ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: NC State Wolfpack

Shadrach Thornton is One of Just a Few Returning State Players on Offense

Halfback Shadrach Thornton is One of Just a Few Returning NC State Players on Offense This Year

Team: NC State Wolfpack

2012 W-L: 7-6 (4-4)

Head Coach: Dave Doeren (0-0; first season)

Returning Starters: 8 (4 Offense, 4 Defense)

As SB Nation’s Bill Connelly astutely pointed out a couple weeks back, NC State under Tom O’Brien was a perfectly average team — rarely better or worse than a six- or seven-win team. And so despite another trip to the postseason in 2012, people got antsy, things felt stale, and O’Brien was relived of his duties. Now former Northern Illinois coach Dave Doeren’s the head man in Raleigh and the big question is whether or not anything will change. For what feels like forever, the Wolfpack have been a team that can play respectable football, energize a highly underrated fan base and swing an upset once a season. And that’s it. So why now, with a coach whose success is notable but not long-standing, would they suddenly turn into a 10- or 11-win juggernaut? That’s what we try and figure out today…

NC State was a highly one-dimensional team last season with Mike Glennon at the helm. They managed to throw for 310 yards per game (great!), but that was while completing 58 percent of their passes — they threw 569 passes, by the way (seventh in the FBS). So for the most part, a highly inefficient attack. And it’s not as if they didn’t turn the ball over either. Right off the bat, those points must be addressed by Doeren and his staff, but with what personnel? Three-fifths of the offensive line is gone, as is Glennon and last year’s top pass-catcher Tobais Palmer. Glennon’s replacement is also still TBD, as transfers Brandon Mitchell (Arkansas) and Pete Thomas (Colorado State) continue to vie for the job in camp. Though Thomas may be the more polished and experienced player, Mitchell’s more of an athlete in the mold of Doeren’s highly agile QB at NIU, Jordan Lynch. Mitchell also has just one year of eligibility left, which makes me think he’ll grab the inside track at the starting job early on.

Running the ball, State was terrible — mostly as a result of Glennon’s ridiculous volume of passes. They also failed to ever establish a true starter last season, resulting in inconsistent carries for those who did actually get to touch the ball. Now-sophomore Shadrach Thornton showed the most promise in that regard, however, racking up nearly 700 yards based largely on five games of 17 or more carries (and another five of 12 or less with much lesser gains). He’ll come into the 2013 season now as the starter, with some additional help from Tony Creecy too. Creecy came in as the more experienced back, but can still flourish in a relief role this year nonetheless. Both can get involved in catching the ball, which of course plays right into the type of hybrid pistol offense Doeren is likely to run this season while he works to get more players in specifically made for his system.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks

Clemson, Led by Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt, Have the ACC's Top Quarterback Unit for 2013

Clemson, Led by Tajh Boyd and Cole Stoudt, Have the ACC’s Top Quarterback Unit for 2013

While we’re still over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we start with the quarterback position. Last year it was a strength — or at least it was supposed to be — and while it could be once again in 2013, that will rely on some new starters stepping up in a big way. Though it may not be as top-heavy as last year’s crop (especially after seeing EJ Manuel, Mike Glennon, Ryan Nassib and Sean Renfree headed to the NFL), the ACC still possesses a really strong group of passers who all look to either start or end their careers on a positive note.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Quarterbacks

1. Clemson Tigers: Seeing both Tajh Boyd and offensive coordinator Chad Morris return was a godsend for the Tigers, who get one more year of the potent passing attack led by those two men. In 2012, Boyd broke out for over 4,400 total yards and now he has his eyes set on both a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Beyond Boyd, the team will lean mostly on Cole Stoudt in garbage time, after losing Chad Kelly tore his ACL in the spring. Stoudt, a junior, threw for 212 yards and three scores last season in relief of Boyd.

2. Louisville Cardinals: Teddy Bridgwater has all the hype and expectations anyone could possibly deal with in one season, yet I think he’ll still succeed. The Heisman contender and possible first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft is the core of a young Cardinals team that’s aiming to be unbeaten this fall. For when games get out of hand, the ball will likely be handed to Jerry Arlinghaus, the 6’4″ sophomore from nearby Covington, KY with a nice arm.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels: Bryn Renner‘s ability to transition to Larry Fedora’s spread offense has made him a rising star in the ACC, and don’t be surprised to see him put up even more impressive numbers as he closes out his senior season at Chapel Hill. Behind him, Fedora’s also stock-piling players who fit right into his system, with big passers like redshirt freshman Kanler Coker and true freshman Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky was named as “the next Johnny Manziel” by ESPN’s Joe Luginbill back in December, which is quite the name to live up to.

