Belk Bowl: North Carolina State leaves 2015 with nothing

The Mississippi State Bulldogs finished a perfectly respectable season on Wednesday afternoon in Charlotte, winning the Belk Bowl and capturing nine victories in a rebuilding year.

The Bulldogs lost their best running back and receiver from 2014, leaving star quarterback Dak Prescott with comparatively few resources this season. Even though MSU’s nine wins did not include a victory over any high-end team, and even though the Bulldogs defeated only one SEC team with a winning regular season record (Auburn finished 7-6 with its win in the Birmingham Bowl over Memphis, but the Tigers were 6-6 in the regular season), they still did well to reach a 9-4 record under this given set of circumstances.

Mississippi State might not be regarded as a particularly distinguished team as 2015 ends, but the Bulldogs and head coach Dan Mullen still achieved a lot. You can hold those two counterintuitive truths together.

For the team Mississippi State defeated in the Belk Bowl, the same is not true… even with a winning season now in the books.

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The ledger sheet will show that the North Carolina State Wolfpack went 7-6 this season. If Mississippi State gets credit for nine relatively undistinguished wins, why wouldn’t N.C. State deserve the same treatment and analysis?

Mississippi State actually defeated a couple of teams from Conference USA (Louisiana Tech and Southern Mississippi) which both won nine games. The SEC resume was thin, but Clanga clocked a few teams which achieved something this season.

For North Carolina State, the portfolio was unusually barren for a bowl team.

The Wolfpack didn’t beat a single team with a winning record this season. A few other teams in the FBS managed to work their way into a bowl game on the basis of a tissue-soft schedule. Give N.C. State credit for winning the games it was supposed to win, but the Pack didn’t win a single game against an opponent of equal or slightly (or substantially) greater ability. There’s a certain emptiness in that, so when coach Dave Doeren’s team took the field in the Belk Bowl, it had a chance to sharply revise the way its 2015 season would be remembered.

A blowout loss to Mississippi State only reaffirmed every negative reality about Wolfpack football.

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Keep this in mind about Doeren: He was hired in Raleigh after he led Northern Illinois to the Mid-American Conference’s first and only Bowl Championship Series berth in the 2013 Orange Bowl against Florida State. Doeren was hired to not go 7-5 the way Tom O’Brien did; he was hired to make NCSU a factor in the ACC Atlantic and a program which could consistently win nine games a season. That requires picking off at least one or two higher-end opponents each year.

Given the way Mississippi State coasted past the Pack on Wednesday, there’s little to no reason to think that North Carolina State is about to turn the corner.

The Wolfpack did create some special plays in the Belk Bowl (click on the link below to ensure you can see the vine, just in case it doesn’t load from the captured tweet):

However, you’ll notice that this and other big plays came when the Wolfpack were trailing by three scores. They were in catch-up mode early, often and always. This was a nolo contendere game, and that’s no way to move into 2016.

Mississippi State was just too good, running rings around N.C. State’s defense with plays such as this one:

Give Mississippi State all the credit in the world for exceeding expectations this season.

The bigger story from the Belk Bowl, though, is that North Carolina State is lost… and doesn’t seem to have a flashlight, compass, or GPS device as it fumbles around in the darkness.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.

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