Concerns in the Secondary?

RALEIGH — Facing another huge season-opening challenge from the SEC, North Carolina State has a question mark in its secondary.

Coach Tom O'Brien says cornerback C.J. Wilson isn't on the depth chart for the opener Friday night against Tennessee because of an unspecified eligibility issue.

The team released the two-deep Monday. O'Brien did not elaborate on Wilson but said he's waiting for clearance from the NCAA, and "when it's cleared up, we'll let you know."

Wilson has started the past two years and works on the other side of David Amerson, who had an ACC-record 13 interceptions last season. Wilson has returned each of his three career interceptions for touchdowns.

O'Brien also named sophomore Tony Creecy as the starter at tailback ahead of senior James Washington and sophomore Mustafa Greene. Creecy had 401 yards and a touchdown as a backup last season, while Greene missed the 2011 season with a foot injury.

"There's three guys, I'm not sure how they're all going to play, but they all will be in the game in the first half sometime," O'Brien said. "Those three kids will be given opportunities, and maybe the hottest guy will be the guy that plays in the second half."

O'Brien hopes that tailback by committee — and second-year starting quarterback Mike Glennon — can get a promising season off to a strong start against a name-brand team from a conference that is known for its strong defenses.

N.C. State is opening against an SEC team for the third time in five years, and a big day against a stingy SEC defense could legitimize the Wolfpack as a contender in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

O'Brien's teams lost to South Carolina in the 2008 and ‘09 openers, and N.C. State hasn't beaten an SEC team besides the Gamecocks since defeating Mississippi State in the 1994 Peach Bowl.

"The first game isn't the end-all game you're going to play, but there (are) always special games ... and this certainly is a special game to play in because of the stage, and because of the opponent, and because of the conference affiliation," O'Brien said. "It's a chance to do something special with our program, and we're looking at it in that light."

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley doesn't view the game in terms of conferences, but says it's a matchup of two teams on equal footing.

"I think NC State could blend right in in our league and be able to whip anybody in our league," Dooley said. "I don't see a difference in this team. We look at them and see great athletes on the perimeter, a lot of draft picks. We see a hard-nosed, physical, tough team. They could fit right in our league. I don't view it as SEC-ACC. There's no significant difference, in my opinion."

O'Brien — an assistant at Virginia in the late 1980s when Dooley was a walk-on receiver there — quipped that such praise from the Vols' coach is because "I coached him and I probably hollered at him one play for me, so he's trying to be nice to me."

Also Monday, Dooley said the Volunteers lost a pair of freshman backups for the season with injuries: linebacker LaTroy Lewis tore a knee ligament and kicker George Bullock broke his leg. Dooley also said Vincent Dallas has moved back to receiver from defensive back.

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