After going from 3-9 to 8-5 in head coach Dave Doeren’s second season at NC State, optimism ran high among the fan base. With the players the team has returning on both offense and defense in 2015, Doeren and the Wolfpack could potently shake up things in the ACC Atlantic Division.
There are some questions NC State needs to address, most notably on the offensive line as this unit will break in two new tackles. The Wolfpack also will need to find some playmakers at wide receiver. But when you look at NC State’s roster, Doeren and his coaching staff have assembled a lot of talent in a short amount of time.
Here are the four reasons to be excited about NC State in 2015.
1. Jacoby Brissett
After not receiving a fair opportunity at Florida, Brissett transferred to NC State to play for Doeren in January 2013. After sitting out 2013 due to transfer rules, Brissett made a huge impact for the Wolfpack last fall.
In his first season starting for the Wolfpack, Brissett threw for 2,606 yards and 23 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He also chipped in 529 yards rushing. The West Palm Beach, Fla., native ended the 2014 season ranking third in the ACC in touchdown passes (23), total offense (3,135) and fewest interceptions thrown (five). Brissett also was fourth in passing efficiency (136.7) and sixth in passing yards (2,606).
Brissett is the only returning starter from a Power 5 conference that posted at least 2,000 passing yards, 300 rushing yards and 20 passing touchdowns while throwing five or fewer interceptions in 2014.
Brissett is a strong-armed, athletic quarterback that can make all the throws. He also is a smart quarterback that doesn’t force the ball into coverage. If Brissett can improve from his 2014 season, there’s no reason to think the Wolfpack won’t at least be one of the top three teams in the ACC Atlantic.
2. Deep Running Back Rotation
In 2014, senior running back Shadrach Thornton led NC State in rushing with 907 yards. He also had help, as junior Matt Dayes led the team in touchdowns (13) and is the top returning receiver.
In addition to Thornton and Dayes, NC State will have a talented group of freshmen joining the team. Johnny Frasier (4-star recruit according to 247sports.com), Nyheim Hines (4-star), and Reggie Gallaspy II (3-star) will all be complements to the Wolfpack offense. Frasier has been mentioned as a potential redshirt candidate.
Thornton will miss the first two games due to a violation of athletic department rules, but NC State should have enough depth to survive his absence and also should be able to deal with any injury issues that occur as the season progresses.
3. Returning Starters on Defense
The NC State defense had a strong finish to the season in wins against Wake Forest, North Carolina and UCF. The team will look to build on that momentum that included more blitzing schemes and few yards allowed.
The Wolfpack returns seven starters on defense, including five in the secondary. Safety Hakim Jones led the team in tackles last season with 80. Sophomore safety Josh Jones recorded a team-best four interceptions in 2014.
Sophomore linebackers Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore got better as the 2014 season progressed and should only continue to improve. The return of M.J. Salahuddin from a knee injury also will give the linebacker corps more depth.
4. The Schedule
While NC State plays Clemson and Florida State every year in divisional play, their schedule isn’t very daunting. The team’s four non-conference opponents are Troy, Eastern Kentucky, at Old Dominion and at South Alabama. In conference, the Wolfpack will play both Clemson and North Carolina in Carter-Finley Stadium. NC State’s toughest games will come on the road at Virginia Tech and at Florida State.
If the Wolfpack can win their road games, including upset Clemson, they have an outside shot at winning the Atlantic Division. While NC State isn’t projected to win the division, fans should be excited about the rise of this program. Nine wins, with a potential of 10 isn’t out of the question for the Wolfpack this season.
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.