2013 NC State football's 10 things to know: Perfect mediocrity and a light home schedule

Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE

Tom O'Brien's legacy at NC State: he built a perfectly average program. Fast-riser Dave Doeren will now see if you can do something more in Raleigh. He's passed the tests he's been given thus far, but don't expect much in 2013. For more NC State, visit Backing the Pack.

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. Perfectly average, Part II

I may have been a little quick on the trigger in naming Washington the most perfectly average team in the country.

In the Adj. Points measure I use below, the idea is to take a team's performance in a given week and gauge what would have happened if that team had played a perfectly average opponent that week instead of whoever it played. It is an attempt to adjust for schedule and look at a team's in-season trends. But really, it could also be titled "WashingtonScore." because Washington has spent most of the last eight seasons as an almost perfectly average team.

Now, to be sure, Washington has been amazingly average, ranking between 50th and 78th in seven of the last eight seasons. But if you take out NC State's random 2010 peak (22nd and 9-4), the Wolfpack have ranked 65th, 64th, 50th, 64th, 58th, and 63rd from 2006-12. That's ... well, that's average.

In six years under Tom O'Brien, NC State went 40-35, building at least a little bit of momentum (16-21 first three years, 24-14 next three) but evidently not enough to buy O'Brien a seventh year. Averaging an 8-5 record, as the Wolfpack did over the previous three years, is certainly not bad for a program that hasn't been a consistent top-25 presence for quite a while.

But it's not necessarily something you aspire to; neither is "average," and almost everything about O'Brien's tenure was average.

2. MACtion road show

So now State starts fresh with a MAC transplant. Dave Doeren has taken the fast track to success; 13 years ago, Doeren was Montana's defensive backs coach. Just six years later, he was named Bret Bielema's defensive co-coordinator at Wisconsin. Five years later, he was named head coach at Northern Illinois. And two years later, at age 41, he's a BCS head coach. His last two Wisconsin defenses ranked in the Def. F/+ top-30, and in inheriting an 11-win conference runner-up from Jerry Kill at NIU, he didn't do much to change the program's trajectory. He went 22-6, won two conference titles, reached the MAC's first BCS bowl, and in 2012, fielded a legitimately strong, top-35 team.

We don't know Dave Doeren's ceiling yet because he hasn't reached it. He grew into previous jobs, and he didn't take long to do the same in his first head coaching position. He is tasked with taking NC State somewhere it really hasn't been in a while. The Wolfpack have had randomly good seasons -- 9-4 in 2010, 11-3 in 2002, 34-14-1 from 1991-94 -- but haven't been consistently strong for a while. He inherits a roster that is intriguing but thin, and it's conceivable that, before successfully bringing MACtion-level excitement and wins to Raleigh, he's in for another growing-into-the-job experience.

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 7-6 | Final F/+ Rk: 63
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
31-Aug vs. Tennessee 21-35 L 22.0 - 28.4 L
8-Sep at Connecticut 10-7 W 20.7 - 21.1 L
15-Sep South Alabama 31-7 W 25.9 - 29.1 L
22-Sep The Citadel 52-14 W 35.0 - 32.1 W
29-Sep at Miami 37-44 L 36.8 - 34.0 W
6-Oct Florida State 17-16 W 31.9 - 16.9 W
20-Oct at Maryland 20-18 W 22.9 - 39.1 L
27-Oct at North Carolina 35-43 L 36.2 - 25.9 W
3-Nov Virginia 6-33 L 13.1 - 31.6 L
10-Nov Wake Forest 37-6 W 24.4 - 10.4 W
17-Nov at Clemson 48-62 L 36.3 - 33.7 W
24-Nov Boston College 27-10 W 16.9 - 20.3 L
31-Dec vs. Vanderbilt 24-38 L 38.6 - 15.4 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 28.1 71 25.6 52
Adj. Points Per Game 27.8 69 26.0 44

3. One goes up, one goes down

Aside from a first-quarter slump versus Tennessee, NC State's defense was a rock early in 2012, allowing just 28 points to three bad offenses (UConn, South Alabama, The Citadel) and only 13 points to Tennessee in the final three quarters. But the offense wasn't good enough to keep up with the Vols, and it barely produced enough to get by UConn. As the year went on, the offense improved and the defense regressed. And then the offense regressed while the defense improved again.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Opponent 26.2, NC State 22.9 (minus-3.3)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): NC State 32.6, Opponent 29.6 (plus-3.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): NC State 25.9, Opponent 22.3 (plus-3.6)

