NC State went just 7-6 last season, but hung tough and almost beat Clemson and Florida State. Now head coach Dave Doeren is hoping a veteran team can put together a breakthrough in his fifth season leading the Wolfpack. The starting lineup is loaded with seniors, including one of the best defensive lines not just in the ACC, but all of FBS. There are some questions marks, mainly in the backfield and on the back end, but this team could be ready to make some noise in an Atlantic Division that already features three top-20 teams.
Previewing NC State Football's Offense for 2017
NC State is already a step ahead of where it was last year because it has its starting quarterback in place. Ryan Finley, a graduate transfer from Boise State, arrived in Raleigh last summer and won the job from Jalan McClendon. Finley was steady but not spectacular in his first season in the ACC. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 3,059 yards with 18 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He’ll need to take more chances downfield this season.
A couple of versatile run/catch options will be the top threats in second-year coordinator Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. Senior Jaylen Samuels, who has been listed as a fullback and tight end but is for all intents and purposes a slot receiver, has 31 touchdowns in 39 career games. He has led the Wolfpack in receiving the past two years. Junior Nyheim Hines has played receiver the past two years but will be in the backfield more this season as the Wolfpack attempt to replace 1,000-yard rusher Matt Dayes.
The offensive line is another spot at which NC State is well ahead of where it was last year. Four starters return, including senior right guard Tony Adams — a three-year starter and second-team All-ACC selection.
Previewing NC State Football's Defense for 2017
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features one of the top defensive lines in the country, with four senior starters returning. Bradley Chubb, an All-ACC pick, racked up 21.5 tackles for a loss, including 10.5 sacks. He was able to dominate one-on-one blocks on the outside because of the strength of the interior of the line. The Pack ranked second in the ACC against the run a year ago, allowing only 108.6 yards per game and 3.3 yards per attempt.
The Pack need to get more out of linebackers Jerod Fernandez (88 tackles) and Airius Moore (86). The two seniors have essentially started together for the past three years. They had some growing pains earlier in their careers, and even early last season, but both finished the 2016 season strong.
The secondary, which must identify three new starters, is the biggest area of concern for head coach Dave Doeren. There is some experience to work with; senior Mike Stevens returns at one cornerback spot, and senior strong safety Shawn Boone will be counted on to be a leader. Inexperienced corner Nick McCloud and nickel Freddie Phillips will have to grow up quickly.
Previewing NC State Football's Specialists for 2017
NC State has struggled the past two years in the kicking game. Doeren is hopeful that Carson Wise, a graduate transfer from Carson-Newman, can help solve that problem. The Wolfpack were just 9-of-17 on field goal attempts last season and had a combined five missed field goals in close losses to East Carolina and Clemson. Wise, who began his career at Virginia Tech, wasn’t exactly automatic at Carson-Newman last year (8-of-13 on field goals). Fortunately for Doeren, he does have a standout punter, junior A.J. Cole, and an outstanding kick returner in Hines.
Doeren hopes that experience translates into a breakthrough after a season of “almosts” in 2016. NC State almost beat national champion Clemson. NC State almost beat perennial power Florida State. Including those two heartbreakers, four of the Wolfpack’s six losses were by seven points or fewer.
The Wolfpack return 22 seniors, half of whom start, from a team that finished the 2016 season with a flourish. There is a sense among Wolfpack fans that this could be Doeren’s best team, but it also could be his last chance, if things don’t go right.
With so many of the same parts back from last year, led by Chubb and Samuels, the Wolfpack have a chance break out of the seven- and eight-win rut and be a legitimate factor in the ACC.