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Restarting College Football From Scratch: Which 120 Schools Would Sponsor Football?

Is Your School One of the 120 Best Equipped to Play College Football?

Is Your School One of the 120 Best Equipped to Play College Football in Today’s Landscape?

Back in March, SB Nation’s Jason Kirk took a look at an interesting question: Where would you place a college football program if you were starting one completely from scratch? The considerations included current program geography, potential fan bases and to some degree, recruiting as well. Using these factors, both Jason and the commenters (myself included) recommended a flurry of current and hypothetical universities, with no clear choice above the rest. As it is the offseason, this is quite the entertaining exercise.

But taking that idea a step further, what if we decided to start the whole thing from scratch? Blow up the current college football landscape — structure, traditions, records, existing programs, etc. — and just completely start fresh. The only hard-and-fast rule? We’re choosing 120 schools, all of which either currently sponsor Division-1 or -II NCAA athletics and/or have an institutional endowment over $1 billion. Additionally, to narrow the consideration pool down a bit, I avoided all schools with less than 5,000 students, since it’s highly unlikely they’d be able to support football from a talent or fan standpoint (at the collegiate game’s highest level anyway).

Using these factors as guides, I built an available pool of 318 schools, and compiled the following information for each:

  • Endowment: In many cases, endowments are a nice measuring stick of a school’s ability to raise money. Since college football programs cost money and need similar fundraising to function, this should certainly come into play when considering a school’s ability to sponsor the sport.
  • Enrollment: It’s not the end-all, be-all of whether you can sponsor football, but fan support usually starts with students. If you don’t even have 7,000 students on campus, how are you supposed to draw more than 20,000 to Saturday’s game?
  • State Recruiting Ranking: This is a big one, because it examines how sustainable football is from a local recruiting level. If you’re a big school, but have no local base, that means you’re utilizing a national strategy. Likewise, if you’re a mid-size school, but exist in a large local base, you still have a significant chance of recruiting success.
  • Public/Private: Obviously, there are more public schools than private schools at the FBS level today, and in our setup, that’ll still be the case. Private schools won’t be eliminated from consideration at all, but if a decision must be made between a private school and public school, the public school will win out. Public institutions have an easier road toward attracting local talent, and in many cases support too, so that was taken into consideration on a few choice occasions.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: NC State Wolfpack

Head Coach Dave Doeren Ushers In a Brand New Era of NC State Football This Spring

Head Coach Dave Doeren Ushers In a Brand New Era of NC State Football This Spring

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: NC State Wolfpack

Spring Practice Start Date: March 19

Spring Game Date: April 20

While NC State certainly takes a step forward on the field by hiring former Northern Illinois head coach Dave Doeren, you can’t deny they lose a masterful troll letting go of Tom O’Brien. Amazing 16-wheeler aside though, this spring’s all about transition for the Pack, as Doeren brought along his own staff as part of the new regime. New terminology, new playbooks, and a new approach to games is only part of it too, as the team also ushers in a new collection of potential playmakers to replace several starters that departed for the NFL Draft. Needless to say, it’s going to be a very busy month down in Raleigh.

Off the bat, State players better be ready to run, as Doeren brings along his spread offense from NIU. After years of running a “vanilla,” pro-style scheme under O’Brien, offensive players will certainly embrace the change, but not without struggle. On top of the complete play-calling overhaul, they’ll be breaking in a new quarterback to run the show, with little indication on who may end up winning the job right now. The current favorite, however, is Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas; the only passer on the roster with notable college experience. He’ll also be challenged by sophomore Manny Stocker, who was handed little opportunity to show off his stuff last year, but appears better suited for the type of attack Doeren ran with quarterback Jordan Lynch last year (which included plenty of rushing attempts from the QB position). On the bright side, though, the Pack is more than settled at both the wide receiver and running back spots, after seeing bursts of brilliance from Bryan Underwood and Shadrach Thornton, respectively, last season. While nothing’s guaranteed under the new coaching staff for these two standouts, both will have ample opportunities to embrace leadership roles as the team adapts to their new surroundings.

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College Football’s Most Overrated and Underrated Teams of the Past Decade

Unfortunately for the ACC, Members Such as Florida State and Miami Rank Among College Football’s Most Overrated

Over on SB Nation, Bill Connelly brought up an interesting point the other day: Has Florida State underachieved this year? It’s a fair question when looking at the overall weakness of the ACC, coupled with the talent FSU possesses on both sides of the ball and their continual refusal to dominate weaker in-conference opponents. The bigger issue here, however, is in the question itself. How do we define “underachievement” in college football? The best measure would likely be the polls, despite obvious flaws. How does a team annually stack up against its expectations that are set by preseason polling? And better, if we want to get a significant sample size, how does a team stack up to expectations over the span of a decade (2003-2012)?

