Whether college football happens or not in 2020 remains a question for everyone involved. But in the meantime, we’re going to act like it is, and continue previewing the Syracuse Orange’s schedule as it’s currently written.
Last week, we took a look at Wake Forest, which goes in a new direction at quarterback but otherwise brings back quite a lot. This time around, we’re staying in the state of North Carolina to learn more about our “friends” the N.C. State Wolfpack. In our previous game against the Pack, both teams participated in an affront to football as we know it in a 16-10 loss for ‘Cuse. I’m sorry for bringing it up.
If you think it’s a bit presumptuous to be talking about upcoming opponents right now, fine. But whether SU is coming off a five-win season or a 10-win season, I’m personally excited to see what 2020 turns into. Next:
N.C. State Wolfpack
School: North Carolina State
#BRAND Slogan(s): #1Pack1Goal
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “NC State: Where Next Year’s Always ‘Our Year’” OR “Philip Rivers Has More Kids Than We Have 10-Win Seasons”
Recommended Blog: Backing the Pack
Coach: Dave Doeren, eighth season.
If you thought Dave Clawson had been at Wake for quite awhile, well — Dave Doeren’s been at NC State for a year longer, somehow.
The former Drake tight end coached at his former high school (in Shawnee, Kan.) in 1994, then was back at Drake through 1997 before taking on a grad assistant role at USC. He headed to Montana in 2000, then Kansas in 2002. Doeren was co-defensive coordinator with the Jayhawks by 2005, then took on the same role at Wisconsin from 2006-10. Northern Illinois brought him in as head coach, and he parlayed a 23-4 record over two years into taking over the Wolfpack gig.
Since arriving in Raleigh, he’s made five bowl games, won two of them and finished in the top 25 once (23rd in 2017). Despite a decent amount of talent coming through the door in recent years — over 20 players drafted since he took over — State’s still just 47-42 during his tenure.
2019 Record: (4-8) (1-7)
Recapping Last Season:
Following two wins to start the season, things got rather rocky for State. They were 4-2 after the aforementioned win over Syracuse, then lost six straight and only came within a score just once (a 28-26 loss to Georgia Tech). SU was the only power conference team they beat all season (/unintelligible grumbling noises) .
NC State’s offense was in pretty rough shape all season, averaging just over 380 yards per game (88th), along with 22.1 points per game (107th). Matthew McKay started the season at QB, but was replaced by Bailey Hockman by late September. They wound up with Devin Leary for most of the final six games, and he was probably the least effective of the passing options winding up 1,219 yards and completed just 48.1% of his throws. Zonovan Knight (745 yards, five touchdowns) was actually pretty solid at running back but didn’t get enough attempts to pile up bigger numbers though did average 5.48 yards on 136 carries. Wide receiver Emeka Emezie caught 56 balls for 576 yards, yet wasn’t a big play option the same way Devin Carter and Cary Angeline both were (each averaged more than 14 yards per catch).
The defense was a little more respectable. State was 72nd in terms of yards allowed per game, though opponents did score 30.1 points per game against them — and five teams scored 40 or more vs. the Pack. They were actually one of the better pass-rushing teams in the country, recording 35 sacks on the year. though they couldn’t turn teams over. State had just eight takeaways on the year, which was tied with Kansas for the worst figure in the FBS.
2020 Season Outlook:
It’s another tougher slate for the Wolfpack, with road games at Louisville, UNC and Clemson (on top of trips to Syracuse and Troy). They also face Mississippi State in non-conference play (likely more difficult than West Virginia was last year), but do get Duke as a crossover. Four of their first six games are at home, and that could go a long way toward deciding whether or not they go bowling in 2020 (assuming there are bowls, of course).
Offensively, a lot is going to come down to the quarterback position once again. Both Leary and Hockman return (McKay has transferred to Montana State), and various freshmen like Ben Finley and Ty Evans figure to challenge them. Knight returns at running back, and you can bet the attack will lean a bit more heavily on him this fall. That’s easier too when they bring back nearly everyone on a line that was good enough to give up just 18 sacks last year. They also bring back nearly every top passing target save Tabari Hines (37 catches last year), which should set up whoever is under center with an experienced group to throw to.
The team’s top four tacklers are all back, but they do lose players in the secondary — plus sack leader Larrell Murchison. Despite last year’s team being so young, they were relatively effective and the pieces are in place for improvement provided they’re able to flip the field more often than what we saw in 2019. While NC State DBs weren’t collecting many interceptions last year, though, they did manage to deflect passes with some frequency. So if players like Malik Dunlap and Tyler Baker-Williams are able to convert those tipped balls into picks, suddenly this looks like a whole different defense.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 14
Carrier Dome The Stadium, Syracuse, N.Y.
Odds of Orange Victory: 55 percent
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
Last year’s failings create some doubt about the current NC State roster, but there are a lot of capable players back with another year of experience under their collective belts. If the Wolfpack can figure out the quarterback position early, a lot of other elements likely fall into place. Syracuse has to hope that their own offense is firing on all cylinders by this point, and defensive hiccups have been worked out. As always, this game will be close. I’m willing to give ‘Cuse a slight edge given their more proven offensive capabilities, though.