2010 College Football Preview: North Carolina State Wolfpack

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2009 Record: 5-7 (2-6 in ACC)
2009 Bowl: None
Final 2009 AP Ranking: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Tom O'Brien (16-21 at NC State, 91-66 All-Time)
Non-Conference Schedule: Western Carolina (9/4), at UCF (9/11), Cincinnati (9/16), at East Carolina (10/16)

2009 Offensive Statistics
Scoring: 30.3 points per game (4th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 120 (9th in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 272 (2nd in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 393 (5th in ACC) 

2009 Defensive Statistics
Scoring: 31.2 points per game (11th in ACC)
Rushing Yards/Game: 139 (5th in ACC)
Passing Yards/Game: 222 (9th in ACC)
Total Yards/Game: 361 (8th in ACC)

2009 Misc Stats
Turnover Margin: -0.92 per game (last in ACC)
Penalties: 43 yards per game (2nd in ACC)

Returning Starters
Offense: 7
Defense: 5
Kicker/Punter: 1

Top Returning Statistical Leaders
Passing: QB Russell Wilson, Jr (224 of 378 for 3027 yards, 31 TD, 11 INT, 252 ypg)
Rushing: QB Russell Wilson, Jr (103 carries for 260 yds, 2.5 ypc, 4 TD, 21 ypg)
Receiving: WR Jarvis Williams, Sr (45 rec, 547 yds, 11 TD, 3.8 rec/game)
Receiving: TE George Bryan, Jr (40 rec, 422 yds, 6 TD, 3.3 rec/game)
Receiving: WR Owen Spencer, Sr (30 rec, 765 yds, 6 TD, 2.7 rec/game, 25.5 ypc)
Tackles: LB Audie Cole, Jr (73)
Sacks: LB Audie Cole, Jr (3.5)
Interceptions: 3 tied with 1

2010 Pre-Season Rankings
Athlon Sports: #61
Pre-Snap Read: #62
Sporting News: #54

2010 Pre-Season ACC Atlantic Prediction:
Athlon Sports: #4
Phil Steele: #6

Bowl Prediction:
Athlon Sports: Eagle Sports Bowl (vs. Marshall)

After opening 3-1 including a win over Pittsburgh, NC State dropped 6 out of 7 ACC games before finishing by beating rival UNC. This year, the Wolfpack take on another tough Big East opponent (Cincinnati) and they also draw the short straw in ACC scheduling as they must face UNC, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech out of the ACC Coastal division. The NC State blog Riddick & Reynolds gave us some insight on the 2010 North Carolina State Wolfpack.

What are the major strengths and biggest weaknesses of the Wolfpack?

Strengths - It has to be the quarterback position. Not only does Russell Wilson return after two fantastic seasons--despite signing a contract with the Colorado Rockies--backup Mike Glennon is one of the most talented quarterbacks in the ACC not seeing action. That one-two tandem is by far the best in the ACC, but could be one of the best in the entire country. State also returns plenty of talent at the wide receiver position, giving Wilson plenty of experienced targets to choose from.

Weaknesses - Offensively, it'll be at running back. Toney Baker was granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA due to injuries over the course of his career, but Baker decided to pass and take his talents to the NFL. Change-of-pace back Jamelle Eugene graduated, so that leaves a pretty young and inexperienced backfield to carry the ball. There is no clear cut leader to assume that #1 RB position, so fall practice will decide it. Defensively, pretty much everything but linebacker is a concern, depending on whom you talk to. Nate Irving returns to the linebacker corps, which is great, but the defensive line loses NFL draftees Willie Young and Alan-Michael Cash at the end and tackle positions, respectively. The defensive backfield that was so maligned last year basically returns in-tact, but just because they're back doesn't mean they'll be leaps-and-bounds better. And I would argue that the defensive scheme--an umbrella zone meant to keep everything in front of the players and generate turnovers--is a weakness in and of itself, but there's a lot of debate among State fans whether it's the scheme or the players/injuries that have led to the defense struggling so much to date. It worth noting that the DC, Mike Archer, installed the same scheme at his prior at Kentucky and experienced the same struggles.

Looking at the schedule who will be the first major test?

