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Syracuse football 2018 opponent preview: NC State Wolfpack

The Orange will try to break a four-game losing streak to the Pack.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Syracuse Orange football season won’t kick off until August 31. But let’s not pretend that would stop me from discussing the team at all. That’s why we’re in the midst of previewing all of SU’s 2018 opponents.

The Orange face yet another challenging schedule this year (and odds say we’re looking at 4.5 wins). So it’s not going to be easy, even with an improved and/or healthier team. Still, we’re looking at the positives wherever possible. Today’s foe:

N.C. State Wolfpack

School: North Carolina State University

Mascot: Wolfpack

#BRAND Slogan: #1Pack1Goal

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “We Make Our STATEments on Snapchat” OR “North Carolina’s Least-Recent ACC Football Champ.”

Recommended Blog: Backing the Pack

Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference

NCAA Football: Sun Bowl-Arizona State vs North Carolina State Ivan Pierre Aguirre-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Dave Doeren, 6th season. Doeren played tight end for Drake (the school) in the early 90s, then was back two years later on the defensive staff. He made it to USC as a grad assistant, but left for Montana before Pete Carroll got the Trojans rolling. His first FBS staff job was with Kansas in 2002, where he worked his way up to co-defensive coordinator by 2005. Doeren took the same role with Wisconsin in 2006 and stayed through 2010 when he became the head coach at Northern Illinois. Two MAC titles later, he took the NC State gig. A slow start in year one (3-9) led to eight wins in year two. After a couple years of .500ish ball, the team broke through with a 9-4 record last year and a top-25 finish.

2017 Record: (9-4) (6-2)

Recapping Last Season:

There was a lot of optimism about State last year with a veteran front-seven and an experienced quarterback in Ryan Finley. Though they dropped game one to South Carolina, the Pack reeled off six straight wins thereafter, while displaying a high-powered offense. NC State appeared to lose some steam by dropping three of the next four, but they closed strong by beating rival UNC and then Arizona State in the Sun Bowl.

As mentioned, the team was very good on offense with Eli Drinkwitz coaching up the unit. Junior quarterback Ryan Finley threw for over 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns while leading one of the top 25 offenses in the country (by yards per game). He was assisted by some big-play receivers as well, with three Wolfpack players catching between 63 and 76 passes (led by do-it-all back Jaylen Samuels). State also ran the ball reasonably well, averaging 4.62 yards per carry with three different players accounting for at least 400 yards on the ground. Nyheim Hines led the way there, though, averaging 5.64 per touch for 1,112 yards and 12 scores.

Defensively, NC State terrorized teams up front. The Pack had 84 tackles for loss and 30 sacks (both 42nd in FBS), while Bradley Chubb was among the best individual defenders in the country. Chubb was one of four NCSU defensive linemen to get drafted this spring, along with B.J. Hill, Justin Jones and Kentavious Street. Each of those players managed at least 5.5 tackles for loss in 2017 (with Chubb collecting an insane 25).

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

2018 Season Outlook:

How you feel about State is dictated by whether or not you think they can just reload after losing those four linemen, Hines, Samuels and offensive tackle Will Richardson to the draft. Finley remains, but there’s a significant amount of turnover and a lot of youth that will have to step into those spots and replace big production — looking at Chubb, Hines and Samuels most of all.

The Wolfpack get a little bit of a break with Virginia as its rotating Coastal crossover, but also face Big 12 title contender West Virginia in non-conference play. Road games at Clemson and Louisville will make things at least a little bit tougher, as will conference home dates against Florida State and Wake Forest.

With just three starters back on defense, success will likely need to be defined by Finley, who’s looking to complete one of the more successful passing careers in school history. He’ll have experienced options to throw to in Stephen Louis, Jakobi Myers and Kelvin Harmon (combined 169 catches for 2,327 yards) and a capable running back to rely on in Reggie Gallaspy (506 yards and seven touchdowns last year). He’ll need them to be open early and often to make up for the two missing starters on the right side of the line and the bevy of replacements on the other side of the ball.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 27

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 40 percent

Very Early Outlook:

Those odds may seem high given the recent trajectories of these programs. However, Syracuse did play the Pack close in Raleigh last year (a 33-25 loss) and the main reasons for that defeat — Chubb & Co. — are no longer there. The Orange have also played State relatively close at the Dome, healthy or not. Depending on the progress of both defenses, this one could be a fireworks show on par with last year’s Wake Forest game. Let’s just hope SU is on the winning end of this one. It’s arguably the best chance the Orange have to grab a win over the final five games.