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1. Now we wait
If you read enough of these previews, you catch me making the same categorizations over and over. It's just what happens when you speak as in-depth as possible about 128 teams each year -- some have similarities, and memes develop. And if we're going full meme, here's how to summarize NC State: the Wolfpack escaped Glen Mason Territory and found themselves in a unique Year 0 variation.
After a frustrating first three years, in which the Wolfpack went 5-7, 6-7, and 5-7, Tom O'Brien's program seemed to pick up some steam in 2010, his fourth year on the job. They went 9-4 and finished in the top 25, but despite increased expectations, they went 8-5 in 2011 and 7-6 in 2012, and he was fired before the 2012 Music City Bowl.
Thanks in part to the impatience built in the first three years, O'Brien was basically finished before he could reach full-fledged Glen Mason Territory (in which a coach succeeds to a degree above expectations created by recent history but struggles to continue improving; he raises the bar, then fails to clear it). The move was not a surprise and didn't exactly create national outrage, but it still raised the possibility of serious regression. O'Brien did win 24 games in three years for a program that had won eight or more games in a season just four times between 1993 and 2009. The future wasn't exceedingly bright, but he was succeeding at a level higher than most of NC State's recent past.
Often, when a school fires a Glen Mason Territory coach, it soon comes to regret it. Minnesota replaced Mason with Tim Brewster and went 20-42 over the next five years. Nebraska replaced Frank Solich with Bill Callahan and went 27-22 over the next four. Ole Miss replaced David Cutcliffe with Ed Orgeron and went 10-25 over the next three.
(That's right, Ole Miss dumped David Cutcliffe for Ed Orgeron. Let us never forget.)
So it might not have been all that surprising that, upon dumping O'Brien, NC State went 3-9 in Dave Doeren's first year. But that simplifies the story a bit too much. Doeren inherited an experienced but thin roster in 2013. There was talent and athleticism but not enough of it. The Wolfpack began 2013 playing pretty good ball, but it took just a couple of injuries and a couple of adjustments by opponents to bring the whole thing to a halt. A 3-1 start begat an 0-8 finish.
The quality of play in September, combined with quality experience and decent long-term numbers (NC State is 53rd in 5-year F/+, much higher than its No. 92 ranking in 2013) and top-40 recruiting, makes the Wolfpack a pretty decent bounce-back candidate, but State is still just a couple of bad breaks away from once again having a lineup too thin and young to succeed. But the good news is that, whatever this team becomes in 2014, it should become something even better with further experience in 2015.
That's encouraging, even if we don't have a clue what will happen this fall.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 5-7 | Final F/+ Rk: 92|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||Louisiana Tech||112||40-14||W||40.9 - 31.2||W|
|7-Sep||Richmond||N/A||23-21||W||24.3 - 21.4||W|
|19-Sep||Clemson||16||14-26||L||29.5 - 19.1||W|
|28-Sep||Central Michigan||111||48-14||W||29.0 - 14.7||W|
|5-Oct||at Wake Forest||81||13-28||L||24.5 - 42.5||L||3.9|
|12-Oct||Syracuse||75||10-24||L||14.7 - 41.1||L||-3.3|
|26-Oct||at Florida State||1||17-49||L||26.2 - 30.9||L||-4.9|
|2-Nov||North Carolina||38||19-27||L||23.3 - 28.0||L||-7.9|
|9-Nov||at Duke||41||20-38||L||25.3 - 18.4||W||-9.4|
|16-Nov||at Boston College||65||21-38||L||22.0 - 35.9||L||-8.5|
|23-Nov||East Carolina||40||28-42||L||30.6 - 33.4||L||-3.8|
|30-Nov||Maryland||63||21-41||L||24.7 - 37.1||L||-5.4|
|Points Per Game||22.8||97||30.2||84|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.3||82||29.5||81|
2. And it started off so well...
It usually works the opposite way. New Coach installs new system, players struggle to adapt, and team plays pretty awful ball in September before starting to figure things out in October and November. But for NC State, September was the best month. The Wolfpack disposed of pretty bad Louisiana Tech and Central Michigan teams and survived a test from FCS power Richmond (which ranked above both Louisiana Tech and CMU in the Sagarin ratings) and played inspired defense most of the way against Clemson before falling by 12 points (with help from a controversial out-of-bounds call). It appeared as if the Wolfpack were very much on the right track.
