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Will Dave Doeren's team improve this spring?
After guiding Northern Illinois to an Orange Bowl appearance during the 2012 season, high expectations followed Dave Doeren to Raleigh. NC State wasn’t stocked with proven talent last year, but the Wolfpack had a favorable schedule and most thought this team would at least make a bowl. Instead, NC State finished 3-9 and went winless in conference play.
Doeren and his staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Wolfpack back into the postseason, but there are reasons to be optimistic about a turnaround in 2014. For starters, NC State can’t get much worse. The Wolfpack hit rock bottom in conference play by going 0-8, but 12 starters return, and Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett will take over under center.
A favorable schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0. But back-to-back games against Florida State and Clemson will test just how much the Wolfpack has improved in 2014. If Brissett is as good as advertised, NC State could easily improve to 6-6 or 7-5.
NC State Wolfpack 2014 Spring Preview
2013 Record: 3-9 (0-8)
Spring Practice Opens: March 4
Spring Game: April 12
Three Things to Watch in NC State’s 2014 Spring Practice
1. Jacoby’s progress: The Wolfpack had a revolving door at quarterback last season, with five quarterbacks attempting passes. Don’t expect a similar outcome for NC State’s passing offense in 2014. Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett is clearly the Wolfpack’s No. 1 quarterback and is an upgrade over last year’s options. Brissett has talent (No. 75 player by Rivals in 2011 signing class) but threw only 74 passes in two seasons at Florida and completed 4 of 10 passes for 59 yards and one touchdown in NC State’s 2013 spring game. Backup Pete Thomas transferred and Bryant Shirreffs is expected to move to running back, leaving very little in the way of experience behind Brissett. If Brissett isn’t the answer, NC State could be looking at another long season. However, considering Brissett’s lofty ranking coming out of high school, combined with a solid supporting cast, the Wolfpack’s passing game should show major progress on the stat sheet. This spring is Brissett’s first chance to have full control of the offense. It’s always tough to gauge progress in preseason practice, but a good showing by Brissett and the offense will help ease Doeren’s concerns about this unit heading into 2014.
2. Finding answers on the offensive line: Considering the lack of experience behind Brissett, it’s important the Wolfpack keep their quarterback out of the grasp of opposing linemen. With Shirreffs moving to running back, Garrett Leatham, Josh Taylor or true freshman Jalan McClendon could serve as the backup. See how important it is to keep Brissett upright? The line allowed 2.9 sacks per game last season and ranked 106th nationally by giving up 35. That’s the bad news. However, the news isn’t all negative for Doeren. Left tackle Rob Crisp was awarded a medical redshirt for 2013 and will return to the team this summer. Crisp should solidify the left tackle spot, while Joe Thuney (12 starts in 2013) will slide to left guard. Quinton Schooley is back after making 12 starts last year, while Alex Barr (10) and Tyson Chandler (11) are also returning starters. Outside of Crisp and Thuney will any of the spots be up for grabs this spring? Considering last year’s performance, this line needs more talent and consistency in 2014.
3. Improving the defense: Where should we start? When taking into account just conference games, NC State ranked last against the run, 12th in the ACC in yards allowed and 13th in scoring defense. The problems run deeper than just the main statistical breakdowns, as the Wolfpack generated only 12 sacks in ACC games and last in red zone defense. Coordinator Dave Huxtable is going to have his hands full this spring as he tries to find answers on this side of the ball. Of course, it will be easier for the defense if the offense shows progress in 2014. With six starters back, it’s reasonable to expect NC State to make some gains on defense. The line has a promising core intact, including tackle Monty Nelson and end Art Norman. Linebacker Robert Caldwell was one of the team’s top defenders last season, but he departs after making 105 stops in 2013. However, there is experience returning at linebacker with seniors Rodman Noel, Brandon Pittman and junior M.J. Salahuddin. The secondary allowed only 13 touchdown passes in eight conference games, and much like the defensive line, there’s a good core to build around. Jack Tocho impressed as a freshman, and Hakim Jones and Juston Burris were key cogs in the secondary last year. As we mentioned earlier in this section, the Wolfpack should be better on defense. But how much more can this unit improve? The answers to fixing the defense might not come for another season as Doeren continues to assemble talent on the recruiting trail.
2014 Early Projected Win Range: 5-7
There’s no doubt Doeren’s first season in Raleigh was a disappointment. But the future looks bright for this program, as the second-year coach seems to have NC State trending in the right direction. When rebuilding a program, it may be necessary to take a step back before going forward. The Wolfpack are following a similar pattern and could be in the mix for a bowl in 2014. A favorable non-conference schedule should allow NC State to start 4-0 before measuring stick games against Florida State and Clemson open ACC play. Assuming the Wolfpack sweep their non-conference games, home tilts against Wake Forest and Boston College could be just enough to get bowl eligible.