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NC State Football: 2022 Wolfpack Season Preview and Prediction

Devin Leary, NC State Wolfpack Football

Devin Leary and the Wolfpack are ranked No. 12 in Athlon Sports' Top 25 for the 2022 college football season

Expectations are sky-high for NC State due in part to numerous seniors taking advantage of the extra COVID year and a more than favorable schedule on the horizon.

The non-conference slate features a date at East Carolina and home games vs. Charleston Southern, Texas Tech and UConn, all favorable matchups. The ACC slate includes trips to Clemson and North Carolina, but the Wolfpack get nemesis Wake Forest at home.

NC State went 9–3 overall and 6–2 in the ACC last year and was thirsty for a 10-win season, but those hopes got dashed by UCLA's COVID outbreak hours before the Holiday Bowl. The goal remains the same, and NC State head coach Dave Doeren knows that many eyes will be on the Wolfpack this season.

"They'll be motivated," Doeren says. "Our guys have a chip on their shoulder. We didn't get to the ACC Championship [Game]. We have a lot to prove still."

Related: Athlon Sports' College Football Top 25 for 2022

Previewing NC State's Offense for 2022

The offense has some holes to fill, but with the return of Devin Leary at quarterback, things should fall into place.

Leary was a big question mark going into the season due to suffering a broken leg in 2020. With a full, somewhat normal offseason with offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Tim Beck, he cut down on his turnovers and risk-taking and became a proven producer. Leary turned it loose to go 283-of-431 passing for 3,433 yards, with 35 touchdowns and only five interceptions last year. He went six straight games without an interception and threw for over 300 yards in six contests. The pocket passer gets somewhat ignored in favor of other dual-threat quarterbacking peers when it comes to all-league voting, but he threw for at least four touchdowns in five games, and he isn't exactly immobile.

Protecting Leary's blind side proved to be the offseason focus. Redshirt sophomore left tackle Ikem Ekwonu turned pro, leaving one spot open on the offensive line. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Belton, who is 6'6" and 330 pounds, got the start at left tackle in the spring game. Senior Bryson Speas and sophomore Timothy McKay could be in the mix at left tackle but could also start along the line at other positions.

Wide receivers Devin Carter and Thayer Thomas both return, and a third wideout will need to join them. Thomas caught 51 passes for 596 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and the 6'3", 215-pound Carter snagged 31 receptions for 556 yards and six scores.

The other big question will be who emerges as the go-to running back. The 5'10", 192-pound Jordan Houston rushed 101 times for 526 yards and two scores in 2019 and is an adept receiving target. Sophomore Demie Sumo-Karngbaye earned consistent praise from the coaches and his teammates throughout the spring.

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Previewing NC State's Defense for 2022

NC State went through a rash of injuries, with six positions affected, but the Pack allowed just 19.7 points per game to finish second in the ACC and No. 14 nationally. NC State was second in the ACC with 15 interceptions and finished in the top 31 nationally in the FBS in every major defensive category.

Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and his 3-3-5 scheme lost linebackers Payton Wilson and Isaiah Moore, nose tackle C.J. Clark, defensive end Savion Jackson, nickel Tyler Baker-Williams and safeties Cyrus Fagan and Devan Boykin at different points in the season. Five players who started the season opener against USF were out when the Wolfpack played North Carolina at season's end.

The good news is that Wilson and Moore returned to NC State rather than pursue their NFL dreams, in part because of their injuries. Wilson had shoulder surgery, and Moore suffered an ACL tear.

The extra COVID year has led Fagan, nose tackle Cory Durden, cornerback Derrek Pitts Jr., safety Tanner Ingle and Baker-Williams to return for another year of college football.

The absence of Moore and Wilson shifted junior Drake Thomas to middle linebacker, where he had 99 tackles, 13.5 tackles for a loss, six sacks, three interceptions and nine quarterback hurries.

Even in a solid overall year, NC State's defense struggled in losses to Wake Forest and Miami (Fla.) and in the comeback win over North Carolina, revealing some deficiencies. The Demon Deacons went 10-of-19 on third downs and converted a fourth-down play in the 45–42 home win. Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke threw for 325 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Hurricanes to a 31–30 upset victory. The Wolfpack allowed 297 rushing yards (7.2 yards per carry) against the Tar Heels.

Related: ACC 2022 All-Conference Team

Previewing NC State's Specialists for 2022

NC State returns veteran kicker Christopher Dunn and brought in Towson graduate transfer punter Shane McDonough. Dunn has made 80.2 percent of his field goals (69-of-86) and all 170 career extra points, with a long of 53. McDonough averaged 41.3 yards per punt with eight punts over 50 yards and 15 inside the 20-yard line. Thomas averaged 9.5 yards on 17 punt returns last year and had a touchdown in 2019. State will need to replace Zonovan Knight on kick returns.

Final Analysis

NC State has greatly benefited from the extra COVID year, and it should result in one of its best-ever regular seasons. If the backs and O-line can grind out yards on third and short and inside the 5-yard line, the offense should put up a ton of points. That could bring the rare double-digit victory season, which has happened only once before in school history.

National Ranking: 12

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