NOTES: Pack, Bulldogs Set To Battle

NC State opens the season with Louisiana Tech, and here are some pregame notes on the Wolfpack.

The Pack's season opener versus Louisiana Tech will be full of "firsts" on both sides of the field. The game marks the first meeting between the two schools, which combine to boast 236 years of football. Both squads will have a head coach that is directing his first game at his new school - as Dave Doeren took over the helm of the Pack on December 1, 2012, and Skip Holtz was named head coach of the Bulldogs just 12 days later.

If recent history is any indication, the game could contain some offensive fireworks. LA Tech led the nation last year in total offense, averaging 577.9 yards per game, while Northern Illinois, Doeren's former squad, ranked 20th with 469.57 yards. NIU ranked 12th nationally in rushing offense a year ago with 238.2 ypg, while the Bulldogs ranked 17th with a 227.2 ypg mark. State offensive coordinator Matt Canada led the Wisconsin offense that ranked 13th in rushing in 2012, gaining 236.4 ground yards per contest.

Dave Doeren was introduced as the 34th head coach in NC State football history at a press conference on Dec. 1, 2012. He immediately began to evaluate his new team as it went through bowl practices, hired a staff, signed a recruiting class, moved his family and began putting his stamp on Wolfpack football history.

The youngest coach in the ACC, the 41-year-old Doeren posts a 23-4 record as a head coach. Among FBS coaches, only Alabama's Nick Saban has more wins since the beginning of the 2011 season. Doeren led Northern Illinois to back-to-back MAC titles and the first BCS bowl berth ever by a team from that league.

Doeren, who has never lost a home game as head coach, has also coached in the Big Ten (Wisconsin), Big 12 (Kansas), Pac 12 (USC), Missouri Valley (Drake) and in the FCS ranks at Montana, where he was on the staff that led the Grizzlies to the national title.

The Wolfpack has a little Louisiana flavor on the 2013 squad as it opens the season against the Louisiana Tech squad from Ruston. Quarterback Brandon Mitchell hails from Amite, Louisiana, while left guard Duran Christophe is a New Orleans native (Christophe went to high school in Georgia while his family temporarily relocated after Hurricane Katrina).

Mitchell played against many of the Bulldog players during his prep days at Amite High School and his high school coach, Alden Foster, was a college roommate of Jabbar Juluke - La. Tech's running backs coach at Southern University.

He is no stranger to the Louisiana Tech campus either. During his playing days at Arkansas, he had several cousins and friends who attended that school and he would drop them by the Ruston campus on his way back to Fayetteville.

The decision of who would stand behind center for the first offensive snap of the Dave Doeren era at NC State is one that will go down to the wire.

Heading into game week, head coach Dave Doeren was still comparing the strengths of Brandon Mitchell, a graduate student who transferred from Arkansas in July, and Pete Thomas, a redshirt junior who transferred to State from Colorado State and sat out last season under the previous coaching staff.

Mitchell is known as being a stronger runner, while Thomas has more experience as a drop-back passer. Both players have played in exactly 21 career contests, although Mitchell played wide receiver in eight games and Thomas played quarterback in all 21 (starting every one).

When the 2013 season opens, State fans better buy a program. There won't be too many familiar faces lined up when the Pack takes the field on either side of the ball. Among schools from BCS conferences, Dave Doeren's squad ranks sixth in fewest number of starters returning with 11. Doeren and company will have just four returning starters on offense following the season-ending injury to fullback Logan Winkles in preseason camp. On defense, only five starters return from last year and the Pack does return its placekicker and punter.

In the season opener, the fans traveling with LA Tech will also benefit from purchasing a program. If you look at the returning starters for all FBS schools, the Bulldogs are tied for second, with only eight starters returning. The Pack is tied for 11th on that expanded list.

The success of the Pack's new up-tempo, fast-paced offense will rely heavily on having a large group of wide receivers. Dave Doeren has said he will dress 8-9 wideouts for each game. Only five wideouts caught passes for NC State last season and only four of those - Charlie Hegedus, Quintin Payton, Rashard Smith Underwood - are returning for 2013. That leaves a wide open opportunity for some true freshmen to see the field at that position.

Rookie Bra'Lon Cherry has the advantage among the group of rookie wideouts. He graduated from high school early and started school in January, going through winter conditioning and spring practice with the team. He enters the season as the backup to veteran Bryan Underwood at the slot receiver position.

Lanky Marques Valdes-Scantling may have turned the most heads in fall camp with his acrobatic catches. He has worked his way onto the depth chart behind senior Quintin Payton at split end. Other freshmen who could see significant action at wideout in 2013 are Johnathon Alston and Jumichael Ramos. Alston, Ramos and Valdes-Scantling are each listed at 6-3.

The happiest man on the field when the Wolfpack kicks off against Louisiana Tech in the season opener might be the guy wearing No. 31 on defense. Linebacker D.J. Green will be back in action after missing the entire 2012 campaign due to an NCAA suspension.

