Johnson: Five Bold Predictions

Opening kickoff is so close now, just hours away, that if you close your eyes you can almost feel it. The smell of thousands of grills cooking, the bright lights shining down on the field, the roar of a packed Carter-Finley stadium.

The nine-month drought between games has given us plenty of time to speculate. For the last month ("or so" sounds too casual) the speculation and predictions have heightened as the season draws closer. Most of these predictions are pretty tame – saying Virginia Tech will win the ACC isn't exactly earth-shattering. So here are five ‘bold' predictions for NC State's season, the kind you won't read anywhere else. And they won't be proven wrong for at least a few more hours.

1. Owen Spencer will lead the ACC in receiving.

As a true sophomore last season, Spencer ranked seventh in the conference in receiving with 691 yards in 13 games. But of everyone in the top-10, Spencer had far and away the best yards per reception -averaging 22.3 yards per catch.

The only issue with Spencer last year was holding onto the ball – the NCAA doesn't track drops but even a casual Wolfpack fan could probably tell you Spencer led the team in this dubious category. But all indications are that he spent the offseason working on his pass-catching, and he's already big, strong and elusive enough to find a seam in almost any defense.

Expect big things from the soft-spoken but explosive-playing wideout.  

2. Dwayne Maddox will be the defense's most improved player.

At times last season Maddox looked a bit lost on the field. He was asked to do too much too soon as a true freshman trying to fill in for an injured Nate Irving.

This fall he's filling in for the same role, but this time he's had all preseason to get himself prepared. More importantly, he's got a year under his belt and some of the most drastic improvements you'll see in players come between their first and second year in a program.

Maddox won't make you forget how good Irving is when he's on the field, but he will do a lot more than just fill in the gap.  

3. George Bryan will lead the team in touchdown receptions.

Bryan is a guy that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle on offense. Between the amazing exploits of Russell Wilson, the return of fan favorite Toney Baker and the awe-inspiring athleticism of receivers like Jarvis Williams it's easy to see how that could happen.

But let's not forget Bryan, who caught four touchdown passes last year even while splitting time with Anthony Hill, who also had four touchdowns.

That's eight combined from the tight end position, and Bryan will be seeing the field a lot more this season.  

4. Alan-Michael Cash will lead the team in sacks.

Willie Young has gotten the majority of the press this offseason, and deservedly so after his decision to return for his senior year. But the stabilizing force on the defensive line is Cash.

When healthy, he's a dominant force on the inside at both stopping the run and rushing the quarterback. With all the attention that is sure to be directed to Young, the fifth-year senior should have plenty of opportunities to go one-on-one with interior lineman.  

5. NC State will finish 8-4 in the regular season.

Opening the season with four home games gives the Pack a great chance to jump out of the gate with a string of wins, and they'll take advantage of it. They'll go perfect out of conference this year, getting off to a 4-0 start and jumping into the top-25 in the process.

October will be less kind to the Pack though, with three tough road games and it'll show in the record. They'll drop games to Wake and Florida State but pick up wins over Duke and Boston College.

They'll beat Maryland, then succumb to their only home loss of the season against Clemson and suffer the first losing streak by falling in Blacksburg next week. Luckily they'll be able to right the ship before bowl season with another beat-down of North Carolina.

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