Sunday, July 29, 2007

N.C. State Preview

2007 Schedule

2006 Results: 3-9 overall, 2-6 ACC (6th Atlantic Division)

Offense: A unit that has been nothing short of a train wreck since Phillip Rivers' departure after the 2003 season undergoes yet another makeover for a fourth straight year. The core of this unit rests with NFL-caliber RBs Andre Brown and Toney Hall, who despite being saddled with a porous OL in 2006, combined for over 1400 yards and 10 TDs. That OL returns 5 pseudo-starters, but is perilously thin after that; nearly all the second-teamers did not play a down in 2006. QB duties are still up in the air, with last year's nine-game starter Daniel Evans most likely to get the nod. He's been pushed by freshman Justin Burke and Nebraska transfer Harrison Beck, however allow me to say that I'm not very enthusiastic about former Husker QBs who transfer to North Carolina schools. 2005 and 2006 sometime starting QB Marcus Stone has moved to TE, where he takes the place of the just-injured Anthony Hill.

Defense: Despite losing three first round draft picks in the spring of '06, the Wolfpack defense didn't drop off the face of the earth, but it did slip to 8th in the ACC (36th nationally). Six starters leave from last year's squad, but plenty of returnees saw playing time last season via constant substitutions and injuries. As of right now, it isn't clear whether the Wolfpack may switch to a 3-4 defense or stay with last season's 4-3 set, but either way, two starters are back on the DL and the LB corps has significant game experience. Shutdown corner Jimmy "Third" Sutton returns for the secondary. All in all, the Pack D should at least maintain last year's status, and more than likely will climb into the top half of the ACC.

Special teams: State breaks in a new kicker in Bradley Pierson, brought in the nation's 2nd best JUCO punter in Jeff Ruiz, while last year's top ACC return specialist, Darrell Blackman, is back. One bright spot for the Wolfpack in recent years is the holy terror they've been to opposing punters, rivalling Virginia Tech for Best Punt Blocking Program status. It'll be interesting to see whether Amato's departure and O'Brien's arrival have much affect in that regard.

Coaching: Out- Chuck Amato and The Red Shoe Diaries. After some initial success in his first four seasons, the nearly constant revolving door on his assistant coaching staff, the departure of all-everything QB Phillip Rivers, and the deplorable on-field lack of discipline finally got the best of The Chest. In- Boston College head coach Tom O'Brien, quite possibly the polar opposite of Amato in nearly every way. He brought over most of his Chestnut Hill staff, most notably OC and QB/WR coach Dana Bible. Two former head coaches in DC Mike Archer (LSU 1987-1990) and LB coach Andy McCollum (Middle Tennessee 1999-2005) are new additions for both O'Brien and State. O'Brien's approach is methodical, demanding, and strict, but he's a proven winner and he'll make NC State a perennial contender in the ACC....just not this year.

For What It's Worth: Amato's ACC record and highest league finish (25-31, 4th '01-'03); previous coach Mike O'Cain's ACC record and highest league finish (26-30, 2nd '94)....the 2006 Wolfpack ranked last in the ACC in turnover margin (112th nationally), and had the highest number of penalties per game (7.17) in the league (13th-most nationally)....Tom O'Brien's 76 total wins as a head coach since 1997 is one win short of Earle Edwards' school-best mark of 77 wins in Raleigh from OC Dana Bible tutored NFL QBs Tim Hasselbeck, Brian St. Pierre, and Quinton Porter, along with current All-ACC QB Matt Ryan

Schedule Analysis: A mixed bag....on the conference side, both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech are helpfully absent, but all of the conference road games (@Boston College, @Florida State, @Miami, @Wake Forest) are most difficult. An out-of-conference matchup with Louisville is sandwiched by matchups with Clemson and FSU. The delicious but soon-to-be-grossly-overhyped Tom O'Brien return to Boston kicks off ACC play for State, in week two. Alas, no Thursday night Cardiac Pack classics are scheduled for this season.
Projected Wins- UCF, Wofford, @East Carolina
Projected Losses- Clemson, Louisville, @Florida State, @Miami, @Wake Forest
Toss-Ups- @Boston College, Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland

For More Opinionated, Yet Delightful, Wolfpack Insight: State Fans Nation, Section Six

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