Why NC State Is the Sleeper of the ACC

Alex TichenorCorrespondent IAugust 24, 2009

RALEIGH, NC - OCTOBER 16:  Russell Wilson #16 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack celebrates during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Carter-Finley Stadium on October 16, 2008 in Raleigh, North Carolina.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The ACC is one of the deepest conferences in the NCAA. Last season the conference cranked out 10 teams that went to bowls. This year promises to be the same with many of the top teams in the ACC returning much of their key talent.

Teams like Virginia Tech, Florida State, and Georgia Tech are early favorites to be in Tampa come December, but if the North Carolina State Wolfpack can catch a few breaks along the way, watch out for them.

The burden of leading the Wolfpack to success this year rests on sophomore quarterback Russell Wilson's shoulders. It was evident last year in their bowl game against Rutgers how much of a difference maker he was. He picked defenses apart at will last season with his arm and legs and should be able to do the same this year.

There are no other quarterbacks in the ACC with his talent, and most of the time, having the best QB is a very good step toward being a top team. His scrambling ability presents a lot of problems for any team, and if he can play at the same level as he was at the end of last season, he should be first team All-ACC again and be playing for the ACC title.

Another factor the Wolfpack have going in their favor is their schedule. While many of their tougher conference games come on the road, they have a total of eight home games to only four away games. They have all four of their non-conference games at Carter-Finley Stadium, which will be very good for them to kick off their season.

Four home games to start a season can really get momentum going and kick off the season the right way instead of the 2-6 start of last season. They were 2-1 in home non-conference games last year, with the only loss coming to the then 13th-ranked South Florida Bulls.

Pitt and South Carolina are both good teams, but the Wolfpack should win those games playing at home.

NC State also has a lot of experience coming back on both sides of the ball. They have eight returning starters on offense, including four on the O-line. Toney Baker also is back after sitting out last season, and he could still be an impact player at running back. Jamelle Eugene is also a game-breaker out of the backfield and can break some long runs.

Owen Spencer and Jarvis Williams are both very talented receivers who will be big mismatches at 6'3" and 6'4", and T.J. Graham is a speedy slot receiver who makes big plays.

As far as the defense goes, they have three returning starters on a very good D-line that include All-ACC candidate Willie Young.

Losing Nate Irving at middle linebacker hurts, but their offense is good enough to take the pressure off of the defense for most games.

If NC State can execute on offense this year, they will be one of the top teams in the ACC, right up there with Florida State and Wake Forest in the Atlantic division. They will be scary good if they can get production from their defense.

The ACC is wide open, just like last year, and NC State could be the team that swoops in and takes advantage of it, possibly punching themselves a ticket to Tampa in early December.