PINEHURST, N.C. (WNCN) – Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff in Pinehurst, N.C. State defensive end Mike Rose said the Wolfpack wasn’t content with being picked behind Florida State and Clemson.
But State needs to play catch up with just its neighbors in the Triangle.
In eight seasons, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe has transformed Duke into a completely different program.
Looking at win totals from just the last two seasons, Duke has dominated the area in football, totaling 19 wins.
North Carolina won 13 in the same span with N.C. State winning just 11.
“What I’m most proud of is what we’ve been able to improve and grow our program while still staying true to our values,” Cucliffe said Tuesday in Pinehurst.
Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils are still searching for the program first bowl win since 1961. The Devils lost a heartbreaker to a Johnny Manziel-led Texas A&M team to end the 2013 season.
Question marks remain for the Blue Devils in 2015 as they welcome Thomas Sirk as starting quarterback.
“There’s no question Thomas is our quarterback, Cutcliffe said. “We use our backups and I expect Parker Boehme to play in the first game.”
Duke’s schedule could allow for another nine-win season with the help of leaders like All-ACC defensive back Jeremy Cash.
“We’re still in the process of becoming who we want to be. We haven’t arrived yet. You never do in college football,” Cutcliffe said.
North Carolina soundly beat Duke in Durham last year. A bright spot for the Tar Heels as they continue to work through an academic scandal that has hung over the program since 2010.
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora knew changes had to be made after the Heels posted its worst season in school history on defense.
“There were all kinds of issues,” Fedora said.” There are guys who said there were leadership problems, there were chemistry problems. There are guys who said they didn’t really believe in what we were doing.”
Fedora and the team have worked in the offseason to “own” their problems.
In an effort to revamp the defense, Fedora brought in Gene Chizik to lead the Heels’ porous defense.
Fedora said the team is exited about new additions to the staff and a new philosophy on the defensive side of the ball.
“You see a level of confidence in those guys that are back,” he said.
On the other side of the ball, Fedora is excited about his returning offense, so is quarterback Marquise Williams.
Monday, Williams said the Tar Heel offense is “loaded” for 2015.
The Heels hope to forget about the end of 2014 after being dominated by a resurgent N.C. State in Chapel Hill before falling flat in its bowl game against Rutgers.
N.C. State powered its way to a 8-5 record in 2014 behind a string of late-season wins, including the 35-7 win over UNC.
While those wins give a big sense of optimism in Raleigh, the wins also cover up bad losses in 2014. The Pack was shutout by Clemson, losing 41-0, and dismantled by Georgia Tech, 56-23.
State also let games against Boston College and Louisville slip away.
Head coach Dave Doeren said his team starting to win once they believed they could do it.
“You can’t beat teams if you don’t believe you can beat ’em, that’s for sure. I think at the end of the season we were playing very confident, team football. I think our guys believed they could beat anybody in the country. We started to play like it,” he said.
A pick-six by freshman Pharoah McKeaver against Syracuse in 2014 helped propel the Pack over the Orange and turnaround a season that was slipping away.
Without that turnaround, State would have fallen even further behind Duke and a struggling North Carolina program.
All three Triangle program have high hopes entering 2015.
In Pinehurst, the media picked Duke to finish in the Coastal division ahead of North Carolina.
N.C. State was picked not only behind Clemson and Florida State but Lousiville, too.