4th year: 16-21
Off. 12, Def. 14, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 20
Ten Best NC State Players
1. QB Russell Wilson, Jr.
2. LB Nate Irving, Sr.
3. WR Jarvis Williams, Sr.
4. TE George Bryan, Jr.
5. WR Owen Spencer, Sr.
6. LB Audi Cole, Jr.
7. PK Josh Czajkowski, Sr.
8. OT Jake Vermiglio, Sr.
9. DT J.R. Sweezy, Jr.
10. DE Michael Lemon, Sr.
Sept. 4 Western Carolina
At Boston College, O'Brien earned a stellar reputation for winning eight or nine games, including a bowl game, just about every year. His teams went old school on the Big East and ACC, playing with discipline, a power running game, and a stout D. It wasn't fancy, but it worked. Through three seasons in Raleigh, however, the coach hasn't been able to replicate that magic on a new campus. NC State hasn't had a consistent running game, the line play has been spotty, and the defense has gone AWOL. The results have been predictable—three consecutive seven-loss seasons, conjuring up memories of the end of Chuck Amato's reign.
To many, last season was going to be the breakthrough year for the Wolfpack. QB Russell Wilson was coming off an All-ACC season, RB Toney Baker was healthy again, and the defense had talent at every level. Yet, the seminal moment never occurred. After living a lie with blowouts of Murray State and Gardner-Webb, and upsetting Pitt, the Pack plummeted back to reality by going 2-6 the rest of the way. There were no signs of a running game and absolutely no teeth to the defense. Three years later, NC State is still in the starting blocks.
Wilson is back unless Major League Baseball convinces him otherwise, and the receiving corps will give the rest of the league fits. Gaining some momentum, though, will require a lot more than just a prolific passing attack. The Wolfpack needs to rebuild both lines and somehow get the defense to be more than just a welcome mat. Good luck. State doesn't have the talent to do an about-face, which is why patience is still being preached three years after a new era began.
What to look for on offense: The development of a very young offensive line. The Wolfpack offense will be severely limited if this group can't play substantially better than it did a year ago. Two starters, LT Jake Vermiglio and RG R.J. Mattes, return to a unit that had problems with run blocking and pass protection a year ago. If Wilson and his myriad receivers are to fully bloom in 2010, it's incumbent upon a number of unproven blockers, such as Sam Jones, Camden Wentz, and Andrew Wallace, to play beyond their expectations. If Wilson is constantly ducking for cover, it won't matter how bad Jarvis Williams or Owen Spencer beats his man.
What to look for on defense: The return of LB Nate Irving from a season-long injury. No, one player rarely makes a monumental difference to a defense, but Irving is good enough to be an exception. He's a legitimate playmaker in the middle of the field, capable of creating turnovers and disrupting the other team's rhythm. When NC State was on fire at the end of 2008, he was the defensive sparkplug, making plays in the backfield and taking passes the other way. The Wolfpack D needs an identity. Irving has the right blend of talent and experience to provide it.
This team will be much better if…it dramatically improves in turnover margin. NC State doesn't have enough talent on either side of the ball to overcome a spate of unforced errors and a lack of takeaways. A year ago, the Wolfpack had just 14 combined interceptions and fumble recoveries in 12 games, while turning the ball over 25 times. Finishing last in the ACC and 114th nationally in turnover margin is a sure-fire recipe for another losing season in Raleigh.
The Schedule: The non-conference schedule is light and squishy with only one game against a BCS team, Cincinnati, and this isn't going to be the Cincinnati of last year. But the Wolfpack needs the break considering it gets hammered by interdivisional play having to go to Georgia Tech and North Carolina to go along with a home game against Virginia Tech. There's no Duke or Virginia to count on for wins. In Atlantic play, State gets Florida State and Boston College at home but has to go on the road to face Clemson as part of a tough second half of the season with three road games in the final four and four of the last six. There aren't enough home games in a row to get comfortable with just two straight in early October.
Best Offensive Player: Junior QB Russell Wilson. It's taken just two seasons for Wilson to become one of the greatest Wolfpack quarterbacks of all time and certainly the best since Philip Rivers was in town. Not only can he beat you with his arm and legs, but he plays with uncommon poise for such a young player. The undisputed leader of the offense, he plays well in the clutch and makes sure State is never out of a game. He'll be the face of the program as long as Major League Baseball doesn't get him first.
Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Nate Irving. Irving was supposed to have his national coming-out party in 2009. One scary car crash later, and the breakthrough was delayed until this fall. He plays with a frenetic, contagious style that wreaks havoc for opposing offenses. With an uncanny knack for making the big play, the human highlight reel is a safe bet to lead the Pack in tackles and earn a spot on the All-ACC team. With NFL scouts watching all year, he's poised to use his return from the IR as a launching pad to a big paycheck.
Key players to a successful season: The defensive backs. The offense will fight through issues in the trenches. The front seven is better than expected. The secondary? A major concern. The pass defense was shredded repeatedly last fall, and that was when there were a few veterans on the roster. Things could get even worse now that the two-deep is littered with freshmen and sophomores. It's imperative that a couple of those kids, preferably corners C.J. Wilson and Rashard Smith, make quantum leaps from their debuts.
The season will be a success if ... the Wolfpack can piece together enough wins to earn a December bowl invitation. Yeah, the team has issues, but the schedule isn't too thorny, beginning with Western Carolina, UCF, and a visit from rebuilding Cincinnati. Although anything more than a second-rate postseason invitation may be unrealistic, it's important for O'Brien and the kids to generate something positive and get those extra 15 practices at the end of the regular season.
Key game: Oct. 9 vs. Boston College. Whenever O'Brien faces his old employer, which he voluntarily left, it's going to be a big deal for both sides. It's also vital for the Wolfpack to avenge last October's 52-20 blowout loss in Chestnut Hill and win those home games which are within reach. After going winless away from Carter-Finley Stadium in 2009, NC State recognizes it may not be able to make up much bowl eligibility ground on the road.
2009 Fun Stats:
- NC State's average field position was the 30; its opponent was the 36
- Of the 23 times that NC State had first and goal, it scored a touchdown 22 times
- NC State averaged 13.2 yards a reception, which was fifth-best in the ACC
- 2010 NC State Preview | 2010 NC State Offense
- 2010 NC State Defense | 2010 NC State Depth Chart
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