|Aug. 28||@South Carolina|
|Sept. 6||WILLIAM & MARY|
|Sept. 20||EAST CAROLINA|
|Oct. 4||BOSTON COLLEGE|
|Oct. 16||FLORIDA STATE|
|Nov. 15||WAKE FOREST|
|Nov. 22||@North Carolina|
2007 Results: 5-7 overall, 3-5 ACC (T-5th Atlantic Division)
Offense: Ugh. That was the collective grunt uttered by Pack fans after the punch-in-the-gut news that stud wideout Donald Bowens was recently lost for the season with a fractured back. That means that the four top receivers from last year's team will not be back for the '08 campaign, leaving this sector of the offense the thinnest and least experienced in the league (depending on how well TE Anthony Hill returns from missing '07 due to a blown ACL). The running game is a mystery as uber-talented backs Toney Baker and Andre Brown are still recovering from injuries sustained last season (sense a pattern here?), although junior Jamelle Eugene filled in admirably (667 yards, 5 TDs rushing in '07) and will probably be the starter in the opener. The huge offensive line is decent with several players having starting experience, although (aside from guard Curtis Crouch) there doesn't appear to be much all-ACC caliber talent in the bunch. And quarterback...it looks like another year with highly inconsistent senior Daniel Evans, who is capable of almost single-handedly winning games himself (see: BC and FSU '06, UVA '07), but also has the habit of turning the ball over in voluminous quantities at the worst times. Freshmen Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon will likely see time under center as well, although expect O'Brien to try and save one of them for the long-term future while the other gets battered about this season.
Defense: Another ugh. Five of the top six tacklers are gone, and projected starting FS Clem Johnson was just lost for the year due to...yes, injury. As for the line, the dropoff from the 2005 level of Mario Williams, Manny Lawson and John McCargo is staggering - but not unexpected. This year's DL has decent size and bits of starting experience here and there, but certainly no stars yet. The linebacking corps is a major question mark, as all three starters from last year's squad have gone to the private sector, and projected starting WLB Audie Cole is a converted QB. The secondary is the strong suit of this unit, even with the loss of Johnson to injury and the departure of stud safety DaJuan Morgan. All the starters have significant game experience and will anchor the defense for most of the year. Still, as a whole, the Wolfpack defense is very much a work in progress and is probably middle-of-the road at best in the ACC.
Special Teams: Ugh again. Punt and kickoff return specialist Darrell Blackman (56 combined returns last year) has departed, and now with the injury to Bowens (20 KO returns in '07), the return game is a complete mystery. The very underrated Steven Hauschka (perfect in PATs, 16 of 18 FGs in 2007) is also gone after just one season. The reliable if unspectacular Bradley Pierson is back for punting duties and he might very well be the offensive MVP early in the season.
Coaching: Tom O'Brien probably did not envision this big of a rebuilding job when he departed Boston for Raleigh 20 months ago, nor did he likely figure on the bad luck (injury epidemic) that's befallen the program since his arrival. It appears that things will likely get worse before they get better and it helps that O'Brien has some reliable old standbys with him, chief among them being OC Dana Bible. They may appear boring to you and me, but let's not forget that they were responsible for bringing in the talent you saw at Boston College last year (Matt Ryan, Andre Callender, Ryan Purvis to name a few). State will prove easier to sell to recruits than Chestnut Hill if O'Brien gets the ship righted and then talk of competing for ACC titles can commence. But for now, in 2008, it's about staying out of the league basement and finding the right players for 2009 and beyond.
Odds & Ends: Last year's 37-0 defeat to Maryland in the season finale was the Pack's first shutout loss since a 14-0 setback to Baylor in 1995.....State ranked 116th nationally last year in turnover margin (-17); it was the third time in the last four seasons that they ranked below 110 in that category.....the Wolfpack went 3-0 vs. Coastal Division opponents in 2007, but 0-5 against their Atlantic Division rivals
Schedule Analysis: Aside from the week two meeting with William & Mary, this slate is completely devoid of any breathers, with the two bye weeks being relatively unhelpful (a shortened one before a Thursday-nighter with FSU, and the second one pre-Duke). This is the wrong year to open up with a toughie on the road, and the wrong year to face the conference favorite in week three - also on the road. The only bright spot is a four-game homestand in late September-early October. This schedule, combined with the ongoing rehab job in Raleigh, spells another losing season. If O'Brien can somehow get this team to six wins, ACC Coach of the Year honors should (but probably won't) follow. Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Virginia Tech are off the rotation on this year's slate.
Projected Wins: William & Mary, Miami
Projected Losses: @South Carolina, @Clemson, USF, Florida State, @Maryland, @Wake Forest
Toss-Ups: East Carolina, Boston College, @Duke, @North Carolina
Primo Wolfpack Blogs: State Fans Nation, Section Six
And a rivalry is born