But injuries stunted growth, to put it kindly.
Not even halfway through the season, basically every unit had been beset by injury. Starting quarterback Brandon Mitchell threw three passes in Week 1, then broke his foot. He returned in mid-October but didn't start playing well until the 11th game of the year. Backup Pete Thomas, with a rotating supporting cast, was too mistake-prone to keep the offense moving forward. Only one of the top six targets played in all 12 games. Both of the top running backs missed time. The offensive line never really settled. The offense fell apart, and it only took a couple of injuries -- end Darryl Cato-Bishop, safety Jarvis Byrd -- to cause the defense to come crashing down.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): NC State 30.9, Opponent 21.6 (plus-9.3)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): Opponent 33.4, NC State 23.9 (minus-9.5)
For Doeren, Year 1 turned into Year 0 in October. The 2013 season turned into a year of simple survival, and the Wolfpack didn't really even do that very well.
The good thing about injuries, as we tend to say, is that they hurt in the present tense but help in the future tense. State returns four running backs who got at least 34 carries in 2013, seven players targeted by at least 16 passes, six offensive linemen with 71 games of starting experience (despite the loss of a 2.5-year starter), six defensive linemen who made at least 14.0 tackles, three linebackers who made at least 16.5, and five defensive backs who made at least 13.5.
If there's actual talent here, then the experienced gleaned in 2013 could become worthwhile rather quickly. But with how poorly NC State played after the first four games, one has every right to question the level of talent.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||37.4%||110||Succ. Rt. +||91.5||87|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||30.4||78||Def. FP+||99.4||66|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.3||116||Redzone S&P+||83.7||111|
|Q1 Rk||91||1st Down Rk||56|
|Q2 Rk||65||2nd Down Rk||80|
|Q3 Rk||88||3rd Down Rk||80|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Garrett Leatham||6'4, 221||Jr.||NR||9||17||146||1||0||52.9%||2||10.5%||6.8|
|Bryant Shirreffs||6'3, 223||So.||2 stars (5.3)||4||5||17||1||0||80.0%||0||0.0%||3.4|
|6'4, 236||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||23||35||249||1||0||65.7%||3||7.9%||6.3|
|Jalan McClendon||6'5, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
3. Hello, Jacoby
Thanks to Mitchell's injury, NC State actually started two quarterback transfers in 2013. Mitchell (Arkansas) was closer to what Doeren was looking for than Thomas (Colorado State), but both are now gone. Mitchell graduated, and Thomas chose to transfer once again. In their place steps ... another transfer.
Jacoby Brissett lost the starting job to Jeff Driskel at Florida in 2012 and decided to move two states north. (That means that when NC State faces Boston College on October 11, it's quite possible that both teams will be starting former Florida quarterbacks.) He was named the starting quarterback for 2014 basically the moment 2013 ended; he didn't show much dual-threat mobility in a small sample size at Florida, but he did throw rather efficiently, and he has had plenty of time to develop a rapport with returning receivers like Bryan Underwood, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and Jumichael Ramos. If he can simply stay healthy and maintain form in 2014, the quarterback position will be in better shape than it was a year ago.
|Shadrach Thornton||RB||6'1, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||165||768||4||4.7||4.9||33.9%|
|Matt Dayes||RB||5'9, 202||So.||3 stars (5.7)||63||252||4||4.0||4.5||30.2%|
|Tony Creecy||RB||5'11, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||42||125||1||3.0||3.6||28.6%|
|Bryant Shirreffs||FB||6'3, 223||So.||2 stars (5.3)||34||158||1||4.6||3.4||38.2%|
|Bryan Underwood||WR||5'9, 179||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||135||0||11.3||7.5||75.0%|
|Quinton Patterson||FB||6'0, 229||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Dakwa Nichols||RB||5'10, 191||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jaylen Samuels||RB||6'0, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
4. It's been a long time since NC State had a good running game
Doeren (at NIU) and offensive coordinator Matt Canada (at NIU and Wisconsin) have both shown creativity and a preference for diversity when it comes to the ground game. They want to mix in jet sweeps (receivers averaged more than two carries per game last year) and zone reads (with a legitimate run threat at QB) with power looks. With an enormous line (seven players 6'6 or taller, five players 308 pounds or larger), depth of experience at running back, and speed at receiver, they could in theory check some of those boxes in 2014 even if Brissett isn't a huge run threat.
