The Syracuse Orange football season is getting closer! (It's 49 days away, for those keeping track) And that means we're prepping for this all-important 2015 season at SU. Each week, we'll preview another team on the 2015 Orange schedule, from week one through week 13. Today, we continue with the:
NC State Wolfpack
School: North Carolina State University at Raleigh
#BRAND Slogan: "Think and Do"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "State Your Complaint." "Wuf."
Recommended Blog: Backing the Pack
Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
Coach: Dave Doeren, 3rd year. Doeren's head coaching career started with a pretty fantastic two-year stint with Northern Illinois that saw him go a combined 23-4 with a top-25 finish and an Orange Bowl berth. Year one at NC State was on the rougher side at 3-9. But last year saw a turnaround... in W-L record at least. This has nothing to do with Doeren, but a laughable non-conference slate allowed the Wolfpack to start 4-0 before losing four straight. The team would finish with eight wins and look like a squad on the rise. We'll see if that actually comes to fruition.
2014 Record: (8-5) (3-5)
Recapping Last Season:
State started out on a roll, as noted above. The offense played well in four straight wins over the dregs of college football, but then floundered against four tougher ACC defenses to net out a 4-4 after eight. Syracuse appeared to be the cure for whatever ailed an inconsistent Wolfpack squad, though, as the team wrapped up the year at 4-1. It's tough to really say which team was the "true" State following an up and down year, but with a promising finish and some gaudy QB numbers for Jacoby Brissett, the story is certainly brushed positive for all onlookers.
Brissett and his 23 passing TDs were the story of the offense, but really, it was the run game that led the way for much of the year. NC State's 26 rushing scores were tied for 46th in the country, while the run game ranked 39th, averaging over 204 yards per game. A lot of that was due to Shadrach Thornton, though Matt Dayes, Tony Creecy and Brissett also contributed their fair share -- with three of them each respectively totaling over 500 yards. Passing-wise, the team spread the ball around a ton, as six different receivers caught at least 20 passes. The varied cast of characters at wideout allowed for the team to take advantage of single coverage more than most, assisting Brissett in an admittedly QB-friendly system.
Defensively, the Wolfpack were largely average. Their 27 points per game allowed ranked 66th in the country, and they were 47th in total defense. They did show themselves a slightly-better 39th, however, in yards per play allowed (5.24). The team faced a whopping 926 opponent snaps on the season (just outside the 40-highest totals in the nation), which tells you they had more chances to fail than most, yet didn't. A bunch of that's due to a 31st-ranked pass defense that played a shutdown style, even if it lacked on the interceptions front (just 10). That group of defensive backs was young last year, but grew into their roles.
History with Syracuse: Somehow, the Pack have had Syracuse's number in this all-time series, winning seven of eight -- the lone exception being SU's last trip down to Raleigh back in 2013. You might remember some of the rougher losses: last year's 24-17 defeat that shouldn't have been (yet still was) and the Torry Holt game, in particular. Putting those aside, not a whole lot of specialness to this series which will continue year after year until the ACC fixes all of this Atlantic/Coastal business.
2015 Season Outlook:
So is NC State a "darkhorse" in the ACC? That depends on how you viewed last season. Like we said above... four wins against lesser squads, then four losses against quality teams. That 4-1 record against four teams they were either even with or better than, plus Georgia Tech is nice. The important piece will be what comes back this year, which ends up being quite a bit. Along with Brissett, you most of the rest of the backfield, some of the receivers, and the back-seven. Some questions in the trenches on both sides of the ball could leave some wary. But last year's experience should assist.
Offensively, a healthy Brissett, plus a full stable of horses in Thornton and Dayes, should allow them to pick up where they left off on the ground -- especially given some of the problems that could arise elsewhere. Last year's leading receivers, Bo Hines and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, are both gone, but there are others available to throw to. And Brissett will get the chance to find them open if the line can hold against the ACC's various, aggressive blitz schemes. Both tackle positions will be filled with newcomers and their experience is sorely lacking. Should they get the hang of things quickly, the offense won't miss a beat. If not, things could regress pretty significantly (though not against the laughable squads they start the year with).
Defensively, the front-four is half of the personnel of last year's group that pulled off 22 sacks, with even less of the sacks. At least there's some experience coming back, and what they might lack should be made up for by a well-rehearsed back-seven. This group is a loaded back-half of the 4-2-5, with youth and experience that should be among the best in the conference. And most importantly, they're not even seniors. Tons of sophomores and juniors litter those positions, all ready to build on what opportunities they had in 2014. Eight of nine defensive backs will make this a healthy rotation that's incredibly dangerous should they increase the interceptions from last year (or even if they fail to).
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 21
Location: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, N.C.
Odds of Orange Victory: 33 percent
Very Early Outlook:
I jump back and forth about how much I really believe in NC State this season, and for that, I'm sure some from the Wolfpack faithful will be a bit perturbed. But honestly, there are as many reasons to think they'll improve as there are to think they'll be static with the 2014 edition, as discussed above. Whichever road they manage to take, that'll certainly be decided by the time Syracuse rolls into town come the end of November, though. The Orange defense is what kept them in last year's contest with State, and unfortunately the large majority of that group does not return. If SU is going to get back to the postseason, winning this game is pretty key. So it may be up to the offense -- again, another question mark -- to do the work this time around and deliver what could be the sixth win of the season. Or, a loss will set up another must-win season finale (the second in three years).