Sunday, August 15, 2010

season preview: NC State

North Carolina State Wolfpack


9/4: Western Carolina
9/11: @ Central Florida
9/16: Cincinnati (Thu.)
9/25: @ Georgia Tech
10/2: Virginia Tech
10/9: Boston College
10/16: @ East Carolina
10/23: BYE
10/28: Florida State (Thu.)
11/6: @ Clemson
11/13: Wake Forest
11/20: @ North Carolina
11/27: @ Maryland

Skip: Duke, Miami, Virginia

Projected starters:

QB: Russell Wilson (rJr.)
RB: Curtis Underwood (rJr.)
FB: Taylor Gentry (Jr.)
WR: Jarvis Williams (5Sr.)
WR: Owen Spencer (Sr.)
TE: George Bryan (rJr.)
LT: Jake Vermiglio (Sr.)
LG: Andrew Wallace (rSo.)
C: Camden Wentz (So.)
RG: R.J. Mattes (rSo.)
RT: Mikel Overgaard (rJr.)

DE: Michael Lemon (5Sr.)
DT: Markus Kuhn (rJr.)
DT: Brian Slay (So.)
DE: David Akinniyi (5Sr.)
SLB: Audie Cole (rJr.)
MLB: Nate Irving (5Sr.)
WLB: Terrell Manning (rSo.)
CB: C.J. Wilson (rSo.)
CB: Rashard Smith (So.)
FS: Brandan Bishop (So.)
SS: Earl Wolff (rSo.)

K: Josh Czajkowski (rJr.)
P: Jeff Ruiz (5Sr.)

Coach: Tom O'Brien (4th season)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Media prediction: 4th, Atlantic Division


2009 1st team: TE George Bryan
2009 2nd team: DE Willie Young
2009 HM: QB Russell Wilson
2010 preseason: TE George Bryan

(Italics indicate departed player.)

In 2009, NC State played in the season's first nationally televised game, and treated an eager college football audience to a hideous snoozefest. Despite winning their next three, as punishment for their immensely lame 7-3 loss to South Carolina, the Pack were written off by the national media, and proved them right by allowing a succession of four ACC opponents to ring up their defense for 44 points a game. The schedule was not NC State's friend, and in 2010, the team gets worse and the schedule gets harder.


Left unmolested by enemy pass rushers, Russell Wilson can direct a pretty fearsome passing attack. Wilson threw four or more touchdowns in five games last year and 31 touchdowns overall, and holds the NCAA record for consecutive passes without an interception. And his favorite receiver targets are back: Owen Spencer, the big-play threat who averaged 25 yards per reception; possession receiver extraordinaire Jarvis Williams, who caught 11 touchdowns; and capable third receiver Darrell Davis. Outstanding tight end George Bryan was the first-team all-conference choice as a sophomore last year, and he too returns to round out an impressive array of targets.

Unfortunately, it's likely the running game will disappear off the face of the earth. Not that it was terribly fearsome in 2009, but NC State must find some new backs to carry the ball, and it looks like either Curtis Underwood or James Washington, or both, will be the answers. Both have been used very sparingly throughout their careers; Underwood actually redshirted in what would have been his junior season in 2009. Neither has shown great ability, and every option NC State has at the position has a checkered injury history.

But the running game will suffer even more from the rebuilt offensive line. Senior left tackle Jake Vermiglio is the only veteran on the line. If R.J. Mattes - yes, the son of UVA line coach Ron - returns on schedule from last year's knee injury, the Pack will also have a dependable right guard. Otherwise it will be up to sophomore Zach Allen, who's never started. NC State breaks in a new center in Camden Wentz, who has just five college games under his belt, and no starts either. The Pack are lucky Vermiglio's arrest in April blew over without any on-field consequences (Bryan was caught up in this too) or the line would be a giant mess. Vermiglio's ability to keep Wilson's blind side clean will answer a lot of questions, but NC State appears poised to carry one of the ACC's worst running games.


Is there a bigger mess in all the conference than NC State's defensive line? Doubt it. As if it wasn't bad enough that they have to replace all four starters from 2009, two of their main options have been getting too much face time with local law enforcement this offseason. Markus Kuhn should be good to go, and he'll likely be a decent anchor for the line even after redshirting last season. Brian Slay looks like the likely choice, at least at the beginning of the season, to line up next to Kuhn; J.R. Sweezy is more experienced and probably the better option, but his legal problems stretch a little further than Kuhn's. On the end, the Pack will use David Akinniyi, a productive player from the I-AA ranks who transferred to NC State without penalty after his Northeastern Huskies folded their program.

The best news NC State gets this year is the return of heart and soul linebacker Nate Irving, whose car crash during the 2009 preseason ruled him out for the year. In his place, Audie Cole was the leader of the linebacking unit (and the team in tackles) and he returns to patrol the strong side. Terrell Manning is listed as the starter on the weak side, but he and Dwayne Maddox split time as Irving's replacements there in 2009, and that rotation seems likely to continue.

The Wolfpack also have to replace a lot of starts in the secondary, but it's just as well: the D-line had more interceptions than the secondary did in 2009. Check that: The reserve D-line. The only returning regular is unspectacular safety Brandan Bishop, though cornerback C.J. Wilson did get six starts. This is a secondary that got burned repeatedly in 2009, and that trend continued in the spring game. Safety Earl Wolff did manage to collect 42 tackles while playing mostly as a reserve in 2009, but overall it was an extremely young and raw unit. They still are; it could get ugly here.


Josh Czajkowski didn't get many FG opportunities in 2009, but he converted most of them, going 10 for 12. Jeff Ruiz is the incumbent punter, and he is awful. T.J. Graham is one of the conference's better kick returners; he handles both punts and kickoffs, averaging 10 and 25 yards, respectively.


Bluntly put, this is a team headed in the wrong direction. Tom O'Brien has yet to be able to right the ship in Raleigh; each of his seasons have resulted in seven losses, and this season threatens to be worse. The defense is a perfect storm of trouble, with a total replacement of the line and a secondary that hasn't been able to make any plays. Russell Wilson is a bright spot - a very bright spot - but the schedule is doing NC State no favors at all: they're one of two unfortunate Atlantic teams to miss out on both Duke and UVA. Clemson has the talent to overcome; NC State does not. It's a reflection of the depth of the Coastal Division that UNC and NC State were both voted fourth in their respective divisions despite the massive talent gap between the two programs. They do have one thing in common, though: a hot-seat coach. A regression from 5-7 looks likely here, and that, as you know, is the sort of thing that cause coaching searches.

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