We play UCF in the second week of the season, but I'm going to say Cincinnati. While Brian Kelly has moved on to Notre Dame, the team he built into a legitimate contender still remains. The Bearcats come to Raleigh, so we'll have homefield advantage in our favor and games under our belt. Win or lose against UCF, a lot of folks will be watching Cinci on Thursday night to see if they can continue the momentum Kelly built and--if Cinci comes in undefeated--there will be a lot of attention on that game, at least locally if not nationally. If State can play the role of spoiler, that would do wonders for the team.

What team on the schedule do you fear the most?

Cincinnati's right up there, especially since we face them just 5 days after the road game against UCF. The Atlantic Division is the (assumed) weaker division this year, so most of the conference teams on the schedule will be relatively weaker than if State were in the Coastal. This will be the first time State will face Georgia Tech since the hiring of Paul Johnson, so none of the players on the squad have faced the type of offense they'll bring to bear against us. On the plus side, we get an extra two days to prepare for it because of the Thursday game against Cincinnati. On the negative, we must travel to face them in Atlanta where State has historically struggled long before the PJ era.

Who is the best player on your team that nobody talks about?

The easy answer might be George Bryan, our tight end who's as key as any piece in State's offense, but I'm going to say Michael Lemon. Lemon's story is a winding one, and I'll spare you all the details but he came to us via Georgia after being booted from the team. That sounds bad, but Mark Richt has a very strict policy regarding criminal activity and though Lemon's conviction came as part of a tragic situation regarding his family, Richt was still compelled to expel Lemon to maintain his policy. O'Brien, before offering Lemon a football home, did his homework and contacted Richt, and Richt had nothing but glowing things to say about him as a good kid caught in a bad situation. All of that is to say Lemon has been given a second chance here in Raleigh, and in his final season I expect great things from him. He played behind Willie Young and looked impressive in his sparse minutes--I expect him to have a breakout season IF the interior of the line occupies enough blockers to free him. Easier said than done.

Who is the best offensive player on the team?

Russell Wilson. Next question.

Who is the most impactful defensive player on the team?

Nate Irving. He had a fantastic season two years ago and disrupted things all over the middle of the field. Last season was setting up for Irving's nationwide coronation as one of the country's best, but fate intervened and his horrific car crash ended the year before it began--for Irving and State's defense. The big question is how much of 2008 Nate will we see. He's been moved to the middle linebacker spot from the outside, so while he won't be flying around in open space as much, his playmaking ability and leadership skills makes him a perfect fit to "quarterback" the defense.

What player(s) needs to step up this year in order for the team to reach it's full capability?

The defensive line. They carry the burden of hurrying the quarterback to assist the secondary achieve its peak effectiveness. If the D line can't get pressure on the opposing teams' QB and he has time to read the field, he'll tear our zone defense apart.

Who is the top offensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

Since it looks like we'll be playing at least one underclassmen at the tailback position (either Brandon Barnes or James Washington), my guess is that their impact will be felt--either good or bad, depending on their effectiveness.

Who is the top defensive newcomer that can make an impact this year?

I would guess it'll be one of our young defensive backs. Six of the 10 on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores, so it's a young unit. The upside is that most of these youngsters got snaps due to injuries, so while young, they've seen more action than your average group of underclassmen. Jarvis Byrd has been dealing with injuries already in his young career, but when healthy he's a real talent. Terrell Manning is another stud in the linebacking corps to keep an eye on.

Gut feeling on the teams final record at the end of the regular season and what makes this a successful season in your eyes?

Not too optimistic. Central Florida is no cupcake, Cincinnati is coming off a huge year and East Carolina--as an in-state rival--is a wild card matchup, so right off the bat the out of conference schedule is intimidating. Couple that with conference games an ACC annually featuring no bad teams, no great teams, but 12 decent-to-really good teams. The return of Kyle Parker to Clemson immediately improves the Tigers, making the Atlantic more challenging than originally thought. Throw all that at the feet of a team that has yet to post a record above .500 under Tom O'Brien, along with concerns about the defense, and I would say any finish above .500 would be a real accomplishment. Most folks are predicting a 5-7 finish, and that feels about right to me.

Make sure to check out the NC State blog Riddick & Reynolds this college football season. You can also follow them on twitter @RnR_NCSU.

Previous ACC Previews:
Boston College Eagles 
Duke Blue Devils 
Florida State Seminoles
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 
Maryland Terrapins 
Virginia Cavaliers 
Virginia Tech Hokies 
Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Next Up: North Carolina Tar Heels

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