2007 ACC Football Season Preview: NC State

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NC State Wolfpack

12 Returning Starters (7 offense, 5 defense)

Key Players: RB Andre Brown, RB Toney Baker, WR Darrell Blackman, WR John
Dunlap, RG Curtis Crouch, LG Kalani Heppe, DT DeMario Pressley, DE Martel Brown,
LB LeRue Rumph, CB Jimmy Sutton, FS Miguel Scott

Overall
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NC State has always been talented, but they had major discipline problems
under Chuck Amato. Amato was finally canned following the 2006 season, and he
was replaced with Tom O’Brien, a former Marine who had no problems instilling
discipline in his teams at Boston College. Because O’Brien is bringing exactly
what the NC State team lacked, they could be one of the most improved teams in
the ACC this season.

The Wolfpack always play good defense, but their offense always seems to hold
them back. Unfortunately, they recently lost one of their best offensive
players. Tight end Anthony hill, who caught 45 passes last year and who was
going to be my Preseason All-ACC tight end, had surgery for a torn ACL last week
and is out for the season. He was NC State’s top receiver, and he’ll be missed
greatly.

Offensive Strength

NC State has very good depth in the offensive backfield with junior running
backs Andre Brown and Toney Baker. Brown ran for 658 yards, while Baker added
688. Both are used in the backfield at the same time, and both will be major
weapons for the Wolfpack in 2007.

This talented group could potentially add a third member when the season
rolls around. Sophomore Jamelle Eugene was so impressive in the spring that Tom
O’Brien joked about installing the wishbone so they could use all three running
backs at the same time. With the emphasis O’Brien put on the running game
throughout his years at Boston College, there should be improved production on
the ground this year for NC State.

Offensive Weakness

As of now, NC State doesn’t have a quarterback. Daniel Evans was the starter
last season and led the Wolfpack to late game wins against Boston College and
Florida State. He is remembered for those wins, however his overall performance
(6 touchdowns, 11 interceptions) left a lot to be desired.

He is being challenged by r-freshman Justin Burke, and sophomore Harrison
Beck, a transfer from Nebraska. Burke was very prolific in high school. In 2003
he had a touchdown to interception ration of 34-to-4, in 2004 it was 24-to-7,
and in 2005 it was an amazing 62-6.

It would probably be beneficial to NC State for someone to beat out Evans,
because he is not the most physically gifted quarterback you’ll see. This battle
will continue through August.

Defensive Strength

NC State has solid talent and a lot of experience in the secondary. Jimmy
Sutton returns as a starting senior cornerback, while Miguel Scott has started
the last two seasons at free safety. Levin Neal will be the other cornerback. He
started four games last season and broke up four passes.

The biggest playmaker in the secondary for NC State is not a returning
starter. Despite starting just one game last season, strong safety DaJuan Morgan
had 82 tackles, three interceptions and broke up seven passes. The Wolfpack’s
biggest concern in the secondary is depth at cornerback, where the backups are
unproven. But if the starters stay healthy, this should be a good group.

Defensive Weakness

NC State doesn’t have a lot of starting experience at linebacker. Although
all three projected starters are seniors, they combined for just 13 starts last
season. LeRue Rumph is the starter at strong side linebacker, and he is the best
and most experienced of the group. He had 69 tackles and six tackles for loss
last season.

The weakest linebacker spot could be in the middle. The Wolfpack have no true
middle linebacker. James Martin was moved inside in the spring. He has played
outside linebacker and defensive end in the past. He had 12 tackles in 2006.
Overall, there just aren’t any big names at linebacker for NC State.

Key Game

NC State travels to Boston College on September 8th. Tom O’Brien will visit
his old stomping ground for the first time. The Wolfpack upset the Eagles last
season in Raleigh, and that game cost BC a share of the Atlantic Division
Championship.

This game will be the ultimate matchup between Tom O’Brien’s new players at
NC State, whom he did not recruit, and the players that he did recruit at
Boston College. It should be fun to watch. If NC State can pull it off, it would
be a great start to the O’Brien era.

Will Stewart’s Take

Talk about night and day. NC State is going from the barrel-chested,
squeaky-voiced, flamboyant Chuck Amato to the buttoned-down, super-serious,
disciplined Tom O’Brien. Typically, changes like this are good at first. You see
it more at the pro level, when a disciplined coach takes a talented but
undisciplined team and whips them quickly into shape. They respond to his
coaching and maximize their talents.

We’ve also seen teams respond positively when going from a crack-the-whip guy
to a more laid-back coach. That’s not what NC State’s doing though, so maybe
that scenario is somewhere in their future, but not now.

Chuck Amato had a reputation as a good recruiter, but if you go by recruiting
rankings, Amato’s reputation was all he had in his later years at NC State. His
recruiting classes as ranked by Rivals.com peaked with the #7 class in the
nation in 2003, fell into the 20’s in 2004 and 2005, then came in ranked 54th
and 49th the last two years.

That highly-ranked 2003
class
should be redshirt seniors right now, but only 13 of the 28 players
that NC State signed that year are still with the Wolfpack, and two of the best
from that class, DE Mario Williams and DT DeMarcus "Tank" Tyler, are
already in the NFL. There are a smattering of starters from that class on the
team — Darrell Blackman at wide receiver, Kalani Heppe on the OL, and Brown,
Rumph, Sutton, and Scott on defense — but they’re not exactly leading the
charge five years after being signed, not like you would expect from the #7
recruiting class in the nation.

Amato didn’t leave the cupboard crammed full for O’Brien, and despite
O’Brien’s presence, the ACC media picked the Wolfpack to finish last in the
Atlantic Division of the ACC. It’s ironic that two of the most highly-regarded
coaches in the ACC, O’Brien and Ralph Friedgen at Maryland, are picked last and
next-to-last in the Atlantic. It will be interesting to see how the season
shakes out.

It’s going to take O’Brien a while to build the Wolfpack back up, I think,
and the biggest immediate problem he has is finding a QB. O’Brien developed some
good-to-great QBs up in Boston College, and once he gets one at NC State, that
will hasten their improvement. For this season, they’ll play better, but they
might not have enough talent for that to make much difference.

NC
State 2007 Football Schedule

NC
State 2007 Roster

NC State 2007 Depth Chart not available

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