Nyheim Hines likes what he sees when he looks forward for N.C. State.
The Wolfpack (7-5) will open the 2016 season with many of the same faces who will finish the 2015 season against Mississippi State (8-4) on Wednesday in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.
But the freshman running back would like to be able to look back on this season and remember the ending fondly.
“I’d love to close out this year with a win for all the seniors,” Hines said.
Getting one more win and equaling last year’s win total has been the focus for the Wolfpack during its bowl preparation.
Last year, there was a lot of talk about finishing strong and setting the table for the 2015 season. Momentum can be fickle, though, and a 4-1 finish by the Wolfpack in 2014 did not translate to a bigger season this year.
With that in mind, third-year coach Dave Doeren put this game, his first test against a nonconference Power 5 opponent, in perspective.
“This game won’t define us, one way or the other,” he said. “It will give us a better taste in our mouth going forward.”
The Wolfpack is set up to be a more experienced team in 2016 and could have as many as 14 starters back from Wednesday’s game, plus junior running back Matt Dayes, who was on pace to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 before he injured a foot against Clemson on Oct. 31.
The biggest personnel questions for N.C. State, which will face a significantly more challenging schedule next season, are at quarterback and the loss of three senior starters on the offensive line.
Next QB undecided
Senior Jacoby Brissett, who has led the Wolfpack to 15 wins the past two years, will play his last game against the Bulldogs. Brissett has thrown for 5,054 yards with 42 touchdowns and nine interceptions the past two seasons.
After he transferred from Florida, a month after Doeren was hired, the coach was quick to name Brissett his starter. Doeren has not done that with Brissett’s successor.
Redshirt freshman Jalan McClendon, who has been Brissett’s backup all season and only played sparingly, is expected to replace Brissett next season, but McClendon will have to beat out talented freshman Jakobi Meyers.
“(McClendon) has an electric personality around the players; they are going to play for him,” Doeren said. “Jakobi Meyers is an exceptional talent, too. It’s going to be a good competition. I’m excited about that.”
I don’t really care where I play: I just like to make plays and do my job.
NC State’s Nyheim Hines
Either quarterback will have two versatile backs to rely on in Jaylen Samuels and Hines. Samuels, a hybrid tight end-slash-running back, led the team in receptions (64), receiving yards (599) and total touchdowns (14) this season. He also ran for 315 yards.
Hines began the season at receiver but moved to mostly a running back role after Dayes’ injury. He finished with relatively modest numbers (256 receiving yards, 173 rushing yards). His touches went up in the final four games of the regular season with 10 catches for 116 yards and 25 rushes for 150 yards and a touchdown.
Hines, a high school star from nearby Garner, came on at the end of the season and seemed more comfortable at his natural running back position.
The return of Dayes and addition of Johnny Frasier, a highly touted freshman from Princeton who redshirted, might mean a shift back to slot receiver for Hines next season.
“I don’t really care where I play; I just like to make plays and do my job,” Hines said. “I’ll do whatever they ask me.”
Throw in the late surge from freshman Reggie Gallaspy, who had 158 yards in the final two ACC games, and Doeren’s not worried about the backfield.
“Barring injuries, we’ll have a lot of talent, and we’ll have depth and we’ll have game experience back there,” Doeren said. “It’s going to come down to the offensive line and replacing the three seniors. That’s going to be the biggest thing in the offseason.”
Senior left tackle Joe Thuney, the program’s first All-ACC offensive lineman since 2003, and center Quinton Schooley have started the past three years together. Left guard Alex Barr has started in parts of the past three seasons.
Doeren noted both freshmen tackles Aaron Wiltz and Emanuel McGirt who redshirted this season have stood out on the scout team.
Redshirt freshmen Tyler Jones and Will Richardson, who have shared the right tackle spot for the past month, both will have a chance to start on the line next season.
Defensive line strong
On defense, the line was the team’s strength this season and should be again next season. From the regular nine-man rotation, only senior defensive end Mike Rose will have to be replaced.
Sophomore Airius Moore and freshman Riley Nicholson settled into the linebacker roles late in the season and will be back.
The secondary will lose a pair of senior starters, but Doeren has been able to build some depth in the defensive backfield.
Doeren was asked a question about Mississippi State, in comparison to last year’s bowl opponent Central Florida. Doeren noted the Knights went 0-12 this season but were just a year removed from a Fiesta Bowl title.
Doeren’s answer about Central Florida could be applied to N.C. State, too.
“Every year is a new year,” he said. “I don’t think you can get too caught up in what happened last year or what’s going to happen next year.”
Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio