Dave Doeren and the Wolfpack will be breaking in a new offensive coordinator and starting quarterback this spring
In head coach Dave Doeren's third season at NC State, the Wolfpack finished with one fewer victory than they had in 2014. In 2015, NC State finished 7-6 after recording an 8-5 record the season before.
NC State did however make a second straight bowl appearance, but the team lost in the Belk Bowl to Mississippi State. Now in Doeren's fourth season in Raleigh, the Wolfpack will attempt to move up in the ACC Atlantic standings. NC State will first have to replace a few of its key players if it has any chance of becoming major players in the Atlantic division.
Here are the key questions the Wolfpack face entering spring practices:
1. What impact will new offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz have?
Despite having one of the better rushing attacks in college football, Doeren fired offensive coordinator Matt Canada after the 2015 season. NC State then hired Boise State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz as Canada’s replacement.
The Broncos last season finished 15th in the nation in both scoring (39.1 ppg) and total offense (501.3 ypg). Boise State was just one of 10 FBS schools to average more than 39 points and 500 yards of offense per game.
Drinkwitz is a disciple of Gus Malzahn, having been on his staff at the high school level and with the 2010 Auburn Tigers that team that won the BCS national championship. So one thing is for certain – you can expect the Wolfpack to run quite a few more plays in 2016.
2. How will NC State replace Jacoby Brissett?
The first and probably the biggest decision Drinkwitz will have to make this spring is how will the Wolfpack offense replace all of the production, as well as the leadership, that has been departed with the graduation of Brissett. Whoever starts at quarterback will have big shoes to fill, as Brissett led NC State to 33.2 points per game, the third highest average in school history.
Redshirt sophomore Jalan McClendon and redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers will compete for the vacant quarterback position. McClendon was Brissett's backup last season, but he has only played a limited amount of snaps.
Meyers isn't a big quarterback (6-2, 188), but he is a dual threat. McClendon is built more like Brissett (6-5, 212) and he has also been in the program a year longer than Meyers.
3. How healthy is Matt Dayes?
Dayes was having a banner season at running back until he tore a ligament in his big toe against Clemson on Halloween, prematurely ended his season with five games left to play. Dayes rushed for 865 yards in just eight games, so there's no telling how many yards he would have ended up if he had been able to play a full season.
Prior to his injury, Dayes ranked third in the ACC in yards per carry with 6.5. Only Florida State's Dalvin Cook (7.4) and North Carolina's Elijah Hood (6.7) had higher averages in 2015.
Dayes told ESPN.com that he is 90-95 percent healthy entering spring practice, but he will likely be held out of contact drills. With questions at the quarterback position, NC State will likely rely heavily on Dayes in 2016.
4. How much can the Wolfpack defense improve?
The most experienced unit in 2016 will be the defense. NC State is projected to return eight starters on defense with the two headliners being linebackers Airuis Moore and Bradley Chubb.
Moore had 77 tackles in 2015 with Chubb recording 69 stops while leading the team in tackles for a loss with 12.5.
NC State finished the 2015 season 29th in total defense, giving up an average of 350.7 yards per game.
Pre-Spring NC State Outlook in the ACC
It will be tough for NC State to finish better than Florida State and/or Clemson in the ACC Atlantic Division in 2016, but that doesn't mean the team can't have a decent season. The Wolfpack could realistically enter their Oct. 8 game against Notre Dame with a 5-0 record.
NC State will have a tough second half of the 2016 season with visits to Clemson, Louisville and North Carolina on the slate. The Wolfpack also host Florida State and Miami in November at Carter-Finley Stadium.
If NC State can finish with eight or nine wins and a decent bowl appearance, that will be a step in the right direction.
— 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.