Without Wilson, the Wolfpack were a bit of an unknown on offense entering 2011. Even though N.C. State returned eight starters to a defense that ranked 29th in the FBS in scoring defense (21.31 ppg) in 2010, O'Brien's reputation, as well as N.C State's season, rested squarely on the shoulders of Glennon.
N.C. State (8-5, 4-4 ACC) began the season slowly, winning just two of its first five games. While early season losses to Wake Forest and Cincinnati were disappointing, the Wolfpack ended the season with five wins in its final seven games, including a stunning 37-13 victory over No. 7 Clemson. N.C. State wrapped up the season with a 31-24 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl.
Fortunately for the Wolfpack and its supporters, Glennon (283-of-453 passing, 3,054 yards, 31 TD, 12 INT) thrived under the pressure of following one of the top quarterbacks in school history. His 31 touchdown passes were the second-most ever in Raleigh, trailing only Phillip Rivers's 34 in 2003. Despite the loss of 2010 leading rusher Mustafa Greene to a foot injury, the Wolfpack ranked fourth in the ACC in scoring offense (28.23 ppg).
As impressive as the performance by Glennon was last fall, the Wolfpack defense deserves the lion's share of credit for N.C. State's winning record. In particular, cornerback David Amerson was exceptional. Amerson set an ACC record with 13 interceptions in 2011, earning All-American honors in the process.
N.C State was not impressive statistically in 2011. The Wolfpack ranked 94th in total offense (344.85 ypg), 109th in rushing offense (104.85 ypg) and 54th in scoring defense (24.69 ppg). However, the great equalizer in football is turnovers and that's where N.C. State thrived in 2011. Amerson's 13 interceptions went a long way in helping the Wolfpack rack up a FBS-high 27 interceptions. Overall, N.C State ranked sixth in the country in turnover margin (1.08).
In addition to turnovers, the Wolfpack excelled at getting to the quarterback as seven players recorded more than three sacks in 2011. N.C. State ranked eighth in the country in sacks per game (3.08) and had four in a 13-0 victory over North Carolina on Nov. 5.
O'Brien returns plenty of talent for 2012. Glennon as well as six other offensive starters return. The Wolfpack must replace 2011 leading receiver T.J. Graham (39 rec, 641 yards, 5 TD), but Glennon's second favorite target, Tobias Palmer (35 rec, 448 yards, 4 TD), is back for his senior season.
Upfront, the Wolfpack return four of five starting offensive linemen with former five-star recruit Rob Crisp penciled in as the new starter at left tackle. Greene returns from injury despite off the field issues and may challenge last year's leading rusher James Washington (212 car, 852 yards, 7 TD) and Tony Creecy (99 car, 366 yards, 1 TD) for the starting job at running back.
N.C. State brings back seven starters to the 41st-ranked total defense (354.92 ypg) from 2011. Amerson (59 tackles, 13 INT) and preseason All-ACC safety Earl Wolff (113 tackles, 2 INT) highlight a secondary that is expected to be among the best in the country.
The defensive line and linebacker core are not as stacked. O'Brien must replace four NFL draft picks in linebackers Audie Cole (108 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Terrell Manning (76 tackles, 5.5 sacks) as well as linemen Markus Kuhn (45 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and J.R. Sweezy (20 tackles, 2 sacks).
Quotable: "Certainly, the disclaimer is always injuries, which killed us in years three and five, but at this point going forward, we're in the best shape we've been in during my previous five years, as far as experience on this football team. We think we can be very competitive and play with anybody in the country." – O'Brien on expectations for 2012
Matchup to Watch: Any slip up by Florida State or Clemson could open the door for N.C. State to sneak into the ACC Championship Game. While the Wolfpack must travel to Death Valley to face Clemson, N.C. State does host Florida State at Carter-Finley Stadium on Oct. 6. The Wolfpack is 4-3 at home against Florida State since 1998, including a 28-24 victory two years ago. Another victory over the Seminoles this season may boost N.C. State into the driver's seat in the Atlantic division.
Streaking: It is well documented that N.C. State has defeated North Carolina five years in a row. If the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels for a sixth straight time this fall, it would mark the longest winning streak over North Carolina in N.C. State history. On the flip side, the Tar Heels have defeated the Wolfpack five consecutive meetings on six different occasions, the most recent being a seven-game winning streak from 1993 to1999. North Carolina's longest winning streak over N.C. State was nine between 1943 and 1955.
Aug. 31 Tennessee (Atlanta)
Sept. 8 @ Connecticut
Sept. 15 South Alabama
Sept. 22 The Citadel
Sept. 29 @ Miami
Oct. 6 Florida State
Oct. 13 OPEN DATE
Oct. 20 @ Maryland
Oct. 27 @ North Carolina
Nov. 3 Virginia
Nov. 10 Wake Forest
Nov. 17 @ Clemson
Nov. 24 Boston College