GLENDALE, Ariz. – Remember back in October when Dave Doeren got so upset over a comment made by Steve Smith Sr. suggesting that NC State fans couldn’t wait for basketball to start that he told the former NFL receiver on the air that he could “kiss my (rear)?”

“Tell Steve Smith in the studio that this ain’t a basketball school,” the Wolfpack football coach proclaimed in a postgame interview shortly after his team’s emotional victory against Clemson.

It was the kind of “Salty Dave” comment that has made Doeren so popular among his school’s passionate fan base throughout his 11-season run in Raleigh.

And at the time, it felt and sounded like an accurate statement.

Doeren’s Wolfpack teams have won 9 games in 4 of the past 7 seasons and been to bowl games in 9 of the past 10. They finished the 2023 season ranked 21st in the nation and produced a Butkus Award winner, Payton Wilson, as the best linebacker in college football.

State’s basketball program, meanwhile, had been to the NCAA Tournament only once in the previous 5 seasons. It was a rut that appeared to be getting even deeper, while putting coach Kevin Keatts’ job in jeopardy, after a regular season that saw the Wolfpack stumble to the finish line with 10 losses in their final 14 games.

And then everything changed.

Over the course of the past 4 weeks, the entire dynamic of State’s athletic perception has shifted dramatically.

Keatts is no longer on the hot seat. His team won the ACC Tournament and reached the Final Four.

And suddenly, there are bigger, more important goals to achieve than simply winning 10 football games in a season and being the winningest coach in school history.

The bar has been raised. And Doeren is now on notice.

Winning ACC championships and competing on a national level in the 2 major sports is no longer some wishful fantasy for NC State.

If a basketball program that has done next to nothing since Jimmy V was run out of town can end a 37-year title drought, then certainly a football program that has been one of the ACC’s most consistent in recent years should be able to get over the hump and do it, too.

You could almost see that realization on Doeren’s face last week as he flashed the Wolfpack sign and sang “Wagon Wheel” along with the crowd of joyous fans during a timeout of State’s regional final victory against Duke in Dallas.

It’s somehow symbolic that Doeren wasn’t in Phoenix for the Final Four and the Wolfpack’s national semifinal matchup against Purdue. He was busy back home in Raleigh wrapping up his team’s offseason preparations at its annual spring intrasquad scrimmage.

This was already going to be a pivotal year for Doeren and his program, even before Keatts and his team upped the ante. He’s coming off one of his best coaching jobs after piecing together an elite defense with a balky offense to win 9 games and earn a trip to the Pop Tarts Bowl.

Like his basketball counterpart, Doeren has loaded up on transfers in hopes of filling some key voids.

Quarterback Grayson McCall from Coastal Carolina and running back Jordan Waters from Duke are among the highest-profile additions. McCall made a positive first impression Saturday by completing 16-of-20 passes for 205 yards with 2 touchdowns. So did Waters, who ran for 69 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.

They’ll be counted on heavily to help State finally get over the 10-win hump – something that’s been done only once in school history – and chase its 1st ACC championship since 1979. ESPN Bet sportsbook has given State the 5th-best odds to win the title at +1200, behind only Clemson, Florida State, Louisville and Miami.

Beyond the conference, the Wolfpack will have an opportunity to make a national splash with an early test against Tennessee in Charlotte on Sept. 7.

Time to stand and deliver.

Doeren has carved out a niche at State thanks to a combination of his success on the field and a personality that aligns almost perfectly with the identity of his fan base. He’s a self-proclaimed “blue-collar, hand-in-the-dirt” kind of guy who doesn’t take crap off anyone.

Let alone one of those “elitist” folks up the road in Chapel Hill.

At the same time, though, he’s had it relatively easy. Win 8 or 9 games every year, give the fans a nice bowl trip and put the hated Tar Heels in their place, and they’ll put up a statue in your honor outside Carter-Finley Stadium.

Or at least that was the formula. But the dynamic has changed. And at least for the time being, Steve Smith Sr. was right.

Now that Keatts, DJ Burns and the others have cut down nets, added a championship banner to the PNC Arena rafters and returned the Wolfpack to national prominence for the first time since the 1983 national championship, NC State is in fact a basketball school.

Until Doeren and his football team prove otherwise.