By: Steven Lassan | 5/14/12, 3:51 PM EDT
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You can read the entire NC State Wolfpack preview in Athlon Sports' 2012 ACC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
#28 NC State
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Tom O'Brien, 33-30 (5 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Dana Bible | DEF. COORDINATOR: Mike Archer
With an emerging star at quarterback and a veteran offensive line, NC State coach Tom O’Brien expects to build on the success from 2011, which featured an 8–5 record and a second consecutive bowl win.
The Wolfpack’s hopes for contention in the Atlantic Division rest with senior quarterback Mike Glennon. After having to replace Russell Wilson, who graduated and transferred to Wisconsin, Glennon answered every question in his first season as the starter with 31 touchdowns and 3,054 passing yards.
Seniors Cam Wentz (center) and R.J. Mattes (left tackle) anchor an offensive line that has to improve its pass protection — Glennon was sacked 38 times — and boost a running game that ranked 109th nationally.
The running back duo of James Washington (897 yards) and Tony Creecy (382) was just as valuable in the passing game, with 67 receptions between them, and both came on at the end of the season as the Pack’s offense came alive.
Senior Tobais Palmer and sophomore Bryan Underwood have the speed to be game-changers and figure to be Glennon’s top targets from the wide receiver position.
Turnovers and sacks — not total yardage — are the two main statistics the Pack emphasize on defense, and for the second straight season, they ranked in the top 20 in the FBS in both categories. Repeating that feat will be somewhat of a challenge with three new linebackers.
The plan at linebacker was to rely on Terrell Manning and D.J. Green and break in one new starter. Instead, Manning jumped to the NFL a year early and Green was suspended by the NCAA for the season for testing positive for a banned supplement. Now, the Pack must lean on senior Sterling Lucas, who missed the entire 2011 season with a knee injury, and junior college transfer Robert Caldwell.
Whatever experience NC State lacks at linebacker, it makes up for in the secondary. All four starters return, led by All-America cornerback David Amerson, who set a new ACC record with 13 interceptions last season. Safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan Bishop are both veteran starters.
The defensive line was decimated early last season, which contributed to a 2–3 start, but the injuries gave young linemen Art Norman, T.Y. McGill and Thomas Teal the opportunity to gain valuable experience. Those three sophomores will be a big part of a rotation that could go 10-deep.
State was forced to go with a true freshman kicker (Niklas Sade) and punter (Wil Baumann) last season. Sade was 11-of-16 on field goals, but just 2-of-6 on kicks over 40 yards. Baumann averaged 37.5 on his 65 punts. Rashard Smith, Palmer and Amerson have large shoes to fill in the return game without T.J. Graham (the ACC’s career leader in kickoff return yardage).
In 120 years of football, only one NC State team has posted a double-digit win total — Philip Rivers led the Pack to 11 wins in ’02 — but given the returning talent and the relatively soft schedule, winning 10 games is a realistic goal.
O’Brien is not prone to hyperbole, high praise or predictions, but the NC State coach likes what he sees in his team, which has combined to win 17 games the past two seasons.
“The whole key, once again, is staying healthy,” O’Brien says. “As long as we stay healthy, I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team.”