Then again, they had these running backs and this line last year, and the numbers were still below par, especially in short-yardage situations.
Over the last five years, NC State has ranked 77th, 48th, 113th, 100th, and 77th in Rushing S&P+. Even when the Wolfpack were good overall, they were relatively shaky on the ground. That they improved 23 spots in 2013 might be a good sign, especially considering the top three tailbacks -- Shad Thornton, Matt Dayes, and Tony Creecy -- all return. That they could be pushed by up to three more three-star youngsters is good, too.
But again, experience is only good if there's talent involved, and it bears mentioning that the returning trio's efficiency numbers were horrendous last year. Thornton has decent explosiveness for his size (he went nuts against Florida State, gaining 173 yards in 23 carries), but only one of every three Thornton carries gained at least five yards (33.9 percent Opportunity Rate), and he was the most efficient of the three. Experience and size up front will help, but unless the backs themselves improve, there's a pretty clear, low ceiling on the running game, especially if Brissett isn't adding much of a dual-threat dimension.
|Bryan Underwood||WR-Z||5'9, 179||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||47||32||382||68.1%||11.8%||61.8%||8.1||5||5.9||42.3|
|Marquez Valdes-Scantling||WR-X||6'3, 203||So.||3 stars (5.5)||43||22||281||51.2%||10.8%||50.0%||6.5||-20||7.3||31.1|
|Jumichael Ramos||WR-X||6'3, 197||So.||3 stars (5.6)||42||24||352||57.1%||10.6%||53.1%||8.4||43||7.7||39.0|
|Shadrach Thornton||RB||6'1, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||26||16||97||61.5%||6.5%||53.3%||3.7||-101||3.2||10.7|
|David Grinnage||TE||6'5, 273||So.||2 stars (5.4)||23||14||131||60.9%||5.8%||36.8%||5.7||-43||5.1||14.5|
|Tyler Purvis||FB||6'2, 226||Sr.||NR||22||12||95||54.5%||5.5%||63.2%||4.3||-64||4.5||10.5|
|Tony Creecy||RB||5'11, 215||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||16||12||73||75.0%||4.0%||30.0%||4.6||-62||6.9||8.1|
|Matt Dayes||RB||5'9, 202||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||10||173||76.9%||3.3%||90.0%||13.3||62||12.7||19.1|
|Bra'Lon Cherry||WR-F||5'11, 187||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||8||68||66.7%||3.0%||27.3%||5.7||-27||3.9||7.5|
|Johnathan Alston||WR||6'3, 203||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Cole Cook||TE||6'5, 235||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Bo Hines||WR||6'1, 190||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Stephen Louis||WR||6'2, 208||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
5. Youth in the receiving corps
Bryan Underwood had 11 catches for 237 yards against CMU and Syracuse. Jumichael Ramos had seven for 154 against Boston College and North Carolina. Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 12 for 174 against Louisiana Tech and Richmond. Injuries held back the NC State receiving corps last fall -- only then-senior Quintin Payton escaped the injury bug -- but it's not hard to find reason for optimism here. If Brissett's decision-making is an improvement over that of Thomas and Mitchell, and if the names atop the depth chart don't actually change much throughout the season, State could improve from 88th in Passing S&P+ into at least the top 60 or so.
At 11.4 yards per completion, Thomas and Mitchell should have had a higher completion rate than their combined 59.0, and they should have had much lower interception rates (3.8 percent) and sack rates (7.4 percent). It's hard to say how much of that was on the quarterbacks and how much was on an ever-changing cast of receivers, but a little stability could go a long way, especially if one more option emerges, be it sophomore Johnathan Alston or Bra'Lon Cherry or one of the incoming three-star freshmen.
