veteran trio of Moore, Wilson and Drake Thomas is leading the linebackers. The secondary has Ingle, Cyrus Fagan, Tyler Baker-Williams and more, while the defensive line has the older leadership of Durden and Savion Jackson.
There are veteran guys in literally every position group for NC State, and it’s one reason the Pack have been able to get off to a hot start.
Bowl game cancellation sparked a fire
Part of that desire for NC State to run it back came from the way the Pack’s 2021 season ended, as the Wolfpack’s Holiday Bowl was canceled just hours before the game was scheduled to take place.
NC State’s players missed Christmas at home for the game, and they were also denied the chance for a historic 10th win for the program. The way the rug was pulled out from under it clearly struck a nerve with the Pack, something Dave Doeren and his team have been open about.
There’s an extra chip on the shoulder of the already chip-filled shoulders of NC State thanks to the Holiday Bowl debacle.
COVID eligibility rules created the perfect storm
While it was a big deal that guys like Moore, Gibson, Ingle and Durden decided to return, it was also a big deal that they even had the option.
The NCAA granting an extra year of eligibility to all players due to COVID has helped NC State as much as it has anyone in the country, as this Wolfpack squad would have had to reload at some major spots this season if not for the 5th year.
The timing of the extra year of eligibility, mixed with some long-term injuries for the Pack, has led to NC State having the most experienced roster it has ever had.
Doeren made a point before the season to mention NC State’s stability on its coaching staff, and it’s obvious that there’s a ton of familiarity within the program.
The Wolfpack are the only team in the ACC with every single position coach and coordinator the same in 2022 as it was in 2021, and that’s a credit to the program being built in Raleigh. Offensive coordinator Tim Beck and Leary have built a strong rapport, while defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has fully installed his unique 3-3-5 package with the Wolfpack.
Dantonio Burnette’s development program
Even with all the recent success of NC State’s program, the Pack still just can’t compete with the likes of Clemson, Florida State and even now North Carolina when it comes to recruiting.
The Pack have just 12 players who were 4-star recruits, per 247 Sports, and half of those 12 are 2021 or 2022 guys who don’t really play. NC State has just 4 starters and 6 consistent players who were 4-star recruits, and it doesn’t have a single former 5-star guy.
But where NC State has absolutely dominated the ACC over the years is in player development, as countless players have turned from low-ranked recruits to draft picks. The biggest reason is strength and conditioning coach Dantonio Burnette, known as Coach Thunder. He has done wonders with this program, and it’s one of the main reasons NC State is at the place where it is.
Devin Leary’s 2020 injury against Duke
While crediting an injury for NC State’s current success is selling the Pack short, Leary’s season-ending ankle injury against Duke in 2020 set an important course for the team.
In his first full year as a starter, Leary got the opportunity to play in just 4 games before the gruesome ankle injury ended his year. He rehabbed and got stronger, and he came back in 2021 and broke the NC State record for touchdown passes in a season.
So, where would Leary be if he played a full 2020? Honestly, maybe in the NFL. That injury played a role in keeping him around for this season, but it also gave him some time to learn through watching Beck’s system and serving as another set of eyes for the team in 2020. It undoubtedly helped his development.
A special recruiting find in Demie Sumo-Karngbaye
The Pack just missed out on pulling in a signature 5-star recruit at running back in 2021, as Will Shipley chose Clemson over the Wolfpack at the very end.
And without Shipley on board, NC State went out and found a hidden gem in Demie Sumo-Karngbaye. The powerful back from New Jersey was a 3-star recruit and had just one other FBS offer, from Temple, but chose to join the Pack.
And now in 2022, Sumo-Karngbaye is establishing himself as the Wolfpack’s premiere back through just 4 games. Is he as good as Shipley? Of course not. But NC State did a really good job of finding a contingency plan for the 2021 class, and he is becoming a star in his own right.
Two team-defining nail-biters in 2021
The 2021 team changed the narrative surrounding the Wolfpack, and it’s what’s led to this year’s team getting up to No. 10.
In a thriller at home against Clemson, the 2021 Wolfpack finally got the long-awaited win over the Tigers. The Pack won in double overtime, overcoming a missed game-winning field goal attempt this time around.
And then to end the season, NC State mounted a rampant comeback to shock North Carolina and finish the season at 9-3.
Without those wins, the narrative around NC State wouldn’t have fully shifted. The Pack started this season at No. 13 in the AP Poll because of what it accomplished last year and the roster it brought back, and that new look from the outside on NC State is why the Pack are up to No. 10.
A strong, undeniable identity as a program
There’s a culture about NC State as a school that has fully bled into the football program, and it’s perhaps the biggest accomplishment of Doeren’s tenure in Raleigh.
The Wolfpack has an identity. It’s a blue-collar, hardworking, hand-in-the-dirt football team, one that prides itself on outworking its opponent each week. The players, for the most part, weren’t super-heralded recruits, but they work well together and have established the Wolfpack as a tough team to beat.
Identity is a big deal for any college football program, and NC State has established its fully over the past 3 or 4 years. That mindset and collective thought is a big reason the Wolfpack are No. 10 — with a real chance to climb higher.