#11: The N.C. State Wolfpack

The Wolfpack won 11 games for the first time in school history and embarrassed Notre Dame in a New Year's Day bowl game last year. The encore will be performed with a defense that needs some rebuilding. The top five D-linemen are gone as well as linebacker D'antonio Burnette, the team's leading tackler, and two-time All-ACC free safety Terrence Holt.

Linebacker Pat Thomas, rover Andre Maddox, cornerback Greg Golden and heralded incoming freshman end Mario Williams form the framework of the 03 defense.

Quarterback Philip Rivers will continue to fatten his career passing numbers of 61 touchdowns and 8,993 yards, and challenge for the Heisman Trophy. Tailback T.A. McLendon and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery are lethal weapons. Offensive tackle Chris Colmer racked up 151 knockdown blocks in 2002 and exudes All-America.

Fourth-year coach Chuck Amato's team faces a major obstacle at national champion Ohio State on Sept. 13. Then it's clear sailing until the final three games on the slate Virginia, at Florida State, and Maryland.

Noles busters: NC State is the only ACC program to have beaten Florida State in two consecutive seasons since the Seminoles joined the league in 1992.

Drought: NC State hasn't won an ACC title since 1979.

Kick away: The Wolfpack finished 2002 ranked second nationally in kickoff returns, averaging 24.9 yards a pop.

2002 results: 113 (53 ACC)

2002 Bowl Game: Defeated Notre Dame 28-6 in Gator Bowl

Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense, both kickers

2003 Schedule:

A. 30 Western Carolina
S. 6 at Wake Forest
S. 13 at Ohio State
S. 20 Texas Tech
S. 27 North Carolina
O. 4 at Georgia Tech
O. 11 Connecticut
O. 18 Clemson
O. 25 at Duke
N. 1 Virginia
N. 15 at Florida State
N. 22 Maryland

Schedule Analysis: The Sept. 13 game at Ohio State is surely already circled in red on the Wolfpack calendar. After beating Florida State and Notre Dame to close out the 2002 season, NC State is looking for another big name to add to its list, and Ohio State is it. A win at Columbus will boost the Pack into the Top Five, a loss will keep it in the Top 20. The ACC heavyweights are all in November, and two of the three are at home. Two weeks to get ready for Florida State in Tallahassee will help.

Final Word: New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone has to like the hand he has been dealt in Raleigh with Rivers at quarterback, McLendon in the backfield and Cotchery at wide receiver. The front seven on defense is a bit of a mystery at this point, but Chuck Amato has been recruiting well. All-ACC safety Terrance Holt is a nice safety blanket on the back line. The 23-year ACC title has an excellent chance of ending in 2003.

Clemson Slant: Chuck Amato has done what no other coach in recent memory has been able to consistently do in Raleigh- and that's win. Amato arrived in Raleigh three years ago and ignited a program that had been explosive, yet underachieving in the 1990's.

The Wolfpack finished the 2002 season at 11-3, including a 28-6 destruction of nationally ranked Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day.

"We had a great season, then we put a stamp on it. To have victory #11 be Notre Dame, to win back-to-back against Florida State and Notre Dame, two of the best programs in America- it's very hard to do," said Amato.

QB Philip Rivers will return for what seems like his 14th season as the N.C. State signal caller. Rivers owns virtually every passing record imaginable for the Wolfpack, and he'll likely eclipse a whole range of national passing records before his career ends next season.

To add to their on the field success, Amato has also led a brilliant resurgence in recruiting. The Wolfpack's 2003 recruiting class was ranked in the top 10 by several publications, and 12th by TheInsiders.

Tommy Bowden was fortunate enough to win his first two encounters against Chuck Amato, including two electrifying wins in 2000 and 2001. Last season however, was a different story. Behind a suffocating defense and dominant special teams, the Wolfpack destroyed the Tigers 38-6 in front on a Thursday night national television audience.

This year the road won't be any easier, as Clemson will travel to Raleigh to take on a team that will likely be ranked somewhere among the top 15 schools in the country.

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