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#59 NC State Wolfpack





HEAD COACH: Dave Doeren, 18-20 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Eliah Drinkwitz | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Huxtable

The Wolfpack have earned back-to-back bowl trips under coach Dave Doeren, but the program is still looking to take the next step. Earning a third consecutive postseason appearance won't be easy without quarterback Jacoby Brissett, and the schedule is tougher in 2016. The strength of Doeren's offense is in the backfield, as Matt Dayes headlines a deep stable of promising running backs. 

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Previewing N.C. State’s Offense

NC State has questions at quarterback and the offensive line but has a good stockpile of versatile running backs. Matt Dayes and Jaylen Samuels, who is officially a tight end, combined to score 28 touchdowns last season.

Dayes was on track to become the program’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002 before a foot injury sidelined him for the final five games, leaving him with 865 yards. The addition of redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier should take some pressure off Dayes and add a power element to the running game.

The skill players will have to help sophomore Jalan McClendon, who steps in for two-year starter Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. McClendon has a huge arm and good size (6'5", 212) but has only 14 career passing attempts.

Senior Jumichael Ramos had the most catches by a receiver last season with 34 for 457 yards. Freshman tight end Thaddeus Moss, son of NFL legend Randy Moss, has a chance to help the Wolfpack offense right away.

The offensive line, a strength for the past two years, is in for a makeover with only two starters back. Junior Tony Adams is the best of a mostly unproven bunch, though keep an eye on center Joseph Scelfo, a grad transfer from South Alabama.

Previewing N.C. State’s Defense

The strength of coordinator Dave Huxtable’s defensive unit, which ranked No. 29 in the country in total defense in 2015, was the defensive line. It should be again with junior tackles B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavius Street returning and Bradley Chubb and Darian Roseboro, who combined for 9.5 sacks, back at defensive end.

At linebacker, Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore are a pair of juniors who have taken their lumps and learned on the job. NC State needs to get more production from its linebacking corps, and coordinator Huxtable is hoping that a healthier, more experienced Fernandez can help on that front. Moore led the team with 77 tackles last season.

A little change in the secondary might not be a bad thing. The Wolfpack struggled on pass defense last season and lose their best cover corner in Juston Burris. Junior Shawn Boone, who was slowed by a hamstring injury in the second half of the season, will be counted on to rejuvenate the safety group. Fifth-year senior Niles Clark ended up splitting duties with Dravious Wright at nickel by the end of the season, and the staff is bullish on his coverage skills.

Previewing N.C. State’s Specialists

The Wolfpack made major improvements in the return game, ranking in the top 20 in the country in both punt and kickoff returns. Bra’Lon Cherry ranked third in the ACC and 12th nationally with 13.3 yards per punt return. Nyheim Hines ranked fifth in the ACC and 23rd nationally with 26.3 yards per kickoff return. Both scored a touchdown in the return game. The kicking game took a step back with Kyle Bambard, who struggled through his freshman year, going 7-of-14 on field goal attempts.

Final Analysis

NC State can’t worry about the schedule or the personnel losses on offense or what North Carolina and Duke have done in recent seasons. The only thing coach Dave Doeren wants NC State to worry about is NC State. “My goal for this team is to be the best version of us that we can be,” Doeren says.

Last year, the best version of the Pack was only good enough for a 7–6 finish, a step back from an 8–5 mark in 2014. The Wolfpack will try to get back on track in 2016 but have to do so against a tougher schedule and with some major holes to fill on offense. With a new quarterback and a reworked offensive line, the Wolfpack face an uphill challenge for progress.


#53 Duke Blue Devils





HEAD COACH: David Cutcliffe , 48-53 (8 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Zac Roper | DEF. COORDINATOR: Ben Albert, Jim Knowles

The Blue Devils didn’t finish the season strong last fall and face another tough schedule in 2016. In November, Duke plays four teams that made a bowl last season, and coach David Cutcliffe's team may need an upset or two to reach the postseason. Expect the secondary to lead the defense with three returners and some question marks up front. However, the big question for Cutcliffe is the quarterback position, as starter Thomas Sirk is recovering from a torn Achilles.

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Previewing Duke’s Offense

On the whole, Duke should have plenty of pieces with which to craft a solid offense. But it heads into the fall needing to find answers to some pressing questions first.

The most important is the health of last season’s starting quarterback Thomas Sirk. After throwing for 2,625 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2015 — he also led the team in rushing — the fifth-year senior ruptured his left Achilles tendon during February workouts, and the Duke staff isn’t sure if he’ll be ready by the time preseason camp begins. That means last season’s backup Parker Boehme and redshirt freshmen Quentin Harris and Daniel Jones could by vying for the starting gig.

Whoever has the job will be able to call upon veteran weapons elsewhere as senior Jela Duncan and junior Shaun Wilson headline a deep group of running backs, and sophomore T.J. Rahming and senior Anthony Nash will provide proven targets at receiver. However, there will be holes to fill on the offensive line, with All-ACC right tackle Casey Blaser, left tackle Gabe Brandner and guard Tanner Stone among the few sure things.

Previewing Duke’s Defense

The biggest question facing Duke’s defense is how it will replace consensus All-America safety Jeremy Cash. Coach David Cutcliffe says it will take a group effort to replace Cash — who tallied 18 tackles for a loss last season — and he believes he has the group to do it. Senior Corbin McCarthy and sophomore Brandon Feamster will get a crack at Cash’s spot.

With the Blue Devils’ defensive scheme calling for playmakers at safety, junior Alonzo Saxton, senior Deondre Singleton and redshirt freshman Jordan Hayes will be able to play major roles if they’re ready. It also helps that the Blue Devils will have two talented corners in veterans DeVon Edwards and Breon Borders. Senior tackle A.J. Wolf leads a defensive line that will have to replace three starters. There’s a similar amount of flux at linebacker, where sophomore Tinashe Bere, who impressed the Duke staff with his work in the spring, is the most experienced piece.

Previewing Duke’s Specialists

New special teams coordinator Jim Bridge, a former Purdue assistant, takes over a unit that just finished a stretch of stability that’s been rare for the Blue Devils. Both kicker Ross Martin and punter Will Monday earned All-ACC honors last season and have since graduated. Redshirt freshman Austin Parker heads into the fall with a good shot at landing the punting spot, while senior Danny Stirt and true freshman A.J. Reed will be in the mix in a relatively crowded field at placekicker. Edwards, who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns last season, and veteran punt returner Ryan Smith should continue to give opposing coverage units trouble.

Final Analysis

Despite going to four straight bowl games and earning its first postseason win since 1961, Duke heads into the season with a degree of uncertainty. Cutcliffe’s ninth season in Durham will feature a reshuffled coaching staff, as one longtime assistant retired, one moved to an administrative role and a third, offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, became the head coach at East Carolina. Throw in Sirk’s injury and the fact that the Blue Devils have been going about their business in a construction zone as Wallace Wade Stadium and the surrounding practice fields have been receiving some overdue upgrades, and the ability to adjust on the fly is something this group should be good at by now.

So in a Coastal Division that’s had four different schools reach the ACC Championship Game in the past five years and features three programs with new head coaches, there’s no reason to think that — if things fall their way — the Blue Devils can’t elbow their way into contention once again.