We decided to take on that question, by digging through the last 10 years of the ESPN/USA Today Coach’s Poll. For each season, we took a look at every team’s preseason and postseason rankings (except for 2012, where the most recent rankings are used), and measure the distance between expectation and reality. To get even more data, we also included teams that “also received votes” and listed them in order, as if the polls continued past 25. If a team appeared in the preseason poll (let’s say there were 50 teams altogether), and not the postseason poll, that team’s postseason rank would be 51 — one past the total number of teams. This is repeated for each additional team in that situation so we can get the differentials, even for teams that fail to be included in both polls. Lastly, we averaged the differentials for each team based on however many years they appeared in the polls, and that gets you a picture of just how “overrated” or underrated these teams may be. In general, if it’s within five full spots or so on the poll, a team can be considered “accurately” ranked.

We’ll start with the “underrated” teams, before the yelling starts later on for the “overrated” ones:

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Big East Expansion: “Now What?” Edition

When the Big East Expands Again, This Guy's Definitely Still Interested

When we last left our more beleaguered East Coast football brethren (former rivals, for the five defectors among us), they were busy expanding to a four timezones format, extending its reach over 3,000 miles from its original locale of Providence, to the shores of San Diego. Since then, Air Force has made it awkward, and no longer wants a seat with the USSR of college football, while fellow service academy Navy is officially locked into independent status until 2014 (at least). So at this juncture, as we’ve asked several times before: now what?

We’ve mentioned most of these at one point or another, but worth noting all of the current candidates again, with odds and explanations attached. The following schools are listed from most likely to garner an invite to least likely. Also keep in mind that a) all schools are pretty much on the table at this point, and b)the conference has not necessarily said it will stop at 12 teams for football.

Temple Owls (Odds — 2:1): Already members of the Big East once, Temple fits the league’s original profile (good at basketball, eastern location), and this time brings a more formidable football program (they’d hope). The biggest barrier to their admittance has always been Villanova, but unless the Wildcats want to play basketball in the Atlantic 10, that stance will probably be changing soon.

Memphis Tigers (Odds — 8:1): Another all-sports addition, Memphis could contend immediately in basketball, but would likely be the new Temple of the league (while Temple would become the Rutgers of the new Big East?). Losing 10 games this past year won’t help them out much, but another defection (not unlikely) would.

ECU Pirates (Odds — 10:1): We’ve mentioned this several times before, but the Pirates have already applied to join the Big East! That was easy. A school that regularly draws 50-60K for football would normally be a big attraction, except that they’re the fifth-best game in town down in North Carolina, and provide little in terms of TV revenue. Ceiling in the new iteration of the league would likely be an 8-4 record.

Villanova Wildcats (Odds — 15:1): Given they’re already a member in all other sports, adding Villanova would be an easy fix. And at this point, the soonest they’d join is 2014, which as luck would have it, could coincide with Navy’s entry date. On the other hand, they play home games in a soccer stadium and usually play less compelling football than (at the very least) Penn and Temple.

Southern Miss Golden Eagles (Odds — 25:1): And to be honest, if they were in an even marginally larger media market, this would be a slam dunk already. The reigning Conference USA champs would love to continue rivalries with UCF, SMU and Houston, and raise their own national profile (they’re the San Diego State of the Gulf Coast, really). Even better than all of this: They’d be an immediate contender in a budding Western division.

Tulsa Golden Hurricane (Odds — 35:1): If you’ve already got two teams in Texas, why not add an Oklahoma team, too? Tulsa’s always been decent at football, especially with the whole not-playing-defense thing which seems to work so well for C-USA teams. The drawback — most eyes in Tulsa are likely on the other two big football teams in the state, plus it would be difficult to finish higher than fourth in that Western division.

Toledo Rockets/Colorado State Rams/UNLV Rebels (Odds — 100:1 each): And this is just a sampling of the schools the Big East could consider. Hell, might even throw Hawaii in there while they’re at it. If they’re going for eyeballs and institutional cache, then they’re going for UNLV or to be honeset, Hawaii (have been to a BCS game). Logically, the pick’s Toledo — probably as good as half of the league this year and a natural rival for Cincinnati. Colorado State’s more tossed in there to represent any mountain-type team in that general region of the country.

If we’re stopping at just one additional school (to pair with Navy), Temple would appear to be the pick. However, to avoid pushing too many teams out West (and further toward leaving the conference), they may go with another choice left of the original conference footprint. If that’s the choice, I’d give Southern Miss the call first. In the case of more than just one invite though, no blog post can truly capture the amount of teams on the table. Might as well include every team currently in the MAC, Mountain West, WAC and C-USA. And that’s just for starters.