It was just one of those seasons. Aside from the second half of the Florida State game, both units rarely played well at the same time. And the result was, as you would expect, average.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 48 57 58 57
RUSHING 110 100 75 107
PASSING 18 44 47 45
Standard Downs 49 52 49
Passing Downs 72 74 71
Redzone 53 40 58
Q1 Rk 46 1st Down Rk 50
Q2 Rk 92 2nd Down Rk 97
Q3 Rk 39 3rd Down Rk 28
Q4 Rk 55

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Mike Glennon 330 564 4,031 58.5% 31 17 36 6.0% 6.3
Manny Stocker 6'1, 212 So. *** (5.5) 0 2 0 0.0% 0 0 3 60.0% -2.8
Brandon Mitchell
(2012 Arkansas)
6'4, 239 Sr. *** (5.7) 2 8 45 25.0% 1 0 1 11.1% 4.9
Pete Thomas
(2011 Colorado State)
6'6, 234 Jr. **** (5.8) 161 261 1,607 61.7% 7 8 27 9.4% 5.0

4. Transfer derby

Incumbent quarterbacks are often assets for new coaches, but sometimes a lot of new blood at once isn't a bad thing either. As morbidly interesting as it may have been to see Mike Glennon attempting to be Doeren's new Jordan Lynch, running and passing almost equally, it might have been for the best to start fresh.

There is a lot of new blood at quarterback this year. Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas came to Raleigh to play for Tom O'Brien, but he showed a little bit of mobility in Fort Collins. And at Arkansas, Brandon Mitchell showed enough mobility that the Hogs moved him to receiver for a while. It appears that while Thomas began fall camp ahead of Mitchell and everybody else, Mitchell has caught up quickly.

New offensive coordinator Matt Canada has gotten used to adjusting his system to the talent at hand. After working with Lynch at NIU in 2011, he became Wisconsin's offensive coordinator last season and worked with a pro-style passer at the start of the season (Danny O'Brien), more of a conservative, dual-threat type at the end (Curt Phillips), and an in-between in between (Joel Stave). It does appear that Doeren and Canada do enjoy a bit of mobility at the quarterback position, so that might help to explain why Mitchell is becoming an appealing option.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Shadrach Thornton RB 6'1, 203 So. *** (5.6) 154 694 4.5 3.2 3 -6.6
Tony Creecy RB 5'11, 210 Jr. **** (5.8) 127 476 3.7 3.0 5 -0.4
Brandon Barnes RB 44 125 2.8 2.1 1 -9.3
Mustafa Greene RB 28 101 3.6 2.2 0 -1.7
James Washington RB 27 77 2.9 3.0 1 -3.3
Mike Glennon QB 20 78 3.9 3.0 2 -0.4
Milton Hall RB 5'9, 200 Jr. NR 7 49 7.0 3.4 0 -0.4
Tobais Palmer WR 7 60 8.6 16.7 0 +1.8
Matt Dayes RB 5'9, 213 Fr. *** (5.7)





Josh Mercer RB 5'11, 191 Fr. *** (5.6)





5. Finding a running game

Between Doeren and Canada, the odds are good that NC State will look to run the ball as much as it is able to do. Unfortunately, the Wolfpack weren't that able in 2012; they ranked just 100th in Rushing S&P+, with minimal ability to either break off a big play or keep Mike Glennon out of obvious passing situations. If there's quality to be found here, Doeren and Canada will probably unearth it, but it's hard to get too excited about anything regarding this running game.

Shadrach Thornton (suspended for the season opener) and Tony Creecy showed next to no explosiveness on the rare opportunity that they got to the second level of the defense, and the line is now tasked with replacing four two-year (or more) starters who combined for 137 career starts. Now, because of injuries and shuffling, NC State still returns four players with starting experience (41 career starts), including former five-star recruit Rob Crisp.

