Friday, August 13, 2010

N.C. State enters benchmark year under O'Brien

N.C. State hasn’t had five straight losing seasons since 1956, when coach Earle Edwards’ team finished 3-7 overall. That year marked State’s sixth straight losing season before Edwards turned the program around and embarked on a long, and overall successful, career.

That history is a reason why the Wolfpack is entering an important season this fall. State fans have poured time and money into this program, and to see all that net four straight losing seasons is hard to fathom. It’s true that coach Tom O’Brien has had tremendous bad luck with injuries; it’s also true that he is entering his fourth season, and injuries are part of the game.

“You have to win. That shows progress,” O’Brien said in an Associated Press story. “That’s what we haven’t been able to do. … We’ve got to go on and have a winning season and go to a bowl game.”

Say what you want about State fans, but they are amazingly loyal to their program. In this region, only South Carolina football fans have given more – and often received less – than Wolfpack fans. State averaged 56,422 fans for eight home games last year, which is an amazing number for a 5-7 team.

But at some point, as O’Brien understands, you have to win. O’Brien is a smart, tough coach who wants to win and do it the right way. The chaotic ways of the Chuck Amato era have disappeared, but the winning seasons haven’t returned.

The Wolfpack is four seasons into O’Brien’s tenure and still doesn’t project as an upper-half ACC team. This schedule, with Central Florida, Cincinnati and East Carolina among non-conference games, is not easy. Another losing season would be difficult to accept, and certainly make the new chancellor and new athletics director take a long look at how to fix it.

State fans deserve a winner. This season is an important barometer of whether Tom O’Brien can deliver one in West Raleigh.

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