PRESENTED BY 669248957_logo

The big 2014 NC State football preview: Good health could equal bounceback

Liz Condo-USA TODAY Sports

Dave Doeren inherited an NC State roster with perilous depth, and injuries had blown up the two-deep by the end of September. With better luck, the Wolfpack could bounce back, but they're probably still a year away from making serious noise.

SB Nation 2014 College Football Countdown

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

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
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk Spec. Tms. Rk
F/+ -9.7% 100 -2.9% 77 0.0% 68
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.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.09 91 IsoPPP+ 101.9 50
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.6 ACTUAL 21 +0.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 71 86 88 56
RUSHING 71 77 83 56
PASSING 58 88 93 50
Standard Downs 87 92 53
Passing Downs 80 84 50
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 56
Q2 Rk 65 2nd Down Rk 80
Q3 Rk 88 3rd Down Rk 80
Q4 Rk 35

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Pete Thomas 149 247 1667 4 9 60.3% 21 7.8% 5.8
Brandon Mitchell 86 151 1011 7 6 57.0% 11 6.8% 5.8
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
Jacoby Brissett
(2012 Florida)
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.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
Opp.
Rate
Shadrach Thornton RB 6'1, 207 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 165 768 4 4.7 4.9 33.9%
Brandon Mitchell QB 80 338 2 4.2 2.5 40.0%
Matt Dayes RB 5'9, 202 So. 3 stars (5.7) 63 252 4 4.0 4.5 30.2%
Pete Thomas QB 51 274 2 5.4 3.3 52.9%
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%
Rashard Smith WR 17 121 0 7.1 4.4 58.8%
Bryan Underwood WR 5'9, 179 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 12 135 0 11.3 7.5 75.0%
Milton Hall RB 9 33 0 3.7 2.3 44.4%
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.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Rashard Smith WR-Z 69 49 530 71.0% 17.3% 63.0% 7.7 -35 7.1 58.7
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
Quintin Payton WR-X 45 24 500 53.3% 11.3% 28.6% 11.1 179 11.2 55.3
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
Travares Copeland WR-F 29 20 149 69.0% 7.3% 54.5% 5.1 -85 3.9 16.5
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
Asa Watson TE 6 3 41 50.0% 1.5% 100.0% 6.8 -1 4.4 4.5
Charlie Hegedus WR 2 1 -1 50.0% 0.5% 0.0% -0.5 -15 -0.2 -0.1
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.

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 99 2.99 2.47 38.3% 57.5% 18.1% 77.6 8.9% 7.7%
Rank 79 59 119 77 111 51 99 118 75
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals Career Starts Honors/Notes
Duran Christophe LG 30
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
Cameron Fordham LG 1
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)

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.22 98 IsoPPP+ 97.3 77
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
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 19.0 ACTUAL 21.0 +2.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 62 73 57 62
RUSHING 82 99 90 98
PASSING 47 35 27 18
Standard Downs 71 63 87
Passing Downs 62 49 57
Q1 Rk 72 1st Down Rk 68
Q2 Rk 65 2nd Down Rk 85
Q3 Rk 48 3rd Down Rk 43
Q4 Rk 73

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.

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 98.9 3.02 2.95 40.1% 72.7% 21.2% 82.5 1.9% 8.4%
Rank 64 73 28 76 95 37 97 122 34
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
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
Carlos Gray NT 11 16.5 2.6% 3.5 2.5 0 0 0 0
Darryl Cato-Bishop DE 9 15.0 2.3% 4.0 0.5 0 0 1 0
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
Forrest West DE 10 7.5 1.2% 3.0 0.0 0 2 0 0
A.J. Ferguson DT 5 6.5 1.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Deylan Buntyn DT 12 3.0 0.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
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.

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Robert Caldwell MLB 12 74.5 11.7% 14.5 2.0 1 1 1 0
Brandon Pittman WLB 6'2, 218 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 12 50.5 7.9% 8.0 3.0 0 2 1 0
D.J. Green SLB 12 50.5 7.9% 5.5 0.0 2 1 2 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
Zach Gentry MLB 12 16.0 2.5% 1.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jerod Fernandez LB 6'1, 231 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6)
Artemis Robinson LB 6'1, 210 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5)

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Dontae Johnson FS 12 65.5 10.3% 0 0 3 2 0 0
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
Josh Stanley FS 12 5.0 0.8% 0 0 1 0 0 0
Marchez Coates CB 11 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 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.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Wil Baumann 6'6, 197 Sr. 67 42.1 7 17 19 53.7%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Niklas Sade 6'3, 199 Sr. 58 60.8 29 2 50.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2014
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Niklas Sade 6'3, 199 Sr. 31-31 14-15 93.3% 5-8 62.5%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2014
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Rashard Smith KR 13 23.8 0
Johnathan Alston KR 6'3, 204 So. 9 18.8 0
Rashard Smith PR 17 14.1 2
Bra'Lon Cherry PR 5'11, 187 So. 4 8.8 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 68
Field Goal Efficiency 48
Punt Return Efficiency 5
Kick Return Efficiency 97
Punt Efficiency 70
Kickoff Efficiency 115
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

2014 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
30-Aug Georgia Southern 125
6-Sep Old Dominion 120
13-Sep at South Florida 86
20-Sep Presbyterian NR
27-Sep Florida State 1
4-Oct at Clemson 5
11-Oct Boston College 69
18-Oct at Louisville 16
1-Nov at Syracuse 67
8-Nov Georgia Tech 44
15-Nov Wake Forest 83
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
TO Luck/Game +0.7
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.

More from SBNation.com

X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new SB Nation username and password

As part of the new SB Nation launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to SB Nation going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Join SBNation.com

You must be a member of SBNation.com to participate.

We have our own Community Guidelines at SBNation.com. You should read them.

Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.