But this line was average at best last year, and there's nothing saying it will be any better this time around, especially since new offensive line coach Mike Uremovich is in his first year of coaching the offensive line. Sometimes you can just assume certain coaches are going to have quality lines; we have no data for assuming anything, good or bad, of Uremovich.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Quintin Payton WR-X 6'4, 212 Sr. *** (5.5) 86 51 798 59.3% 9.3 15.9% 64.0% 9.3 93.3
Tobais Palmer WR 83 54 781 65.1% 9.4 15.3% 69.9% 9.6 91.3
Bryan Underwood WR-F 5'9, 180 Jr. *** (5.7) 83 44 620 53.0% 7.5 15.3% 54.2% 7.8 72.5
Mario Carter TE 54 34 367 63.0% 6.8 10.0% 61.1% 6.8 42.9
Tony Creecy RB 5'11, 210 Jr. **** (5.8) 51 34 182 66.7% 3.6 9.4% 41.2% 3.9 21.3
Shadrach Thornton RB 6'1, 203 So. *** (5.6) 46 30 274 65.2% 6.0 8.5% 54.3% 5.8 32.0
Asa Watson TE 6'3, 237 Sr. *** (5.5) 42 24 282 57.1% 6.7 7.8% 64.3% 6.7 33.0
Rashard Smith WR-Z 5'9, 177 Sr. ** (5.4) 33 19 315 57.6% 9.5 6.1% 48.5% 9.0 36.8
Charlie Hegedus WR-X 6'2, 210 So. *** (5.5) 16 9 116 56.3% 7.3 3.0% 31.3% 6.5 13.6
Logan Winkles FB 6'1, 260 Jr. *** (5.6) 16 10 90 62.5% 5.6 3.0% 62.5% 5.6 10.5
James Washington RB 13 8 58 61.5% 4.5 2.4% 38.5% 3.8 6.8
Maurice Morgan WR-F 6'2, 226 So. *** (5.5)








David J. Grinnage TE 6'5, 267 RSFr. ** (5.4)








Johnathan Alston WR 6'3, 203 Fr. *** (5.6)








Jumichael Ramos WR 6'3, 198 Fr. *** (5.6)








Bra'Lon Cherry WR-Z 5'11, 180 Fr. *** (5.5)








6. So can they pass then?

So if running is an issue, will State have the pieces to pass in 2013? Both Mitchell and Thomas are probably more adept than their previous passing experience would suggest -- Mitchell was tossed into an awful experience at Arkansas last year, throwing a few passes while spending most of the year as a receiver, while Thomas just had no weapons whatsoever in 2011 at CSU -- but what about the receiving corps? It might be rather underrated, actually.

The Wolfpack didn't have amazing depth at receiver, but the pieces they did have were pretty strong; they weren't strong enough to prevent Glennon from throwing 17 interceptions, often into coverage (and since interceptions don't have target data attached to them, the picks make these players' catch rates look a bit better than they were), but in Quintin Payton, State returns a No. 1 receiver who averaged a healthy 9.3 yards per target. Bryan Underwood averaged a decent 7.5, and reserve Rashard Smith averaged 9.5. The O'Brien offense saw a ton of dump-offs to the running back, and those passes tended to go nowhere last year (Creecy and Thornton combined to average just 4.7 yards per target), but the receivers themselves were relatively impressive.

Still, you have to avoid passing downs to pass consistently and effectively, and this run game might put Mitchell, Thomas, or whoever into quite a few second- or third-and-longs.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 102.7 2.72 2.95 35.1% 64.4% 18.8% 87.3 6.9% 5.7%
Rank 62 93 83 103 85 58 77 102 49
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
R.J. Mattes LG 43 career starts; 2012 2nd All-ACC
Camden Wentz C 39 career starts
Zach Allen RG 31 career starts
Andrew Wallace RG 24 career starts
Duran Christophe LG 6'5, 300 Sr. *** (5.5) 18 career starts
Tyson Chandler RT 6'7, 334 Jr. **** (5.8) 12 career starts
Rob Crisp LT 6'7, 300 Sr. ***** (6.1) 11 career starts
Cam Fordham RG 6'2, 294 Jr. *** (5.6) 1 career start
Quincy McKinney LT
Joe Thuney C 6'5, 286 So. *** (5.5)
Andy Jomantas RT 6'7, 297 Jr. ** (5.2)
Alex Barr RG 6'7, 326 So. *** (5.5)
Bryce Kennedy G 6'3, 310 RSFr. *** (5.7)
Jon Tu'uta C 6'2, 311 RSFr. ** (5.3)
Tylar Reagan OL 6'5, 298 Fr. *** (5.7)
Cole Blankenship LG 6'2, 290 Fr. *** (5.5)

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 69 58 43 72
RUSHING 53 88 85 90
PASSING 85 39 20 59
Standard Downs 76 80 79
Passing Downs 37 11 68
Redzone 72 83 66
Q1 Rk 90 1st Down Rk 80
Q2 Rk 18 2nd Down Rk 53
Q3 Rk 79 3rd Down Rk 35
Q4 Rk 43