|Tyson Chandler||RT||6'7, 354||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||23|
|Rob Crisp||LT||6'7, 300||Sr.||5 stars (6.1)||13|
|Joe Thuney||LT||6'5, 286||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12|
|Quinton Schooley||C||6'4, 301||Jr.||NR||12|
|Alex Barr||RG||6'7, 322||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||10|
|Andy Jomantas||LT||6'7, 288||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||1|
|Ali Kassem||RG||6'7, 338||Sr.||2 stars (5.2)||0|
|John Tu'uta||C||6'2, 279||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Tyler Reagan||OT||6'5, 294||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Patrick Roane||RT||6'7, 295||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Cole Blankenship||C||6'2, 286||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Will Richardson||OT||6'6, 308||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Terronne Prescod||OG||6'5, 347||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Tyler Jones||OL||6'3, 277||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||43.4%||80||Succ. Rt. +||99.0||57|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||29.0||92||Off. FP+||99.5||68|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.7||104||Redzone S&P+||82.1||114|
|Q1 Rk||72||1st Down Rk||68|
|Q2 Rk||65||2nd Down Rk||85|
|Q3 Rk||48||3rd Down Rk||43|
6. A red zone sieve
NC State's pass defense was legitimately strong in 2013 and should be again with five of last year's top six returning. But the line was too much of an all-or-nothing unit against the run, and the Wolfpack could be pushed around up front. This was a problem in short-yardage situations (95th in Power Success Rate) and it was a BIG problem near the goal line.
Opponents averaged a robust 4.7 points per trip inside NC State's 40; a few more field goals would have gone a long way for the defense's stats as a whole, though if you're going to struggle in this regard, it might as well be in a year in which you lose eight games by at least 12 points. Field goals would have made losses closer but wouldn't have changed losses to wins.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Thomas Teal||NT||6'1, 308||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||12||28.0||4.4%||10.5||3.0||0||0||0||0|
|Art Norman||DE||6'0, 252||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||22.5||3.5%||9.0||4.5||0||0||1||0|
|Monty Nelson||DT||6'2, 313||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||19.5||3.1%||7.0||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|T.Y. McGill||DT||6'1, 289||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||19.5||3.1%||5.0||2.0||0||0||1||1|
|Drew Davis||DE||6'3, 242||So.||2 stars (5.4)||9||15.0||2.3%||3.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|Mike Rose||DE||6'3, 265||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||14.0||2.2%||4.0||2.0||0||2||0||1|
|Pharoah McKever||DE||6'6, 237||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kenton Gibbs||DT||6'2, 289||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Kentavius Street||DE||6'2, 264||Fr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Justin Jones||DE||6'3, 275||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Deonte Holden||DE||6'5, 220||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Deshaywn Middleton||DT||6'2, 295||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
7. Freshmen to the rescue (of the pass rush)
NC State's pass rush was pretty good in obvious passing situations (34th in passing downs sack rate) but nonexistent on standard downs. That's a common problem when your run defense isn't good -- you overcompensate. But if the run defense improves a little bit, the pass rush could improve a lot.
Leading pass rusher Art Norman returns, and Mike Rose showed potential in limited action last year (four of his 14.0 tackles were behind the line, and he managed two sacks and two break-ups). More importantly, blue-chip freshman Kentavius Street joins the mix, as do four-star freshman Justin Jones and redshirt freshman Pharoah McKever, a top-notch athlete still trying to settle into a specific position. Cato-Bishop's injury troubles gave players like Rose and Drew Davis extra time to get acclimated to college ball, but with the influx of freshman talent, they'll need to fight to keep their spot in the rotation.
