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: Defensive Line

Senior James Gayle Leads the Hokies' Top-Ranked Defensive Line in 2013

Senior Defensive End James Gayle Leads the Hokies’ Top-Ranked Defensive Line in 2013

A little over 40 days from the start of the 2013 college football season! And it is indeed 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 until 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’re on to the defensive lines (check out previous rankings of ACC quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers/tight ends, offensive line). For several teams that have been churning out elite defenders for years, this is simply another group of stud performers. For others, this is a sign of some serous rebuilding. The ACC has plenty of stars on the defensive line this season, but there’s also plenty of question marks too. We’ll get to both. though as you’d expect, the questions increase as we head further down the list.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual end or tackle is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of defensive linemen is (though it certainly does help). Also note: Louisville (as has been the case since November) is included here, despite playing in the American this season. Additionally, since these are completely subjective rankings, the difference between one number to the following one is almost entirely negligible. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Defensive Line

1. Virginia Tech Hokies: Looking for experience? The Hokies have plenty, as they bring back all four starters from last season and are chock full of juniors and seniors on the depth chart. As a whole, Tech’s defense recorded 35 sacks last season (16th in the FBS), most of which is attributable to this group. With another year of playing together under their belt, the unit — led by senior defensive end James Gayle — could be in for a monster season as the motor that drives Virginia Tech’s success.

2. Clemson Tigers: You might be surprised to see Clemson here, but that only means you haven’t been paying attention. The young Tigers that watched the 2012 Orange Bowl debacle are all grown up and have become a pretty frightening foursome (34 sacks last year; 20th in the FBS). Yes, they did lose Malliciah Goodman and his seven sacks, but considering who’s replacing him at defensive end (Vic Beasley), there’s very little to worry about in terms of a drop-off in production. Expect Brent Venables’ men to be even more aggressive getting after the passer this season.

3. Florida State Seminoles: FSU replaces every starter from last year’s potent pass-rush, but all is not lost in Tallahassee. Last year’s deep group received plenty of reps as the line was ravaged by injury, so this still ends up being a pretty veteran defensive line. Tackles Timmy Jernigan and Demonte McAllister will anchor them from the tackle positions, but they’ll also rely on Mario Edwards to take a leap as a sophomore and become the threat he was projected to be as a recruit.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #46, Darryl Cato-Bishop

NC State’s Darryl Cato-Bishop is #46 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

NC State’s Darryl Cato-Bishop is #46 on Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

We’re less than two months away from the start of the 2013 college football season, and that means preview countdowns! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus completely bulletproof — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 46, Darryl Cato-Bishop, DE/NC State (Last Season: NR)

Cato-Bishop has always had the makings of a great pass-rusher at NC State, but he’s only just shown glimmers of that promise during his career thus far. Now as a senior, perhaps this is the year he finally puts it all together.

And that’s not to discredit the work he’s done to this point either. Last year, despite missing two games, he still posted 10.5 tackles for loss (6.5 sacks) as the primary cog in NC State’s underrated defensive line. At 6’4″ and 278 pounds, it’s easy to understand how he’s become such a force, though some may bring up questions on production. While he certainly possesses a hulking frame, he’s not the quickest end (4.89 40-yard dash time) and doesn’t have any significant moves to get past blockers. But take a look at this game tape from last year’s matchup against Boston College. Time after time, he’s double covered, either initially or on delay, which frees up the right side of the line or his fellow left side defensive tackle. Last season, he also did some work lining up in a nose tackle spot on occasion (which you’ll also see in that video), and right away you’ll notice the benefits: sucking in the line to address Cato-Bishop, thus freeing up the cornerback blitz. So, as can regularly be the case with elite defensive linemen, the tale of their production can’t always be captured in the box score alone. Again, see the tape, this time below:

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ACC Football Standout Senior 2013: NC State

Facing Defensive Turnover, NC State's Relying on Darryl Cato-Bishop to Be a Disruptive Force

Facing Defensive Turnover, NC State’s Relying on Darryl Cato-Bishop to Be a Disruptive Force

Last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.

Over these few weeks, we’re going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.

NC State Wolfpack: Darryl Cato-Bishop, DE

For the Wolfpack defense, the secondary has been the unit’s crown jewel in recent years, rightly or wrongly — something that’s about to change. As the team’s best coverage men like David Amerson and Earl Wolff depart, it’s an opportunity for the team to take a new focus not seen much since Mario Williams roamed the defensive line. We’re of course talking about an individual pass-rush guided by one standout defender. Enter: Cato-Bishop, the senior who could change all that.

After missing the first two games last season (rough outings for State, which went 1-1), Cato-Bishop returned in the third contest against South Alabama, and made his presence felt immediately. Leading a strong pass-rush, he racked up 1.5 sacks while pressuring Jaguars’ quarterbacks into quick throws and effectively shutting down the run game. Though the stat line doesn’t necessarily pop for the rest of the year, he still managed to record over a half-sack per game in the ensuing nine regular season contests, and make major strides in stuffing the run, too. But of course, there’s certainly room for improvement for Cato-Bishop, especially in terms of getting after the quarterback.

In 13 games, 455 passes were attempted against the Wolfpack, a group that at times took advantage of the fact (33 sacks as a team) and at others, did not (still allowed 249 passing yards per game). That’s where having an elite pass-rusher comes in, as the players on this version of NC State may not realize. When David Amerson was in the defensive backfield in 2011, teams tried to gameplan around him while others tested him. After watching a full season of game tape, teams realized how to challenge Amerson, and as a result, he got burned more often. Cato-Bishop, on the other hand, doesn’t the same gaudy film going into his final season, which can actually be a bonus for him.

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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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ACC 2012 Season Preview: NC State Wolfpack

Mike Glennon Directly Controls the Fate of an NC State Offensive Looking for Other Playmakers to Step Up

Team: NC State Woflpack

2011 W-L: 8-5 (4-4)

Head Coach: Tom O’Brien (33-30; five seasons)

Returning Starters: 14 (7 Offense, 7 Defense)

At the end of October last year, it appeared to be the end of the line for NC State coach Tom O’Brien. The Woflpack were 4-4, were just blown out 34-0 by Florida State, and had to win three of their final four games to make a bowl game. It would have been the third of his five seasons the team failed to reach the postseason — unacceptable for a school that does prioritize football (or virtually any school for that matter). But then, something clicked. O’Brien’s team went on a tear that would include a shutout of cross-state rival North Carolina, a shocking upset vs. Clemson and an enormous comeback against Maryland to close out the regular season. Now, O’Brien’s job is not only safe (for now), but his team is thinking much bigger than they had before.

On offense, the group is fueled by breakout QB Mike Glennon. The mastermind behind the late 2011 run, Glennon threw for 823 yards and 11 touchdowns over the final three games. Most notably, a six-TD performance (five passing, one rushing) to come back from 41-14 down to the Terps. This year, however, he’ll be missing top target T.J. Graham, so replacing him becomes one of the top priorities for fall practice. Luckily, he’ll have two seniors at his disposal — Tobais Palmer and Quintin Payton — both of whom played for the team last year, though in most-limited roles. Glennon is going to be looking to establish trust with these guys early, especially considering the question marks at running back. Senior James Washington still must prove he can step up into a leading role, while the status of the beleaguered Mustafa Greene is in flux again. For this offense to be at its best, it’ll demand a lot more out of the running game. Last year’s 104 yards-per-game (109th in FBS) won’t cut it, so someone obviously has to step up and make a severe course-correction.

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