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 93.3 2.67 3.32 38.2% 61.3% 23.0% 113.8 6.4% 6.4%
Rank 88 26 69 56 25 19 42 18 62
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
T.Y. McGill DT 6'1, 293 Jr. ** (5.4) 13 32.5 4.3% 10.5 5 0 0 1 0
Thomas Teal NT 6'1, 303 Jr. *** (5.7) 13 28.5 3.8% 7.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Darryl Cato-Bishop DE 6'3, 286 Sr. ** (5.4) 13 28.0 3.7% 10.5 6.5 0 1 0 0
Art Norman DE 6'0, 250 Jr. ** (5.4) 13 27.5 3.7% 8 5.5 0 0 1 0
Brian Slay DE 12 21.0 2.8% 6 2 0 3 1 1
A.J. Ferguson NT 6'2, 301 Sr. *** (5.5) 11 8.0 1.1% 2 2 0 0 1 0
McKay Frandsen DE 13 6.0 0.8% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Mike Rose DE 6'3, 252 So. *** (5.6) 13 6.0 0.8% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Carlos Gray DT 6'3, 296 So. *** (5.5) 11 5.5 0.7% 0 0 0 1 0 1
Forrest West DE 6'1, 251 Sr. NR 6 2.5 0.3% 1 1 0 2 0 0
K'Hadree Hooker DT 6'0, 307 RSFr. *** (5.7)

Monty Nelson DT 6'2, 310 Fr. *** (5.7)

Kenton Gibbs DT 6'2, 290 Fr. *** (5.7)






7. Weakness is strength

O'Brien and company tried to keep things pretty aggressive on defense, but it was a lot more difficult to do that after two awesome linebackers -- Audie Cole and Terrell Manning, who combined for 28 tackles for loss, 11 sacks, 12 passes defensed, and eight forced fumbles in 2011 -- left. State's Adj. Sack Rate fell from 16th to 42nd, and a defense that made a living on picks in 2011 didn't reel in quite as many. (This was expected, of course: David Amersen picked off 13 of his 18 defensed passes in 2011, which unsustainable. That ratio dropped to a still strong five of 17 in 2012.) Thirty-nine takeaways in 2011 became 24 in 2012. Considering turnovers are worth, on average, about five points of field position, that's nearly six points per game that State wasn't benefiting from in 2012.

That said, the pass defense was still a relative strength for NC State; the Wolfpack's biggest problems came up front, where they ranked 88th in both Rushing S&P+ and Adj. Line Yards. They still made plays behind the line -- they were 10th in the country in tackles for loss -- but allowed too many opportunities to opposing rushers.

To the extent that experience can help this, experience will help this. The top four linemen, and five of the top six, return. Ends Darryl Cato-Bishop and Art Norman combined for 12 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss last season, and tackles T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal combined for 18.0 TFLs themselves. New defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable (yes, Huxtable) led a Pittsburgh unit that was at least a little bit less all-or-nothing on the ground, and if he can teach these upperclassmen some control, good things could happen, and a weakness could become a strength. And while Rickey Dowdy was a hell of a play-maker at linebacker, there should be enough returning talent at linebacker to do well, as long as the LBs aren't asked to clean up quite as many messes.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Rickey Dowdy WLB 13 67.5 9.0% 16.5 3.5 0 2 0 2
Sterling Lucas MLB 13 59.5 7.9% 5.5 2 1 2 0 1
Rodman Noel SLB 6'4, 221 Jr. **** (5.8) 12 36.5 4.9% 6 1 0 1 0 0
Brandon Pittman WLB 6'2, 224 Jr. *** (5.5) 13 28.0 3.7% 4 1 0 0 0 0
D.J. Green (2011) SLB 6'4, 228 Sr. *** (5.5) 7 24.5 3.6% 5 1 1 4 0 0
Zach Gentry MLB 6'1, 233 Sr. NR 13 5.0 0.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryan Cheek MLB 6'0, 235 Sr. *** (5.5) 11 3.0 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
M.J. Salahuddin MLB 6'2, 227 So. *** (5.6) 12 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ernie Robinson LB 6'1, 227 RSFr. NR 4 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Drew Davis WLB 6'3, 232 RSFr. ** (5.4)

Jerod Fernandez LB 6'1, 226 Fr. *** (5.6)






Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Earl Wolff SS 13 97.0 12.9% 4 0 2 7 1 1
Brandan Bishop FS 13 87.0 11.6% 3 0 3 7 2 1
Dontae Johnson CB 6'2, 195 Sr. *** (5.5) 13 61.0 8.1% 6 1 0 8 1 0
David Amerson CB 13 54.5 7.3% 1 0 5 12 0 0
Juston Burris CB 6'1, 206 So. *** (5.6) 13 39.0 5.2% 3 1 3 6 0 0
C.J. Wilson CB 9 10.5 1.4% 0.5 0 1 1 1 1
Hakim Jones SS 6'2, 202 So. *** (5.5) 13 7.0 0.9% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Josh Stanley FS 6'0, 198 So. NR 13 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jarvis Byrd FS 5'11, 183 Sr. **** (5.8)