And if experience means anything, the run defense could improve as well. It's not a given considering the loss of linebackers Robert Caldwell and D.J. Green, who combined for 18 non-sack tackles for loss. But senior tackles Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill and sophomore Monty Nelson combined for 17 of their own. Play-making wasn't a problem last year, but getting pushed around and/or caught out of position was. Simple consistency in the middle could put the run defense in fewer awkward situations ... which, in turn, could make a decent pass rush downright strong.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brandon Pittman||WLB||6'2, 218||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||50.5||7.9%||8.0||3.0||0||2||1||0|
|Rodman Noel||SLB||6'4, 221||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||12||16.5||2.6%||0.0||0.0||0||1||0||0|
|M.J. Salahuddin||WLB||6'2, 223||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||16.5||2.6%||2.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Jerod Fernandez||LB||6'1, 231||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Artemis Robinson||LB||6'1, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Juston Burris||CB||6'1, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||46.0||7.2%||1||0||1||6||1||0|
|Hakim Jones||SS||6'2, 198||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||12||46.0||7.2%||0||0||2||8||1||0|
|Jack Tocho||CB||6'1, 198||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||21.0||3.3%||0||0||2||3||0||0|
|Tim Buckley||SS||6'0, 195||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||12||19.5||3.1%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Jarvis Byrd||S||5'10, 190||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||6||13.5||2.1%||1.5||0||0||1||2||0|
|Dravious Wright||S||5'10, 206||So.||2 stars (5.3)||11||3.0||0.5%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Niles Clark||CB||5'11, 188||So.||3 stars (5.6)||7||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|Sean Paul||CB||5'10, 191||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Josh Jones||S||6'2, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Malcom Means||CB||6'2, 197||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Germaine Pratt||S||6'3, 195||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Troy Vincent, Jr.||CB||5'10, 185||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Dexter Wright||DB||6'3, 205||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
8. A potentially fantastic secondary
The run defense was an albatross, and the pass rush was only helpful on second- or third-and-long. Plus, star safety Jarvis Byrd played only six games, and with him out, four of the top five DBs were freshmen or sophomores. But NC State still ranked 35th in Passing S&P+, combining decent aggressiveness with top-notch big-play prevention.
Free safety Dontae Johnson is gone, but Byrd and the aforementioned youngsters return. They'll be joined by, among others, redshirt freshman Josh Jones and true freshmen Germaine Pratt and Troy Vincent, Jr., all of whom were either four- or high-three-star recruits. There are a lot of really good defensive backfields in the ACC this year; NC State's could be among the best, especially if it gets a little more help from the front seven this time around.
|Wil Baumann||6'6, 197||Sr.||67||42.1||7||17||19||53.7%|
|Niklas Sade||6'3, 199||Sr.||58||60.8||29||2||50.0%|
|Niklas Sade||6'3, 199||Sr.||31-31||14-15||93.3%||5-8||62.5%|
|Johnathan Alston||KR||6'3, 204||So.||9||18.8||0|
|Bra'Lon Cherry||PR||5'11, 187||So.||4||8.8||0|
|Special Teams F/+||68|
|Field Goal Efficiency||48|
|Punt Return Efficiency||5|
|Kick Return Efficiency||97|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||103|
9. Bye, Rashard
Rashard Smith was a decent but replaceable possession receiver on offense. On special teams, though, his absence could be felt. Smith was a solid kick returner and an outstanding punt returner, someone capable of helping a flawed defense build solid field position.
There are athletes galore among NC State's freshman and sophomore classes, and Niklas Sade's place-kicking is the sweetest taboo. (His punting and place-kicking are less of a smooth operator and more of a Jezebel, if you will.) This could be a decent unit in 2014, but Smith was its biggest strength a year ago.
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|13-Sep||at South Florida||86|
|29-Nov||at North Carolina||35|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||0.1% (53)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||40|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||0 / -1.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (7, 8)|
10. Win the winnable ones
In theory, NC State has a lot of pieces needed for a sudden, second-year breakthrough. The Wolfpack were lit up by injuries last year and return a pretty solid base of experience. They are also sprinkling in a solid number of exciting, athletic newcomers. Freshmen and sophomores could plump up the receiving corps and defensive line while veterans do good things at running back and in the secondary.
If Jacoby Brissett is indeed a keeper at quarterback (something they very much did not have in 2013) and stays healthy -- well, if NC State just has better injuries luck all around -- then there's plenty of potential for improvement from 92nd in the F/+ rankings into at least the top 50 or 60.
This isn't a given, of course. But it does bear mentioning that the Wolfpack play seven teams projected 67th or worse in 2014. Throw in a home game against Georgia Tech, and that's eight relatively winnable games. Take six of them, and you're bowling. Trips to Clemson, Louisville, and UNC are out of reach, as is a visit from Florida State, but if State turns experience into solid close-game execution, 6-6 is certainly on the table, and considering how awful October and November were last year, that would be cause for celebration.
This two-deep is still pretty fragile, though. It wouldn't take a ridiculous number of injuries to make this roster terribly young and uncertain all over again.