ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Terry Johnson is an ACC blogger for CollegeFootballNews.com.
By Terry Johnson
North Carolina State will win at least ten games, and will contend for the ACC Atlantic Division crown.
The Wolfpack surprised everyone last season by winning nine games. Many do not expect the same result this season due to the departures of All-ACC MLB Nate Irving, and QB Russell Wilson. In addition to these losses, NC State has suffered through a number of significant injuries in the preseason with leading rusher Mustafa Greene, top defensive lineman J.R. Sweezy, and OG Andrew Wallace expected to miss at least the first four games.
NC State will overcome these obstacles in grand fashion. Audie Cole moves to MLB from SLB to replace Irving, and according to Coach O'Brien, is actually ahead of where Irving was at this time last year. QB Mike Glennon replaces Wilson, drawing comparisons with another O'Brien pupil, Matt Ryan during preseason camp. With the emergence of these two players and a soft schedule for the first four games, the offense and defense will match last year's production.
The ‘Pack will the first four games convincingly. Games 1 and 3 will be blowouts as the Pack plays Liberty (FCS) and South Alabama (provisional FBS member), who simply do not have the talent to play against a BCS conference team. While games against Wake Forest and Cincinnati will remain competitive, seven starters (excluding Sweezy) return from an NC State defense dominated both of them last season.
Sweezy and Greene should return for a week 5 showdown versus Georgia Tech in Raleigh. With Sweezy anchoring the middle of the line, the Yellow Jackets will not be able to run up the middle, which will take away the triple option. On the other side of the ball, Glennon will pick apart a young Tech secondary that returns zero starters from a year ago.
After beating Georgia Tech, NC State will move to 6-0 by thrashing Central Michigan who went 3-9 in the MAC last year. While the Chippewas will improve this season, they do not have the size or speed to match the Wolfpack.
Following the Central Michigan victory, NC State has two weeks to get ready (and healthy) for an improving Virginia team that is a year away from contending for the ACC title. While the Cavaliers will keep the game close, the Pack will move to 7-0 by harassing first year starting QB Michael Rocco.
Even with a likely loss to Florida State on October 29, the Wolfpack will reach ten victories by winning three of their final four games.
NC State should win the first two of these contests easily. They defeated North Carolina last season, and should do the same chance against a Tarheel team still reeling from last year's scandal and Butch Davis' dismissal. The following week, they travel to Boston College, who they defeated 44-17 last season.
With wins against UNC and Boston College, the 9-1 Wolfpack needs to split its last two games against Clemson and Maryland. NC State lost to both teams on the road by less than a touchdown last year. With a veteran defense, and the home field crowd, they should win at least one of these two games, and earn a spot in the Gator Bowl.