Looking back to 2007, the Wolfpack surprised a lot of people last season by winning four games in a row in a stretch from mid-October to mid-November.
But just when it appeared O'Brien had the Pack in position for a bowl game at 5-5 and 3-3 in the ACC, the wheels came off.
The Pack closed its first year under the former Boston College head coach by losing its last two games by a combined 57 points to Wake Forest (38-18) and Maryland (37-0).
Still, entering spring practice, there is reason for optimism.
"I don't think there's any question we're better than we were last year," O'Brien said after his team's first practice. "You have to be able to react and react fast. Hopefully this spring we'll be able to take that next step - take the thought process out of it and just play football ... faster and much more physically than we did a year ago."
The biggest question mark, as it has been seemingly every year since the departure of Phillip Rivers, is at quarterback.
Last year's starter, Daniel Evans, is hurt with a shoulder injury and will miss all of spring ball. That leaves a trio of signal callers on-campus to compete for the starting spot: Harrison Beck, redshirt freshman Russell Wilson and sophomore Justin Burke.
Watching from the sidelines is Mike Glennon, younger brother of Virginia Tech quarterback Sean Glennon and the nation's No. 5 quarterback for the class of 2008 according to Scout.com.
At the end of preseason camp later this year, don't be surprised if Glennon emerges as the starter.
The 6-6, 195 pound freshman has a cannon for an arm, a tall presence in the pocket and more natural ability than any quarterback seen in red and white in years.
Whoever claims the starting spot at quarterback will have the luxury of handing off to one of the most talented backfields in the ACC thanks to a trio of backs in Jamelle Eugene, Andre Brown and Toney Baker (Baker is out for spring with a knee injury however).
Three of the top five receivers from 2007 are gone, but Donald Bowens should be a reliable downfield threat. Also, potential All-ACC candidate TE Anthony Hill is out for spring ball with a knee injury.
On the offensive line, three seniors will pave the way for what promises to be a solid running game, with center Meares Green leading the way.
Defensively, keep an eye on tackle Alan-Michael Cash up front. In 11 games last year, the 6-foot-1, 286-pounder recorded 48 tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks.
He'll need to continue to improve to make up for the loss of fellow lineman DeMario Pressley, a potential first-day pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
The Wolfpack must replace four linebackers from last year's squad, but three players return with experience, including Nate Irving, Ray Michel and Thomas Barnes.
"Irving and Michel played a lot last year," O'Brien said. "Barnes got some time, but he will be in the same boat with the redshirt freshmen and Maddox in that this is their first opportunity to learn techniques and how we want them to be executed. We know that these young guys have talent, but they have to prove to us that they can play on this level. If they can, it will really help us out."
The secondary returns two seniors in safety J.C. Neal and cornerback Jeremy Gray, not to mention redshirt sophomore DeAndre Morgan.
2008 OUTLOOK: Like a handful of teams in ACC, N.C. State has enough returning talent to be dangerous, but enough inexperience to raise red flags on both sides of the ball. Not surprisingly, the Pack's success will likely be dictated by the play of its quarterback. If Glennon or Russell can emerge as the starter without throwing a ton of interceptions, seven wins could be within reach. The problem is the schedule is deceivingly tough with road games at Clemson and South Carolina, not to mention home dates with South Florida, Florida State, Miami, Wake Forest and East Carolina. Still, O'Brien has done a good job in taking Chuck Amato's players and molding them into his disciplined, hard-nosed system and that should translate into at least one more win in 2008, possibly two.
ACC Spring Update: N.C. State
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