N.C. State at a glance
2014: 8-5 overall, 3-5 ACC
Bowl result: Defeated Central Florida, 34-27, in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl.
Coach: Dave Doeren (11-14, third year at N.C. State)
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Returning starters: Offense (6), Defense (8), Special teams (0)
▪ Offensive coordinator Matt Canada likes choices and he has a variety of them at running back. He has a power runner in senior Shadrach Thornton (team-high 907 yards) and both junior Matt Dayes and sophomore Jaylen Samuels have the potential to lead the team in catches and/or receiving yards. Then there’s freshmen Reggie Gallaspy and sophomore Dakwa Nichols.
That’s just at running back. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett ran for 325 yards in the final four games. The Wolfpack averaged 204.5 yards per game, its most productive season on the ground since 1992, and that number should go up again.
▪ All five starters return in the secondary, led by senior safety Hakim Jones (team-best 80 tackles). Junior nickel Dravious Wright, the best tackler on the team, improved as the season went along and should be better with more experience in 2015.
▪ Given all the problems N.C. State has had on its offensive line over the past dozen years, it’s no small task to break in two new tackles.
Senior Joe Thuney, who started at left guard last year, will move to the outside to replace left tackle Rob Crisp and redshirt freshman Will Richardson fills in at right tackle for Tyson Chandler.
The Wolfpack can’t afford for a strength to turn into weakness.
▪ N.C. State had one of the better special teams duos last season in kicker Nik Sade and punter Wil Baumann, a pair of four-year starters.
Coach Dave Doeren is confident in the talent of freshmen kicker Kyle Bambard and punter A.J. Cole but there will be bumps on the road in the transition to rookies.
Best-case scenario: The defense picks up where it left off, the key new parts on the offensive line merge with the old and Brissett leads them to a split with Clemson and Florida State and N.C. State’s first Atlantic Division title.
Worst-case scenario: The defense reverts to early 2014 form, the offense stalls and the special teams are a mess with a freshman kicker and freshman punter. South Alabama bites them in late September, the division road woes continue and a home loss to UNC keeps them out of a bowl.
Bottom line: There’s a chance here for N.C. State to make a move. A division title might be down the road for Doeren but there are 10 wins available (including the bowl) on this schedule.
Sept. 5: Troy
Oct. 24: at Wake Forest
Sept. 12: Eastern Kentucky
Oct. 31: Clemson
Sept. 19: at Old Dominion
Nov. 7: at Boston College
Sept. 26: at South Alabama
Nov. 14: at Florida State
Oct. 3: Louisville
Nov. 21: Syracuse
Oct. 9: at Virginia Tech
Nov. 28: North Carolina
It’s less than an interesting schedule outside the ACC, but as long as the ACC division alignment remains the same, N.C. State athletics director Debbie Yow makes no apologies for seeking potential wins where she can.
The difference between 8-5 and improvement will likely be determined by how the Wolfpack does against Louisville, Boston College and Wake Forest.
The ACC schedule opens with Louisville, at home, which should be in N.C. State’s favor, but the Wolfpack has never won an ACC game at Boston College (0-5) and it hasn’t won at Wake Forest since 2001.
Predicted finish: Third in the Atlantic Division; 9-3 overall, 5-3 ACC.