UC has never played NC State in Football before. The Pack have by and large been a bit of a disappointment in my eyes since Tom O’Brien left Chestnut Hill to go to Raleigh. He has blown a little hot and cold in recruiting for State vacillating between average and good, the 2010 class was deemed the 34th best in the country by rivals. The talent is there to a degree that he didn’t really have at Boston College because NC State is in a much, much richer talent pool in North Carolina than exists in Massachusetts, but the results just haven’t been there. O’Brien has always been known for having tough, hard nosed and disciplined teams at Boston College but that hasn’t carried over to the Wolfpack just yet. NC State has yet to finish above 500 under Obrien and have posted 7 losses in all three of his seasons. On paper that doesn’t appear due to change this year. The very early pre season consensus has them in the bottom half of the Atlantic division, again. Along with Duke they are the only school that has yet to have a top 3 finish in their division since the conference went to a divisional arrangement in 2005. There is talent on the team and they are capable of pulling out some truly inexplicable results like last years victories over Pitt and North Carolina, but the game to game consistency doesn’t seem to be there just yet.
NC State on Offense
The offense for NC State pretty much rests on the shoulders of one man, Russell Wilson. He reminds me of Ben Mauk in quite a few ways, he isn’t that big or tall, doesn’t have the worlds strongest arm, isn’t the fastest guy but he takes the physical abilities that he does posses and uses them to fashion a very effective quarterback who accentuates his strengths while almost completely avoiding his weaknesses. A large part of that is coaching, but most of it is just playing smart football which Wilson excels at. His stat line from last year was most impressive 59 per cent completion rate, 3,027 yards, 31 TD’s against 10 INT’s.
The running game is going to be an issue for this team though. The best runner on the team, at least statistically, is Wilson who went for 260 yards and 4 TD’s last year. The highest season total amongst the running backs on the roster is 118 yards by Curtis Underwood in 2008. Underwood seems to be the best bet to start because of his (relatively) extensive game experience and an injury to Brandon Barnes in the spring. I don’t think Underwood will end the year as the starter with Barnes getting healthy and the potential emergence of freshmen like Mustafa Greene or Anthony Creecy.
The strength of the offense besides the QB position is at receiver. They bring back 8 of last years top 11 receivers. All of the receivers are big, strong guys measuring 6’3″ or taller and over 200 pounds. Jarvis Williams is the man to watch this coming season, Owen Spencer had better stats last year, but Williams has a knack for getting into the endzone The passing attack should be very good once again, and it will need to be. It is hard to expect much in the way of production from the running backs this coming season, but not just because of the shaky running back situation, but the iffy situation upfront as well. NC State will have one of the weaker offensive lines in the ACC this year. They bring back just two starters in RJ Mattes and Jake Vermigilo. They did bring in a couple of very good recruits in Robert Crisp and Tyson Chandler but offensive line is one of the most difficult places for true freshmen to make an impact, though Crisp is in all likelihood immune to this fact of life.
NC State on Defense
NC State wasn’t all that good on defense last year. They were OK against the run last year, but the secondary was a mess, a consequence of having two freshmen to serve as the bulwarks in the secondary and a pretty average pass rush. This year they have to replace all of last years defensive line, that kind of whole sale replacement usually points to a shaky front line which typically means allowing a higher rush per game, fewer sacks and TFL’s and less pressure on quarterbacks in general. That is an issue when you consider the secondary.
Like I said last years secondary was a complete mess. They do return 6 players with starting experience, which is usually a good thing, in this case it is a bad thing because the reason that many people drew starts was that they kept screwing up. They used 8 different starting combinations in the secondary, which isn’t something a coach wants to see. They should be better this year than they were last year, but the group is still a year away from being pretty good. However, this year against this UC receiving unit, it isn’t going to matter much.
The unquestioned strength of the defense is at linebacker which returns 5 of the top 6 from last years depth chart, but it is going to be too much to ask of them in the early season to try to effect the flow of play against UC. Not with little to no stability in the defensive line or the secondary.
What to Expect
NC State has some talent to work with. Their receivers, quarterbacks and linebackers are all pretty talented and deep, but the big deficits that they face in at running back, along the offensive and defensive lines as well as in the secondary are very hard to overcome. NC State could explode on offense and turn this into a shootout, anything is possible with Wilson at quarterback. But I have a hard time envisioning this as anything other than a UC win because of that secondary facing UC’s deep receiving unit. It won’t be easy, but this should be a UC win.