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You can read the entire NC State Wolfpack preview in Athlon Sports' 2013 ACC magazine, available for purchase now at the Athlon Sports store.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL PRESEASON TOP 25
#54 NC State
ACC Atlantic PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Dave Doeren, First Season | OFF. COORDINATOR: Matt Canada | DEF. COORDINATOR: Dave Huxtable
New coach Dave Doeren is not into labels. Doeren’s teams at Northern Illinois won big with a version of the spread offense and relied on a running quarterback, but that doesn’t mean it’s what NC State will do this season. “We just need to score points, a lot of them,” says Doeren, who led NIU to a 23–4 record in two seasons.
NC State, 7–6 a year ago, ran a pro-style passing attack under former coach Tom O’Brien. The Wolfpack, which will feature seven new regular starters on offense, will have to pick up Doeren’s new preferred speed and terminology with a new quarterback but some familiar playmakers.
Junior Pete Thomas, a transfer from Colorado State, is in line to replace Mike Glennon at quarterback. Doeren won’t ask the 6'6", 234-pound Thomas to run like Jordan Lynch did at NIU, but the Wolfpack will need him — or sophomore Manny Stocker — to be effective running an up-tempo scheme. Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell is eligible immediately after leaving the Razorbacks this offseason. Mitchell can play quarterback but is also capable of playing at receiver.
Running backs Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy will be featured by first-year coordinator Matt Canada, who was at Wisconsin in 2012. Thornton led the Wolfpack in rushing last season (694 yards) despite not taking a snap in the first three games.
There are questions up front, where four starters from the season opener need to be replaced. Senior left tackle Rob Crisp will lead the inexperienced group, with help from senior guard Duran Christophe.
A veteran trio of receivers — Bryan Underwood, Quintin Payton and Rashard Smith — should excel in the new scheme. Underwood led the team — and ranked second in the ACC — with 10 touchdown catches last season.
New defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable will need to find new starters at three linebacker spots and three more in the secondary in his 4-3 scheme.
That’s not necessarily all bad news. Filling both safety spots will be a tough task, with either young or injury-prone options, but the early exit of cornerback David Amerson to the NFL could be a case of addition by subtraction. Amerson made big plays (18 interceptions in two seasons) but also took big chances and got burned in some of NC State’s worst losses.
Senior Dontae Johnson, who can play either corner or safety, will be the Wolfpack’s best playmaker on defense. The unit, which ranked 83rd against the pass last season, should be boosted by the return of senior linebacker D.J. Green from a season-long NCAA suspension for testing positive for a banned nutritional supplement.
There’s also strength up front with three returning starters, including potential pros in junior tackles Thomas Teal and T.Y. McGill.
Both kicker Niklas Sade and punter Wil Baumann enter their third seasons as starters with room for improvement. Sade made seven of his first 10 field goal attempts but only six of his last 13. The Wolfpack ranked 90th in net punting, despite a slight improvement by Baumann. Rashard Smith is a dynamic returner in the mold of former Pack receivers T.J. Graham and Tobais Palmer.
NC State athletic director Debbie Yow has already said she expects 2013 to be a rebuilding season, but Doeren won quickly at NIU with a roster he inherited from another coach. The offense will have to run the ball more effectively, and Thomas will have to learn a new scheme. The defense should be able to carry the mail, especially with the first four games at home, as the team adjusts to the new staff. Don’t expect State to be a significant factor in the ACC Atlantic Division race, but there is enough talent on the roster to return to a bowl game for the fourth straight season.