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 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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Discover Orange Bowl Preview: Florida State Seminoles vs. Northern Illinois Huskies

Which EJ Manuel Will Show Up in the Orange Bowl -- the Elite Playmaker, or the Struggling Veteran?

Which EJ Manuel Will Show Up in the Orange Bowl — the Elite Playmaker, or the Struggling Veteran?

While Florida State reached the Orange Bowl, just as many expected, there’s also an air of lost potential about the ‘Noles this season. It’s why, despite never playing in a game of this caliber, many think that Northern Illinois has a shot at an upset. So do they? We take a look at how the matchup shakes out.

Bowl Game: Discover Orange Bowl

Location: Miami Gardens, Fla.

First Year: 1935

2012 Participants: Florida State Seminoles (11-2) vs. Northern Illinois Huskies (12-1)

Last Meeting: None

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Florida State (previous bowl game: 18-14 win vs. Notre Dame in 2011 Champs Sports Bowl)

On paper, Florida State was one of the country’s most dominant teams. Conference champions, 12th in scoring in the country (39.9 points per game) and sixth in scoring defense (15.1 points allowed per game). Yet, what will stand out most is how they struggled in key moments. Up 16-0 against NC State early in the season, the team began showing its deficiencies on offense. Then in the regular season finale, the defense showed its own issues, letting rival Florida rack up 24 points in the fourth quarter of an FSU loss. The common thread when they struggled most? EJ Manuel‘s consistency, or lack thereof. In four of their closest games, Manuel put up just two scores to five picks — not exactly the type of performances a championship-caliber team wants out of its senior quarterback. While all of their games certainly weren’t against “elite” competition, NIU’s defense did manage to force 15 interceptions and allow just 10 scores (seventh-best in the country), so that’s certainly something the ‘Noles should be prepared for. On defense, Florida State showed some holes without star defensive end Tank Carradine during the ACC title game, and it’s unlikely the team’s front-seven will be as aggressive without him in this matchup either. The Huskies allowed just 14 sacks all season — in part due to an elite offensive line, and also due to quarterback Jordan Lynch‘s elusiveness. It’s not impossible, but FSU will have to crack the code on containing Lynch if they hope to pull out a win.

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Ranking the ACC Bowl Games

Syracuse/West Virginia is Just One of Several Great ACC Bowl Matchups This Postseason

Syracuse/West Virginia is Just One of Several Great ACC Bowl Matchups This Postseason

After a frustrating regular season, the ACC earned itself six bowl bids (plus another three if you want to count the incoming members), and will now try and avoid the dismal showing it’s put on for more than half a decade now. Since 2005, the conference (if you’re including Pitt and Syracuse) is 18-32 in the postseason, with just one BCS bowl win in that time frame (Virginia Tech beat Cincinnati in 2009).

But maybe 2012 changes things? I make no guarantees, and these won’t be predictions just yet (we’ll get to those once bowl season officially starts), but there’s always hope the conference can turn things around. Below, all nine games involving ACC squads are ranked, in (reverse) order of game quality, with some brief notes on each matchup. Feel differently about any of these? Feel free to share your thoughts below:

9. Hyundai Sun Bowl (December 31): Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets vs. USC Trojans

Tech’s defense didn’t look terrible against FSU in the ACC Championship Game, but this game could be a major black-eye for the Jackets and ACC as a whole. On paper, the Trojans have some of the country’s best offensive playmakers, and there’s a high potential for embarrassment here if Georgia Tech’s defense performs as it has for most of 2012.

8. Allstate Sugar Bowl (January 2): Louisville Cardinals vs. Florida Gators

While Louisville looked impressive in their final win over Rutgers, it’s hard to overlook their paltry schedule overall when trying to evaluate them against Florida. The Gators have tallied 11 wins against one of the nation’s toughest slates, and that defense will put a ton of pressure on QB Teddy Bridgewater from start to finish.

7. Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (December 31): NC State Wolfpack vs. Vanderbilt Commodores

The ‘Dores have been on a roll, and are one victory away from tying the team record for a season (nine). NC State, on the other hand, has struggled for consistency all year, with a shaky defense and now, a departed head coach. Four of Vandy’s last five opponents haven’t come within two scores and their offense has been firing on all cylinders in the second half — both recipes for a potential win over the Pack.

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