N.C. State received equal helpings of good news this summer on the offensive front. First, quarterback Russell Wilson announced his return in '10 after signing a baseball deal with the Colorado Rockies in June, and then coordinator Dana Bible learned that five recent tests indicated he was cancer-free after being diagnosed with leukemia last November. That duo has provided the highlights for the red and white over the past two seasons as Wilson (224-of-387 passing, 3,027 yards, 31 TD, 11 TD) directed the nation's 46th-ranked offense (393.8 ypg) in '09.
The Wolfpack air assault returns all of the key ingredients this fall, led by wide receivers Owen Spencer (30 catches, 765 yards, 6 TD) and Jarvis Williams (45 catches, 547 yards, 11 TD) and tight George Bryan (40 catches, 422 yards, 6 TD). N.C. State must replace three starters along the offensive line that allowed 98 sacks (2.7 per game), but welcome in highly-touted tackle Robert Crisp. Bible must also replace his top two rushers from '10 and will look to junior Curtis Underwood (RS last year) or sophomore James Washington (21 carries, 76 yards) to fill the void.
Defensive coordinator Mike Archer enters his fourth year at N.C. State with plenty of fans' scorn pointed in his direction. There were plenty of questions surrounding O'Brien's decision to hire Archer four years ago, particularly when considering he was responsible for a Kentucky defense that ranked 118th nationally in '06. The Wolfpack ranked 55th in total defense (361.3 ypg) last fall, but allowed 31.1 points per games (99th) and only managed to force 14 turnovers, resulting in a minus-0.92 turnover margin (114th). Archer loses five of his top six tacklers, but receives a huge gift in the return of linebacker Nate Irving (136 tkl in ‘08), a head hunter who missed last season after a one-car wreck in the offseason that resulted in a fractured leg, broken rib and a collapsed lung. Audie Cole (85 tkl, 4 sacks), Dwayne Maddox (54 tkl, 3 TFL) and Terrell Manning (48 tkl) will unite with Irving to give new linebackers coach Jon Tenuta a formidable unit.
The bad news is that Archer must replace his entire defensive line, including second-team All-ACC defensive end Willie Young and undervalued tackle Alan Michael-Cash. N.C. State will likely lean on a couple of transfers – end Michael Lemon and tackle Natanu Mageo – to steady the defensive front. Archer's secondary was throttled weekly last season, allowing 222.2 yards per outing and ranking 106th nationally in pass efficiency defense (143.9). To make matters worse, N.C. State has already announced that starting cornerback Rashard Smith is out for the season with a lingering knee injury.
Quotable: "Because you've only had three recruiting classes. They're only redshirt sophomores. You're working to get those guys who have to be there in your program for three, four and five years to be where you want to be." -- O'Brien, when asked why the program has yet to turn the corner under his direction
Matchup to Watch: During the Wolfpack's current three-game winning streak against North Carolina, N.C. State has churned out 430 rushing yards on 129 carries, while UNC has only managed 227 rushing yards on 80 attempts. To make matters worse, the Tar Heels have coughed up four fumbles while the Pack has avoided turnovers in the ground game. Last season's finale delivered a role reversal in the rushing statistics, but Johnny White's fumble at the goal line hurt North Carolina's strong momentum out of the gate and the Tar Heels totaled 52 yards on 17 carries (3.1 ypc) in the second half after taking a 10-point lead into halftime. Sometimes the best way to beat an elite-level quarterback is to keep the ball out of his hands, and there's no better method of accomplishing that goal than with an effective ground game.
Remember Me? Tar Heel fans would much rather not remember Russell Wilson. Not only did North Carolina fail to offer the '08 All-ACC first-team quarterback coming out of Richmond (VA) Collegiate School, but UNC is reminded of that fact every time Wilson torches its defense on the football field. During N.C. State's last two victories over North Carolina, Wilson has completed 37 of his 55 passes (67.3 percent) for 538 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
2010 Schedule Sept. 4 Western Carolina Sept. 11 @ Central Florida Sept. 16 Cincinnati (Thurs.) Sept. 25 @ Georgia Tech Oct. 2 Virginia Tech Oct. 9 Boston College Oct. 16 @ East Carolina Oct. 23 OPEN DATE Oct. 28 Florida State (Thurs.) Nov. 6 @ Clemson Nov. 13 Wake Forest Nov. 20 @ North Carolina Nov. 27 @ Maryland