The Pack is looking for a fresh start after going 3-9, dropping the final seven games and failing to win an ACC matchup for the first time since 1959. The debut of head coach Dave Doeren didn't go as planned, as State proved incapable of delivering in the latter stages of tight games. A new year, though brings new hope and a wish to turn the page as quickly as possible.
As a program, State has traditionally struggled to get over the hump; the school's last ACC championship occurred in 1979, and it's won 10 games in a season just one time. Still, there's cause for optimism in the Triangle. Not only does Doeren have a better grasp on his personnel in Year 2, but he's excited about the bumper crop of high school talent that signed letters of intent in February. Oh, and the quarterback position has a lot more clarity than it did a year ago.
Jacoby Brissett isn't a savior. He is a major upgrade. One of the Pack's myriad—and biggest—issues in 2013 was a lack of consistency behind center. Doeren & Co. tried everything, yet State still threw more interceptions than touchdown passes. For the coach's attack to work, the quarterbacks must do a better job of delivering the ball. And that's where Brissett enters the discussion. The Florida transfer sat out last season, yet he still impressed the staff from the scout team. He is in many ways the prototype of what Doeren is after in a triggerman.
Head coach: Dave Doeren
2nd year: 3-9
Off. 17, Def. 16, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 22
1. QB Jacoby Brissett, Jr.
2. WR Bryan Underwood, Sr.
3. DT Thomas Teal, Sr.
4. RB Shadrach Thornton, Jr.
5. DE Art Norman, Sr.
6. CB Juston Burris, Jr.
7. OT Rob Crisp, Sr.
8. S Hakim Jones, Jr.
9. PK Niklas Sade, Sr.
10. LB Brandon Pittman, Sr.
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Georgia Southern
Doeren has been a success at every stop on the career path, from his days as a coordinator at Kansas and Wisconsin to being the head coach at Northern Illinois. He's going to win in Raleigh as well. But fans of the program will need to be patient, as the young and inexperienced roster is gradually improved and groomed. The Pack will be better in 2014, in part because the team can't get much worse. The extent of its improvement will depend on the play of the lines and the maturation process of the rookie class.
What to look for on offense: A return of the old Bryan Underwood. Nothing went right for Underwood in 2013. His battery mates weren't ACC-caliber, and a broken collarbone ended his season with five games left. Healthy again and eager to get back on the field, Underwood is determined to become Jacoby Brissett's top target. Brissett will want to rebuild the confidence of a clutch playmaker who caught 10 touchdown passes on just 44 receptions two years ago.
What to look for on defense: More pressure from the front four. The State line has far too much talent to produce only 20 sacks, last season's meager output. The Pack was last in the ACC at getting to the quarterback, which is unacceptable. Most of last year's starters are back, including DE Art Norman and agile tackles T.Y. McGill, Thomas Teal and Monty Nelson. There are no good excuses why the D-line can't crank up the pressure and disrupt the quarterback's rhythm in the fall.
This team will be much better if… it finds a backbone every so often in the red zone. The Wolfpack lost seven times in 2013 when games were competitive in the final quarter. A key reason for the late collapses? A failure to make stops at critical junctures of games. NC State ranked a miserable 120th nationally in red-zone defense, allowing 80% of trips inside the 20-yard line to result in touchdowns. Coordinator Dave Huxtable is doing whatever is necessary to ensure that the D has a little more bite in 2014.
The Schedule: As long as there isn't a slip on the road against a South Florida team still trying to find itself, the Wolfpack should be 4-0 - with one more win than it came up last year - before having to deal with Florida State and Clemson in back-to-back showdowns. The game against the Tigers start a run of three road games in four dates with trips to Louisville and Syracuse to follow a game against Boston College. Hosting Georgia Tech and Wake Forest are must-wins before finishing up at North Carolina.
Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Jacoby Brissett. The Pack is hoping to have found a poor-man's Cam Newton, a big, dual-threat quarterback who began his college career in Gainesville. Doeren and the coaching staff have been floored by Brissett, from his leadership skills to his maturation as a passer. In fact, Doeren named his newcomer the starter long before any controversy could develop. NC State is counting on Brissett being more than just a numbers guy in 2014 and 2015. The school expects him to spearhead a renaissance in Raleigh.
Best Defensive Player: Senior DT Thomas Teal. State needs to apply more pressure than it did in 2013. Teal will fuel the charge from the interior. NC State notched a league-low 20 sacks last fall, which caused a ripple effect throughout the back seven. Teal will be the leader of a veteran D-line that'll have no excuses if last season's defensive futility is repeated. And when he's tied up with a double-team, it's going to help free up his linemates in the trenches.
Key player to a successful season: Senior LT Rob Crisp. Actually, it's Brissett, but the quarterback won't even approach his full potential if he isn't properly protected. The Wolfpack gave up 35 sacks in 2013, which was more than every ACC team except Pitt. The 6-7, 300-pound Crisp has been granted an additional year of eligibility after missing most of 2013 with a concussion. State hopes he uses the extra season on campus to protect Brissett's blindside, while elevating the overall play of a sketchy O-line.
The season will be a success if ... the Wolfpack is a part of the postseason, even if it enters through the backdoor. Is NC State bowl-worthy in 2014? Not yet. But is the schedule tailor-made for at least six wins? You bet. The Pack is set up to start 4-0 against Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian, which would generate much-needed momentum in Raleigh. While there are no gimmes after Sept. 20, it would take just two more wins over two months to reach the six needed to be bowl-eligible.
Key game: Nov. 15 vs. Wake Forest. If September goes as planned, this visit from the in-state Demon Deacons could be the potential clincher for bowl-eligibility. State always wants to take down Wake Forest, regardless of the specific circumstances. But if the Pack is 5-5 in mid-November, with a trip to Chapel Hill on Nov. 29 still left, this fall's edition of the rivalry will take on special meaning at Carter-Finley Stadium.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Yards per rush: NC State 3.8 – Opponents 5.0
- Sacks: NC State 20 – Opponents 36
- Red-zone touchdown%: NC State 44% – Opponents 80% 2.8