NC State Preview: Can Russell Wilson Lift Wolfpack to a Bowl Game?
NC State fans were hoping for more success under Tom O’Brien than they have had in three seasons. But with one of the best QBs in the conference returning, are results going to finally meet expectations?
I contacted Allen Lopp, a BR featured columnist for NC State , to get more info on the Wolfpack for the upcoming season.
Q: How much progress has Tom O'Brien made in three years? Is it enough?
A: O'Brien, while at NC State, has frankly made little progress. As the old saying goes, one foot forward, two steps back. The team was supposed to have thrived last year after coming off a trip to a bowl game two years prior, and having the reigning ACC Rookie of the Year and first team All-ACC quarterback Russell Wilson.
While Wilson's performance last year was phenomenal, the defense was a huge letdown, as they were supposed to be improving but didn't. So to really answer your question, the team is on the right track, they just have more adjustments to make to turn the team into a winner.
Q: What is QB Russell Wilson's status for next season? If he does not return, how much confidence do State fans have in Mike Glennon?
A: All things indicate towards Wilson playing next year, but if his baseball career really takes off, he could forfeit his chance to play college football. Mike Glennon would take over the reigns at quarterback, and he is very similar to a QB that O'Brien had at BC named Matt Ryan.
Glennon is a pro style QB, who has a big arm and is very accurate with his throws. He performed well in the spring game, and I believe if he was inserted into the QB, the offense wouldn't miss a beat.
Q: Who is the primary ball carrier going to be after the top two rushers from last year departed?
A: The running game for the Wolfpack last year was really nonexistent, but the guys rushing the ball were experienced. This year, there is no real no. 1 back, so I'd expect the coaching staff to use a trio of guys (Curtis Underwood, James Washington, and Brandon Barnes) in the beginning until a front runner emerges.
Q: Why do you think State does not have a difference making offensive line after O'Brien did so well with the unit at BC?
A: When Tom O'Brien arrived at NC State, the offensive line as a unit was a complete disaster. He really did a lot of work in his first two years to piece together the offensive line, to where they are now a unit that is steadily improving. He is having success recently in recruiting the big offensive line recruits, and along with some transfers, will make a solid offensive line with game experience.
Q: Are NC State fans excited about the arrival of Jon Tenuta as LB coach or is his luster gone after the stint at Notre Dame?
A: I would have to say a little of both; Jon Tenuta was a hot commodity a few years ago before he went to Notre Dame. Now that he's left as their defensive coordinator, and come to NC State as a linebackers coach, there's been a ton of confusion.
Tenuta's defenses at Notre Dame were not terrible; they were on a steady incline. Either way, I think that there is a general consensus that he is a defensive guru and will help Mike Archer turn around that dreadful defense.
Q: Who is going to step up on a defensive line that lost all four starters from a year ago?
A: The defensive line this year will be a huge question. Like you already said, they lost all four starters. There is some experience on the defensive line with Brian Slay having played around 115 snaps, Audi Augustin having 11 QB pressures, and David Akinniyi having had four sacks with Northeastern.
Q: Explain the difference in having a healthy Nate Irving at LB.
A: Having Nate Irving back and healthy is huge. He is the leader of the defense, like the quarterback is the leader of the offense. When the Wolfpack made that run two years ago, and went to the bowl game, he was a huge reason why. Nasty Nate is like a predator in the wild when he is on the football field.
Q: What is going to be different about the secondary this year that was ninth in pass defense last season?
A: The secondary last year was terrible but that was mainly due to inexperience. Every starter last year in the secondary was a freshman and with last year's experience, they should be much improved.
Q: Who are some of the freshmen that could see significant action this season?
A: Barring any injuries, there shouldn't any freshmen playing a lot on offense.
The defensive side of the ball is a different story. On the defensive line, A.J. Ferguson should see a fair amount of playing time at defensive end. In the secondary safety, Dean Haynes should get some playing time, if just on special teams.
Q: What has it meant to State fans to beat Carolina three years in a row? How much does it make up for just one bowl bid?
A: Beating Carolina is what NC State fans strive for every year, whether it is in football, basketball, baseball, or tennis. It is even sweeter beating Carolina since Butch Davis has been there, because he was suppose to make them "national champion contenders" since year one.
In my mind, beating Carolina is sweeter, but having only one bowl bid isn't what I had in mind so far. But last year's game against Carolina was like a bowl game.
Q: Describe a successful season this year. Describe a disappointing one.
A: Describing a successful season is difficult because it is hard to gauge the team this year. Most people are predicting the Wolfpack to finish third in the Atlantic Division.
I would say a successful season would be a third place finish and a trip to a bowl game, while a disappointing season would be a be finishing fourth in the Atlantic and not making a bowl game.
Q: What is your prediction for the season?
A: My prediction for the NC State Wolfpack this season is for them to finish third in the Atlantic Division of the ACC, and for them to cause a couple of upsets to top ranked opponents.
The sky is the ceiling for the Wolfpack as Florida State and Boston College are really the only teams that stand in their way. Clemson will be starting with a new freshman QB and Wake Forest will be without four-year starter Riley Skinner.
My take on NC State…
You can call me surprised at how much O’Brien has struggled at NC State, a program you thought it would be easier to win at than BC, based on recruiting area.
State struggled with turnovers and bad offensive line play, two things you do not see with O’Brien's teams.
I am beginning to think he is just not a good fit in Raleigh, being a Midwestern guy who has coached in the Northeast.
They draw a tough schedule from the Coastal, facing Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech, and North Carolina this season, so it is hard to see a huge improvement on their win total.
5-7, Sixth in Atlantic Division
Thanks again to Allen for his answers.
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