As you already knew (since we're pretty far into these), we've been taking a look at all of the Syracuse Orange's opponents for this fall. The schedule is still as difficult as always. Just the same, we're choosing an optimistic outlook on each week, where possible. Today, we talk about the:
NC State Wolfpack
School: North Carolina State University-Raleigh
#BRAND Slogan: "#STATEment"
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: "Pack Street's Back ALRIGHT!" "Wolf of Y'all Street."
Recommended Blog: Backing the Pack
Coach: Dave Doeren, 4th year. When NC State moved on from Tom O'Brien. it was because they were looking to get out of a rut of six- and seven-win seasons. In the three years since Doeren took over, State's won three, eight and seven games, respectively. Doeren has appeared to elevate the level of recruiting a tick, and the athletic department has certainly gotten more aggressive marketing itself in-state as well, which helps. But you'd have to think the program's ceiling in third or fourth place in the division is not what State was envisioning when they made a coaching change.
2015 Record: (7-6) (3-5)
Recapping Last Season:
Scheduling bodybag games (hey, can't hate the strategy) to begin the year again, State got off to a hot 4-0 start before walking in the buzzsaw of the ACC schedule. The Wolfpack played their ACC slate close for the most part, though still ended up 3-5 in league play. That's not cause for concern, nor is Mississippi State's demolition of them in the Belk Bowl. But it's also tough to avoid the thought that NC State hit its ceiling under Doeren, especially when you look at the teams above them in the Atlantic.
The versatile Jacoby Brissett once again led the charge on offense, accounting for over 3,000 total yards and 26 scores. And NC State was among the top 30 or so rushing teams in the country behind him, Matt Dayes and a rotating cast of characters all capable of racking up yards in bunches. That was a plus because the passing game, while avoiding a ton of turnovers (just six picks), wasn't all that dynamic and started to make the offense slightly one-dimensional. The exception, of course, is tight end Jaylen Samuels, who's among the toughest players in the country to plan for. Samuels was the team's leading receiver and third-leading rusher last year, and a tough mark in any part of the field.
State's defense was better than you probably figured. They pressured the quarterback well with 32 sacks, and generated interceptions (13) too. Top-40 against both the pass and rush, the Pack were a balanced group that kept opponents honest. Their 25.8 points per game allowed weren't bad by any means, and were also heavily influenced by two opponents (Clemson, MSU) that hung 50-plus on them. Beyond those contests and a tougher loss to rival UNC too, this unit helped keep things close, even when the offense was faltering (which it did with some frequency in league play).
2016 Season Outlook:
As mentioned, Doeren certainly faces some questions this season, and it's not really the ideal time for it. The schedule ramps up the difficulty with Miami an Notre Dame added, and he'll break in a new offensive coordinator as well in Eli Drinkwitz. Drinkwitz was Boise State's offensive coordinator this past year, and will bring more of those spread sensibilities and quarterback knowledge with him. State will need the help in the QB department since Brissett departs, giving way to either Jalan McLendon or more likely, BSU transfer Ryan Finley -- a player much more suited to the attack Drinkwitz will bring in.
If we assume the more traditional pocket passer Finely starts, he'll do so behind a rebuilt offensive line, as NC State replaces three of five starters. He'll get security blankets like Dayes and Samuels, sure. But elsewhere, options are scarce in terms of experience and production, especially for a new offense none of these players have really participated in before. Still, Finley's knowledge of Boise's general system could yield some quality early results for Drinkwitz if there's enough overlap.
There's a lot to like on the defensive side of the ball, even if the offense takes some time to round into form. Eight starters return, and most of them are juniors, making for what could be a season full of upside across the board. The 4-2-5 is not a traditional scheme, but one that fits the personnel grouping Doeren's built in Raleigh. The team has options like Bradley Chubb ready to handle the blitz, while a veteran collection of defensive backs takes care of the rest. If the Wolfpack are going to outlast the tougher schedule, the defense and its ability to keep them in games will be why.
Syracuse Game Date: November 12
Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 50 percent
Very Early Outlook:
As is the case most years, the contest between the Orange and Wolfpack will be a pretty even one. Both teams break in new offenses. Both need to replace key pieces of their offensive lines. It really just depends on who's less banged up at this point in the season. There's a chance neither or both are playing this one for a bowl berth, and there are reasons our Orange-colored glasses tell us the home game leans Orange. Like a lot of teams on SU's schedule, it's unclear whether State has the horses to hang with this pace of offense. I think they can, even if Syracuse ultimately finds a way to win a close one.