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 2013 Payback Games: NC State

Giovani Bernard Terrorized NC State Last Season; With Him Off to the NFL, Can They Turn the Tables on UNC?

Giovani Bernard Terrorized NC State Last Season; With Him Off to the NFL, Can They Turn the Tables on UNC?

Every team in the ACC has a couple games they wish they had back from 2012. Whether they didn’t bring their A-game, or the other guys just got lucky, every school would love another shot at an opponent, for the ability to prove it won’t happen again. Luckily, because of conference play and parity in the ACC, many will get a chance at redemption immediately, with rematches already on the books for 2013.

As part of our 2013 college football season preview, we’ll be running through the biggest “payback” games for each school. As no team finished with just one loss, there are likely multiple choices for each — none more “right’ than another, necessarily. Still, every selection should help provide some extra motivation for fans as they gear up for this season’s slate of games.

Team: NC State Wolfpack

Opponent: North Carolina Tar Heels

Last Year: Loss, 43-35 at North Carolina

This Year: November 2 vs. North Carolina

After coming back from 18 points down, NC State looked like it was going to hold on for a huge victory over cross-state rival North Carolina. Then they looked like they’d be headed to overtime. And suddenly, following a backbreaking Giovani Bernard punt return for a touchdown with just 13 seconds left, the Wolfpack left the field defeated. This last-minute, come-from-behind victory is always hard to watch when you’re on the receiving end, but that goes double for the most important game on your team’s calendar. For the most part, the annual UNC date is for the Pack, so comeback or not, you can bet they’d be out for revenge again this season just the same.

At the onset of last year’s contest, it really did have all the makings of a blowout in favor of UNC. Scoring 25 points in 15 minutes, the Heels were living up to the billing of its high-powered offense. Then the Pack did the same in the second, and the seesaw began. On the game, the teams would combine for over 1,100 yards of offense, while also committing six turnovers. The largest issue for NC State, though, was the running game. Struggling to run out the clock at the end, a competent ground attack would’ve been able to pick up the necessary first down to kill the clock before Bernard’s return. Instead, they continued the futile effort that netted them just 67 yards on the afternoon, the Pack had to punt, and you know what happened next.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

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’re on to the running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

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: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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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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2012 ACC Football Season Recap: NC State Wolfpack

After All the Preseason Hype for Mike Glennon & NC State, 2012 Was Just Another Letdown

After All the Preseason Hype for Mike Glennon & NC State, 2012 Was Just Another Letdown

Team: NC State Wolfpack

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

Postseason: 38-24 Franklin American Mortgage Music Cit Bowl loss to Vanderbilt

Top Offensive Performer: Mike Glennon, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Earl Wolff, S

This was the year that Tom O’Brien’s NC State team was supposed to break through and contend in the ACC. He had the senior quarterback, the experienced secondary — everything this team needed to finally get over the hump. And yet at the end of the season, the Wolfpack finished with their typical six or seven wins, and then O’Brien was dismissed. How did this happen?

Well, for starters, that experienced secondary came back down to earth from last year’s phenomenal performance. After picking off 27 passes in 2011, the team managed just 16 this season, with the biggest drop-off coming from cornerback David Amerson (just five in ’12 versus 13 in ’11). From a team perspective, it’s also easy to how this all came about. Back in 2011, State’s aggressive, go-for-broke style allowed just as many big play (passing attempts of 30-plus yards) tries, but more of those resulted in interceptions. This time around, with the decrease in interceptions, more of those attempts resulted in gains of 30 yards or more (25 of that variety, 16 of which went for 40 or more). Part of this was an adjustment in opponents’ play (see Amerson’s dreadful performance against Tennessee in the season opener), but the rest can be perceived as a severe drop-off in the team’s talent level. If we’re looking for reason number-one why this squad fell short of expectations, the secondary probably sits front-and-center. When you finish 86th nationally in pass-defense, it’s just tough to argue you did your job, necessarily.

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ACC Football 2012 Previews & Predictions: Week Five

Duke Johnson and the Miami Hurricanes Look to Extend Their Surprising Start with Another ACC Win

Byes aplenty this week, as the ACC has just 10 teams in action amidst what ends up being a fairly dull slate of games nationwide, somehow. In fact, the guys over at Shutdown Fullback will tell you it’s downright awful (like Ibis-on-a-jet-ski-plus-explosions awful). Still, we trek on and highlight the best of ACC action, in the hopes that it surpasses the pure boredom that will be College Gameday this week (OSU-MSU). The B1G: Where they can’t field a postseason-eligible team that could finish in the top 15.

Game of the Week

NC State Wolfpack (3-1) (0-0) at Miami Hurricanes (3-1) (2-0): Both of these teams have fared poorly in their big non-conference tests thus far. For the Wolfpack, they were run off the field by Tennessee to open the season and Miami was embarrassed by Kansas State in week two. Since those losses, however, both teams appear rejuvenated, relying on some unexpected skill players to show them the way, in freshmen Duke Johnson (Miami) and Shadrach Thornton (NC State). If the ‘Canes can generate an efficient rushing attack with Johnson and veteran back Mike James, they’ll have a shot against the Pack. But, given how porous the Miami defense is, Thornton and senior QB Mike Glennon may be all NC State needs to win their first conference game of the year. Prediction: NC State 24, Miami 21

The Rest of the Slate (in order of start time):

Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (2-1) at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-2) (1-2): Middle Tennessee State allows over four yards per carry, which is going to be a bit of a problem against Georgia Tech’s triple-option. Despite their loss to Miami last week, the Wreck still ran for 287 yards; no small number, and they’re likely to equal or surpass that figure this week. So the Blue Raiders obviously have an uphill battle ahead. The only saving grace may be their own respective ability to move the ball on the ground — but it’s also against some pitiful competition. Tech’s looking to bounce back after their disappointing result on Saturday, and will definitely do so. Prediction: Georgia Tech 45, MTSU 17

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