2009 ACC Football Preview: NC State

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NC State Wolfpack

Returning Starters: 14 (8 offense, 6 defense)

Key Returnees: QB Russell Wilson, RB Jamelle Eugene, RB Toney Baker, WR
Owen Spencer, WR Jarvis Williams, TE George Bryan, C Ten Larsen, OT Jeraill
McCuller, OT Jake Vermiglio, DE Shea McKeen, DT Alan-Michael Cash, DE Willie
Young, LB Ray Michel, CB DeAndre Morgan, S Clem Johnson, S Justin Byers

Key Losses: RB Andre Brown, TE Anthony Hill, OG Meares Green, OG John
Bedics, DT Keith Willis, DT Antoine Holmes, LB Robbie Leonard, LB Nate Irving
(car accident), CB Jeremy Gray, SS J.C. Neal

Overall View

NC State was the surprise team of the ACC last year, winning their last four
regular season games to qualify for a bowl. Leading the way was r-freshman
quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw 17 touchdown passes and just one
interception. The Wolfpack are much more experienced this year, and they are
considered the sleeper of the ACC’s Atlantic Division.

The offense returns many weapons, but there are still questions on the
defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Nate Irving, one of the best linebackers
in the ACC, will miss the season after sustaining injuries in a car accident
over the summer. He is a major loss, as the NC State defense played much better
last season with him in the lineup.

Offensive Strength

NC State has good depth at the quarterback position. Russell Wilson
was statistically the best signal caller in the ACC last year, throwing for
1,955 yards with 17 touchdowns and one interception. He gradually improved as
the season went along, and proved to be a clutch performer in big games.

He is backed up by r-freshman Mike Glennon, the younger brother of Sean
Glennon. Glennon had an impressive spring, and head coach Tom O’Brien likes tall
pocket passers. If something happens to Russell Wilson this year, the Wolfpack
will have a capable backup.

Offensive Weakness

The NC State offensive line struggled last year, and they lose
starting guards Meares Green and John Bedics. Starting center Ted Larsen was on
the field for 730 plays last year, despite spending the first two years of his
career at defensive tackle. John Bedics was also a former defensive tackle,
which shows how desperate the Wolfpack have been for offensive linemen in the
Tom O’Brien era.

Russell Wilson can run pretty well, so he helps mask some of the deficiencies
up front. However, if this group can improve and help in the running game, the
NC State offense has the potential to be very good.

Defensive Strength

NC State has an experienced defensive line. Defensive end Willie Young
has 23 career starts, and he is projected to be a high NFL Draft pick next
season. Defensive tackle Alan-Michael Cash has 22 career starts, and he’s the
top interior lineman on the team. Shea McKeen also has a year of starting
experience at defensive end.

The Wolfpack should have a defensive line that is capable of stopping the
running game, though they might not be that great at rushing the passer, with
the exception of Young. Depth is an issue up front, and NC State could find
themselves wearing down late in games.

Defensive Weakness

With the loss of Nate Irving, linebacker just became a weakness of NC
State. Irving would have combined with Ray Michel to form a very good duo, but
now Michel is the only experienced linebacker on the team. Dwayne Maddox started
four games last year as a true freshman, and Terrell Manning should make a push
for playing time as well.

However, with Irving out, the NC State defense loses a lot of playmaking
ability. Despite missing four games with an injury, Irving had 84 tackles and 12
tackles for loss a year ago.

Key Game

Nothing gets fans in this region more excited than an ACC-SEC matchup, and
that’s what we’ll have on the first night of the season. NC State hosts South
Carolina on Thursday, September 3. Last year the Gamecocks crushed the Wolfpack,
but this year’s game should be much more competitive.

South Carolina will be starting a new quarterback, and they return just 11
starters overall. This is a prime opportunity for the ACC to steal a win over
the vaunted SEC.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

There is a lot to like about NC State. They are very well coached by Tom
O’Brien, they have a proven quarterback, two experienced tailbacks (Jamelle
Eugene and Toney Baker), and perhaps the most underrated wide receiver in the
league (Owen Spencer). Brandon Barnes, a r-freshman, appears ready to make plays
at tailback as well. If their offensive line can play well, this can be a very
good offense.

I’m not as sold on the Wolfpack defense, however. Their starting defensive
line is good, but how is the depth? With no Nate Irving at linebacker, how well
can this unit play? In the secondary, starters Jeremy Gray and J.C. Neal depart,
but they do return seven other players who have starting experience.

I like the way NC State’s schedule sets up at the beginning of the season. If
the Wolfpack can beat South Carolina, they’ll have two easy games against Murray
State and Gardner-Webb before hosting Big East favorite Pitt. NC State should be
favored in all of those games, and they have a good chance to go 4-0 before
traveling to Wake Forest on October 3. Then they host Duke, and then play at
Boston College. That’s not a difficult schedule at all, though it starts to get
dicey with an October 31 trip to Florida State.

The back of NC State’s schedule is more loaded than the front, with Maryland,
Clemson, Virginia Tech and UNC in the month of November. The Wolfpack should
still be in contention heading into the FSU game on Halloween, but can they
survive that five game stretch to end the season.

NC State should be an improved football team this year, and I can see them in
the Gator Bowl, the Champs Sports Bowl, or something like that. However, I don’t
quite see them as an ACC Champion, though I think they’ll be highly competitive
within the conference this year.

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