NC State begins the 2009 season as a popular dark horse to win the ACC. Much of the touting of the Wolfpack is based on Sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson and the teams four game winning streak to finish the regular season last year.
State will have to wade through a wide open Atlantic Division pool, but if Wilson stays healthy and the defense continues to improve they have a shot at a division title.
To get some more insight into the Wolfpack, I asked Allen Lopp from the Bleacher Report a few questions about NC State.
Russell Wilson has been getting a lot of hype this off season after a spectacular freshman campaign, albeit with injuries. What does Wilson need to improve on to help him stay healthy?
Injuries seem to haunt the Wolfpack almost every fall, and the preseason All-ACC quarterback is no exception. He sustained many injuries over the course of last season, the worst being the concussion he suffered following a questionable hit during the South Carolina game.
In order to stay healthy, Wilson needs to look to his second option instead of taking off running. The less hits he takes, the less of a chance there is for an injury to occur.
If Wilson does get hurt, how much confidence do you have in backup Mike Glennon?
Confidence in freshman is often misplaced, but Glennon is an exception. Glennon was a four-star recruit and number five overall in the country for last year's freshman class. He shows an excellent arm strength along with deadly accuracy, but isn’t as mobile as Russell Wilson.
He has excellent size at a staggering 6’6”, seven inches taller then previously mentioned Wilson. He is a classic drop back quarterback who exhibits solid footwork in the pocket.
While most quarterbacks coming out of high school prefer showing their skills in the shotgun, Glennon prefers to be under center. I hate to sound cocky, but if Wilson goes down another All-ACC quarterback may be waiting in the wings.
What can we expect out of Toney Baker at running back after missing two seasons with injuries?
The “touchdown machine,” as I like to call him, will see plenty of carries this season, but I do expect him to split time with fellow senior Jamelle Eugene. The two running backs differ in style; Baker is more of an uphill runner whereas Eugene is more of a speed back.
Statistically speaking, it is hard to gauge what a running back can produce after sitting almost two full season, but I see it very unlikely that he reaches the 1,000 yard mark having to split carries. I’m glad there is another experienced veteran available in case of an injury.
How will the experience on the offensive line with four expected Senior starters help NC State improve on offense?
Experience on the both sides of the ball is key to any team's success. Thankfully, the Wolfpack is returning most of last year's starters on the offensive line. They still have some improving to do, but that is to be expected out of a offensive line that last year had newcomers converted from defensive lineman. If they can continue to improve, they can help the Wolfpack offense become one of the ACC’s elite units.
NC State went from 186 yards per game to 142 yards per game allowed on the ground last year. Where can this defense end up with three starters back on the defensive line?
NC State did improve in the run stopping department, and will likely see more improvement with returning starters Shea McKeen, Willie Young, and Alan-Michael Cash.
They are also very deep at the defensive line with players such as Audi Augustin, Marcus Khun, and Jeff Rieskamp all seeing playing time last year. They have the ability to become one of the ACC’s best defensive lines this year and, reasonably, I see no reason why they couldn't drop their yards per game to 120 or 130.
What is the latest on star LB Nate Irving's injury status? Who will step in his place if he cannot come back this year?
He does not go back to the doctor until the end of August and that is all I know right now. He still has some doctors to see, but until that happens, I expect him to be out indefinitely.
I expect Dwayne Maddox and Terrell Manning to be taking most of the practice snaps at Irving’s position, but Manning has gone on record as saying he feels more comfortable at the outside linebacker position.
State has two tough, but winnable out of conference games against South Carolina and Pitt. Do you think they win both?
Yes, I strongly believe that both games can be won. Contrary to the score, last year's South Carolina game was very close until an exhausted Wolfpack defensive was torn apart by a fresh arm in at quarterback.
Pitt was largely dependent on LeSean McCoy for much of their offensive production, and now with his departure, it is unknown whether they can produce on offense without him.
Will the Wolfpack sweep the instate schools for the just the second time since 1986?
I was very surprised when NC State did sweep all of their in-state rivals last year. To do the same this year will be very hard in that almost every team is getting better and the schedule against the in-state teams is tougher.
Where do you see NC State finishing up record wise overall and in the ACC?
It is tough to gauge how many wins a team can garner over the course of a full season, but I can see an 8-4 record with losses at FSU, at VT, against Clemson, and against UNC. Anything less would be a disappointment to me, because the team is very talented. All they need is for things to mesh together, a la the Tampa Bay Rays.
My thoughts on NC State...
I like NC State as a dark horse in the ACC because of their QB play and I like Tom O'Brien as a head coach against most of his peers in the ACC. At BC, O'Brien's teams were known for their solid line play especially on offense and I am big believer in winning the battle in the trenches.
I agree with Allen on the injury situation for the Wolfpack, which lost 43 starts to injury last year, 11th worst in FBS. The health of Wilson is going to be a big key to where NC State finishes up, but I think the backup situation is much better this season.
The schedule sets up a little more difficult at the end of the year this season with an improved Clemson, Virginia Tech on the road, and rival North Carolina to close out the year. But I see NC State challenging for the Atlantic Division title and with a few breaks could sneak into the game in Tampa.
8-4, 5-3 ACC, Bowl Game
Best Case Scenario: 9-3
Worst Case Scenario: 6-6 (Wilson gets hurt early and is out for the year)
Thanks again to Allen for his insight. You can check out his Bleacher Report profile here.
What are your thoughts on NC State? Are they read to win the Atlantic Division or is the hype unwarranted?