Monday, August 24, 2009

season preview: NC State


9/3: South Carolina (Thu.)
9/12: Murray State
9/19: Gardner-Webb
9/26: Pittsburgh
10/3: @ Wake Forest
10/10: Duke
10/17: @ Boston College
10/24: BYE
10/31: @ Florida State
11/7: Maryland
11/14: Clemson
11/21: @ Virginia Tech
11/28: North Carolina

Skip: Virginia, Georgia Tech, Miami

Projected starters:

QB: Russell Wilson (rSo.)
RB: Jamelle Eugene (5Sr.)
RB: Toney Baker (5Sr.)
WR: Owen Spencer (Jr.)
WR: Jarvis Williams (rJr.)
TE: George Bryan (rSo.)
LT: Jake Vermiglio (Jr.)
LG: Julian Williams (5Sr.)
C: Ted Larsen (5Sr.)
RG: Andy Barbee (5Sr.)
RT: Jeraill McCuller (5Sr.)

DE: Shea McKeen (Sr.)
DT: Alan-Michael Cash (5Sr.)
DT: Leroy Burgess (Sr.)
DE: Willie Young (5Sr.)
SLB: Audie Cole (rSo.)
MLB: Ray Michel (5Sr.)
WLB: Dwayne Maddox (So.)
CB: DeAndre Morgan (rJr.)
CB: Koyal George (5Sr.)
FS: Justin Byers (rSo.)
SS: Clem Johnson (Sr.)

K: Josh Czajkowski (rJr.)
P: Jeff Ruiz (rJr.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Tom O’Brien (3rd season)


2008 1st team: QB Russell Wilson
2008 2nd team: none
2008 HM: DE Willie Young, LB Nate Irving, KR T.J. Graham
2009 preseason: QB Russell Wilson, DE Willie Young

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Media prediction: 3rd, Atlantic Division

NC State’s 2008 season looked absolutely lost eight games in. They turned in a stinkfest in the very first game of the college football season against South Carolina, and snoozed their way to a 2-6 record by mid-October. Then they learned about the magic of defense, and rallied to a bowl game, along the way securing the mythical North Carolina championship by defeating all four other I-A teams in the state. Next up on the list of goals is a winning season, something they’ve only achieved once since 2003.


The list of NC State all-ACC players in 2008 starts and ends with Russell Wilson, but having the first-team quarterback is about as valuable as it gets. Wilson got the start last year against Clemson as the Wolfpack wasted the first few games of the season trying to figure out who would be their quarterback. He threw an interception in his first game as a starter. It was the last one he threw all season. Nine starts later, the season was over and Wilson had 17 touchdowns on the stat sheet and just that one pick. That’ll be a nigh-impossible feat to reproduce this season, and his accuracy could stand an improvement as well, but Wilson is a dangerous runner as well as an efficient passer and deservedly called the best quarterback in the conference right now.

Wilson gets all his favorite targets back, too. Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams are both juniors, and neither are eye-popping receivers, but Spencer has major-league big-play potential, averaging a seriously large 22.3 yards per catch last season. If he gets over the dropsies he’ll be one of the better receivers in the conference. The Pack running backs are also receiving threats. They’ll split the load this year between Jamelle Eugene and the finally-healthy Toney Baker, who has missed two seasons with a bad knee. Eugene and Baker can both catch the ball out of the backfield and are solid if unspectacular runners.

The line shouldn’t be a major weakness, but it is a bit hodgepodge. Julian Williams finds himself Wally Pipped over to left guard after getting hurt last year and giving way to Jake Vermiglio at tackle. Vermiglio has the following blurb in his official here’s-why-he’s-awesome writeup for 2007: “… Graded out at 85% against vaunted Virginia tackle Chris Long, Long had just one sack in the contest and it wasn’t against Vermiglio.” (It was probably Williams which is part of why he’s not the tackle any more.) RG Andy Barbee used to be a center and center Ted Larsen used to be a defensive tackle, so Tom O’Brien is going a little bit of the offensive-line-by-merry-go-round route. There aren’t any greenhorns here, though, and the end result should be solid as long as they gel in the early part of the season.


Up front there is just a ton of experience. All four starters are seniors, although two – Shea McKeen and Leroy Burgess – are juco transfers and the senior label is a bit misleading. Still, it’s hard to find a more experienced group in the whole conference, and end Willie Young is a pass-rushing terror and will likely see more than his share of double-teams this year.

NC State thought they would have an experienced set of starters at linebacker too, until Nate Irving’s car accident in June. He’ll miss the season, leaving middle linebacker Ray Michel the only upperclassman likely to even see the field at linebacker this year. Michel was the leading tackler in 2008, though, and the players on either side of him will benefit from his experience quarterbacking the defense. Dwayne Maddox will step in for Irving, and the coaching staff thought highly enough of him to start him as a true freshman last year when Irving was hurt.

The front seven will have to be stout all year, because the secondary is a huge problem. Two players left the program over the summer, leaving a starting cornerback gig to a former walk-on wide receiver, Koyal George. DeAndre Morgan at the other corner is a decent player, but the complete lack of depth will force a few freshmen into action here, possibly redshirt freshman Gary Grant or ’09 recruiting class headliner Jarvis Byrd. The same is likely true at safety, where of the eight players listed on the roster, four are freshmen. Clem Johnson and Justin Byers both have a fair amount of starting experience, but behind them the cupboard is empty.


Josh Czajkowski is a dependable kicker who missed just three field goals in 19 tries last year, but the punting job remains unsettled.


Based on the experience on this team and the emergence of Russell Wilson, NC State is expected to continue to be on the upswing. Ten writers even got carried away and picked the Wolfpack to make the ACCCG, and two even thought they’d win it. Let’s not go crazy now. I’m going to channel my inner Phil Steele here and point at the turnover margin, which tilted way in NC State’s favor last year. On the surface, it appeared they took very good care of the ball, losing just six fumbles all season. Total turnover margin: +8, helped greatly by the fact that they stopped having interception problems when they handed the ball to Wilson. It doesn’t stand up to closer inspection, though: NC State actually fumbled 28 times. I’m of the school that says that while you can learn to fumble less, fumble recoveries are more or less pure luck, and they’re not likely to get that kind of friendly turnover margin again. Wilson will also probably throw more picks – one in 275 passes is inhuman and if he does it again he ought to be on some Heisman ballots. There is talent enough at the skill positions and on the defensive line to prevent any major embarrassments, but the secondary is shaping up to be a disaster and the defense overall is under-talented. NC State has a favorable enough early schedule and should at the very least have a winning record going into their bye week, but the last half of the season is murderous and could knock them right out of bowl contention. The ACC season preview sunnily claims 8 or 9 wins is “certainly a possibility”; I’ll be surprised if they top seven.

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