Tim Buckley SS 6'0, 200 So. ** (5.4)
Niles Clark CB 5'11, 188 RSFr. *** (5.6)

J.J. Jones S 6'3, 206 RSFr. *** (5.6)

Marchez Coates CB 5'10, 178 RSFr. *** (5.5)


Jack Tocho CB 6'1, 195 Fr. *** (5.6)
Sean Paul CB 5'10, 184 Fr. *** (5.6)






8. Strength is weakness

The secondary was, like the line, a bit too prone to give up big plays in 2012, but it still led a pretty efficient life overall. Considering the regression in the pass rush, the defensive backs held their own alright.

Of course, a lot of that "holding their own" was done by safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop and, yes, corner David Amerson. The three combined for eight tackles for loss, 10 interceptions, 26 passes defensed, and three forced fumbles; that's a lot of production, enough to offset some of the big plays. Like the linebackers, they were asked to do too much (Wolff and Bishop alone recorded nearly one-quarter of State's tackles), but they were solid. And now they're gone.

While corners Dontae Johnson and Juston Burris had their share of moments last year (17 passes defensed, nine tackles for loss), they could find themselves pretty lonely in 2013. Returning safeties combined for just 10.5 tackles last year, and it is all but guaranteed that newcomers will be playing a hefty role in the secondary. Sometimes that works out fine; often, it doesn't.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Wil Baumann 6'6, 190 Jr. 74 38.9 5 37 16 71.6%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Niklas Sade 6'3, 212 Jr. 70 63.9 41 58.6%
Wil Baumann 6'6, 190 Jr. 3 61 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Niklas Sade 6'3, 212 Jr. 44-46 8-11 72.7% 5-12 41.7%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Tobais Palmer KR 44 25.7 2
C.J. Wilson KR 3 19.7 0
Logan Winkles KR 6'1, 260 Jr. 3 9.7 0
Rashard Smith PR 5'9, 177 Sr. 34 9.3 1
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 64
Net Punting 93
Net Kickoffs 9
Touchback Pct 11
Field Goal Pct 111
Kick Returns Avg 31
Punt Returns Avg 54

9. Lovers Rock

A digression: We went to Shreveport in 2003 for the Independence Bowl between Missouri and Arkansas. Mizzou lost, and while most of us had gotten over it by the time we got back to the car (it was a bowl, it didn't really matter, and after a five-year absence from the post-season, getting to a bowl at all was a victory), one of my good friends was devastated. It was his first bowl experience, and he had all of these nightmare scenarios of lost recruits and whatnot spinning through his head. We drove back to the hotel in his car, and he played Sade's Lovers Rock the entire time. We were stuck in traffic long enough that I'm pretty sure we heard the whole thing twice. It was therapeutic for him; he was back into party mode by the time we went out that night.

This is a long way of setting up a terrible Sade reference: As a kickoffs guy, Niklas Sade is By Your Side. As a place-kicker, he is the King of Sorrow. Thank you, thank you. Try the veal.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2013 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug Louisiana Tech 77
7-Sep Richmond NR
19-Sep Clemson 20
28-Sep Central Michigan 98
5-Oct at Wake Forest 81
12-Oct Syracuse 54
26-Oct at Florida State 19
2-Nov North Carolina 29
9-Nov at Duke 88
16-Nov at Boston College 69
23-Nov East Carolina 74
30-Nov Maryland 83
Five-Year F/+ Rk 49
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 56
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -9 / -11.9
TO Luck/Game 1.1
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 11 (5, 6)
Yds/Pt Margin** -0.8

10. Bowl eligibility from home games alone

There are a lot of pretty good teams in the ACC. NC State misses a lot of them. With winnable road trips to Wake Forest, Duke, and Boston College, along with less-than-intimidating visits from Maryland and North Carolina, a pretty good NC State team could rack up a pretty gaudy win total this year. But even with another average team, the home slate, which also includes visits from Richmond, Central Michigan, East Carolina, and Louisiana Tech, could make sure the Wolfpack at least get back to a bowl.

I don't really trust this team very much. I liked the Doeren hire, and we'll see what he may be able to come up with down the line, but the running game was a shambles last year, and I'm not sure how much stock to put into a defense that returns experience at potentially the wrong places and is inexperienced where it used to be strong. Tom O'Brien didn't leave the cupboard bare, but he didn't leave it well-stocked in the right places either.

But the schedule should assure that NC State is once again floating around seven or so wins, with some more average ratings overall. That's not an amazing starting point, but it could be worse.

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