Green started six games at strongside linebacker in 2011 before being sidelined with an abdominal injury. He came back and started one contest but a foot injury ended his season. In an attempt to gain weight following the injury, he took a nutritional supplement without checking with the sports medicine staff and ended up with the suspension.

Green, who was allowed to practice with the team, promised at the time to "work hard every day in practice to help try to make my teammates better." That hard work has paid off and he will be back in his starting slot at LB when the Bulldogs snap the ball for the first time. He tallied five tackles for loss during his abbreviated 2011 campaign, while also pulling down an interception. He played in 13 games as a true freshman in 2010 at the strong safety spot.

The most experienced players on the 2013 Wolfpack squad in terms of games started is the talented tandem of Niklas Sade and Wil Baumann at placekicker and punter. Sade has started all 26 games of his State career, while Baumann, who entered school along with Sade in 2010, missed just one game due to a pregame injury in 2011 (he did hold for extra points in that contest but did not punt).

Sade enters his junior campaign ranked sixth in school history with 90 career PATs, while his 24 field goals made is the 10th-best mark ever for a Pack player.

Baumann ranks eighth in the career record books in career punts, seventh in yardage.

Transfers could play a major role in the Wolfpack's fate this season, as five players who took their last snap at another school are listed in the Wolfpack two-deep heading into the opener. Both players who are vying for the starting quarterback spot are transfers - Pete Thomas redshirted at State last year after transferring from Colorado State and Brandon Mitchell graduated from Arkansas in May and joined the Wolfpack as a graduate student. Travares Copeland, a talented wideout, received an NCAA waiver after transferring from West Virginia and is eligible for the Pack in 2013.

The Wolfpack defense should get a workout in the month of September. Two of NC State's first three opponents, Louisiana Tech and Clemson, each ran more than 80 offensive plays per game last year. The Bulldogs led the nation by averaging 87.8 plays per contest, while Clemson wasn't far behind with 81.6 offensive snaps per game.

At 41 years old, Dave Doeren is the youngest coach in the ACC by two years and is one of the youngest head coaches in the BCS conferences. Doeren is the 13th-youngest among coaches at schools in those leagues. He is 26 years younger than the oldest coach in the ACC (Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer will be 67 in October) and 32 years younger than the oldest BCS conference coach (Bill Snyder of Kansas State will be 74 in October).

At 41 years old, you would think that Dave Doeren might be one of the youngest coaches ever to coach the Wolfpack. However, only three coaches in the past four decades have been older than Doeren when they took the reins of the Wolfpack. When Lou Holtz was named head coach in 1972, he was 35 years old. Bo Rein was 31 in 1976 when he was named head coach. Monte Kiffin became head coach in 1980 when he was 40 and Tom Reed was 38 in 1983 when he took the job. Mike O'Cain was 39 when he was named head coach in 1993.

Since 1972, only Dick Sheridan (45 in 1986), Chuck Amato (54 in 2000), and Tom O'Brien (59 in 2007) were older than Doeren when they were named the Wolfpack's head coach.

Not only is NC State's number of returning starters for 2013 among the lowest in the nation (11), the starters who are returning don't boast a great deal of starting experience. The most experienced players on the team in terms of games started are the Pack's talented pair of junior kickers. Placekicker Niklas Sade has started 26 games while punter Wil Bauman has started 25. The only other player with more than 20 starts under his belt is senior defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop, who has started 22 career contests.

Only 23 players who can play in 2013 have every started a game for the Wolfpack and of those 23, 11 have started five games or less. Another 11 have started 10 or more games.

The excitement surrounding NC State football has translated into rapid ticket sales, as the Wolfpack sold its entire allotment of season tickets for 2013 two weeks before the opener. State posted its highest number of season tickets sold since the 2008 campaign.

Fans eager to see the team play also snatched up all available five-game Mini-Packs within two weeks.

Several freshmen turned heads during fall drills, but perhaps none more so than rookie runner Matt Dayes. Wolfpack fans should find out quickly how good Dayes is, as he is listed as the backup to veteran Tony Creecy for the season opener, while sophomore running back Shadrach Thornton is suspended for the season opener.

At 5-9, 213, Dayes is a compact player who runs low and has great vision, according to his head coach. In the Pack's first scrimmage of fall camp, just a couple of days after putting on pads, Dayes ran for a team-leading 78 yards on 11 carries, scoring on a 53-yard run.

Dayes rushed for over 1,800 yards last season at Cypress Bay High School, scoring 31 TDs. He played at the 8A level and rushed for 174 yards and five touchdowns in the 8A championship game.

The Wolfpack won't have to wander very far from its home den during the 2013 football season, as NC State will play eight games in Carter-Finley Stadium and two others in the state of North Carolina. The Pack won't have to play a game outside of its home state until Oct. 26, when the squad heads to Florida State.

The only other game played outside North Carolina will be the Boston College contest on Nov. 16.

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