Inside Carolina's Vote – 5th in the Atlantic Division
2006 record (3-9, 2-6 ACC)
Former head coach Chuck Amato won over the NCSU fan base with his Dolce and Gabbana style, but it was his team's lack of substance on the field that resulted in his firing last season. Fortunately for the Pack faithful, Amato's downfall is where his successor, Tom O'Brien, has made his mark – the ground game. During Amato's seven years in Raleigh, the Wolfpack never took advantage of highly-touted talent at tailback, averaging only 121.6 ypg at a 3.55 ypc clip. O'Brien's Boston College program, during the same time period, averaged 164.1 yards per game at 4.19 ypc. Discipline also led to last season's free fall, which is another area the former Marine is expected to shore up sooner rather than later. The bulk of O'Brien's Eagles staff followed him to NCSU, so the dividends of that cohesiveness should reveal itself early in the season. There's no question concerning Amato's strong recruiting abilities, and NCSU is hoping O'Brien's reputation as a master of football intricacies and fundamentals factors in quickly, or else the Wolfpack is looking at another holiday season at home.
Offense: Marc Trestman's final offensive unit at NCSU was a disaster, generating only 17.5 points per game, good for 10th in the ACC. Junior QB Daniel Evans (1,843 yds, 6 tds, 11 ints) looked strong early in wins versus Boston College and FSU, but faltered during the Pack's seven-game losing streak, throwing nine picks to only one touchdown. Those struggles opened up the QB position, as Evans will battle redshirt frosh Justin Burke and sophomore Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck during fall practice to see who will direct new OC Dana Bible's offense. The running game boasts two All-ACC caliber backs in juniors Toney Baker (157 car, 688 yds, 6 tds) and Andre Brown [pictured, right] (124 car, 658 yds, 4 tds). The offensive line lost three starters, but junior RG Curtis Crouch and senior LG Kalani Heppe return. There are numbers in the trenches, so it will be up to OL coach Don Horton to patch together an efficient line. The receiving corps is woefully thin, with seniors John Dunlap (30 rec, 392 yds, 4 tds) and Darrell Blackman (27 rec, 358 yds, 2 tds) needing some younger players to emerge to bolster the QB's options. Losing senior TE Anthony Hill (45 rec, 478 yds, 0 tds) for the season to an ACL injury could be a devastating blow.
Defense: New DC Mike Archer returns six starters from a top-40 defense in 2006. The defensive line will be the strength, with seniors DT Demario Pressley (46 tkl, 5 tfl) and DE Martel Brown (49 tkl, 7 sacks) anchoring the group. Sophomore DE Willie Young (60 tkl, 3 tfl) is explosive, but just needs to become more physical. The good news for the linebacker corps is that three seniors will most likely start – LeRue Rumph (69 tkl, 4 tfl), James Martin (12 tkl, injured) and Ernest Jones (68 tkl, 2 sacks). The bad news is that there is not much behind the starters, aside from sophomore Ray Michel (15 tkl), who showed some potential in limited time last season. The defensive backfield is a veteran-laden bunch, with seniors FS Miguel Scott (63 tkl, 2 pbu) and CB Jimmie Sutton (49 tkl, 1 int) returning as starters, and juniors CB Levin Neal (22 tkl, 4 pbu) and SS Dajuan Morgan (82 tkl, 2 int) rounding out the group.
Special Teams: Blackman is back as one of the top returners in the league (28.9 ypc on kickoffs, 1 td). All-everything John Deraney graduated in the spring, leaving a void at both kicking spots. O'Brien hopes JUCO Jeff Ruiz can handle the punting duties, while senior Bradley Pierson and redshirt freshmen Nathan Franklin and Josh Czajkowski will fight for the kickoff/field goal duties. The Pack must improve their kickoff return coverage, which ranked a miserable 116th nationally in 2006.
Schedule: NCSU will know by the first week in October if they will be able to contend for the Atlantic title, with division games at Boston College, versus Clemson and at Florida State coming during the first six weeks of the season. Louisville figures to be a top-10 national opponent when they arrive in Raleigh on Sep. 29, and away games against East Carolina, Miami and Wake Forest will test the Pack's discipline and mental fortitude.
Top Newcomers: The former Boston College staff. O'Brien bringing the majority of his Eagles' personnel to Raleigh was huge on a variety of levels, ranging from recruiting to team chemistry. The coaches have been able to focus their time on players and game planning, instead of working to get to know each other like most new staffs have to do. That familiarity should pay dividends immediately.
Key Game: Vs. North Carolina on Nov. 10th. Regardless of what may be said throughout the NCSU fan base, O'Brien understands the importance of this in-state rivalry. The Pack has lost 11 of their last 14 to the Tar Heels, and former head coaches Mike O'Cain and Amato were canned due in part to losing streaks against UNC. In a year where a bowl game may be out of reach, a victory here would indicate a good start for O'Brien, who is 0-4 against Butch Davis.
O'Brien on NCSU being picked last in the Atlantic Division: "I never gave any credence to preseason polls when I was at Boston College and I don't now. I said a long time ago, if you guys knew what you were doing, you would be doing something besides picking schools in a preseason football poll."
Pressley on succeeding this season: "The key is to keep up the hard work, stay focused and just play football."
Word from the Beat: "If you look at N.C. State, certainly it will be a vastly changed operation from Coach Amato, who obviously was very flamboyant and emotional, to Coach O'Brien, who is obviously very disciplined. On the field, I think that N.C. State has a lot of good guys at the skill positions – look at the running backs with Baker and Brown, and Dunlap at wide receiver. Those are guys that could certainly make them a force in the ACC. But I think the quarterback position is going to be critical for this team. Having seen what we have so far from those guys, it's very much a question mark. I think they can be good defensively, but I think they lack for depth on the offensive line, and injuries there could hurt them. Overall, I think they are a bit of an unknown. Picked last in the Atlantic Division, and that's probably where they should be picked, based on how they did last year and on what they have at the quarterback position." – Ken Tysiac, Charlotte Observer
S. 1 Central Florida
S. 8 at Boston College
S. 15 Wofford
S. 22 Clemson
S. 29 Louisville
O. 6 at Florida State
O. 13 bye
O. 20 at East Carolina
O. 27 Virginia (HC)
N. 3 at Miami (Fl.)
N. 10 North Carolina
N. 17 at Wake Forest
N. 24 Maryland