North Carolina State finished the 2012 season with a 7-6 record overall and 4–4 in ACC play. The Wolfpack lost to Vanderbilt 38-24 in the Music City Bowl. North Carolina State and new head coach Dave Doeren began spring practice last week, March 19, and will hold their Spring Game on April 20. David Sanders of Backing The Pack provided us with some great information for our North Carolina State 2013 spring preview.
With fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon and Jack Tatum award winner David Amerson respectively leading the offense and defense, N. C. State was a fashionable dark horse candidate to sneak past Florida State and Clemson to win the ACC Atlantic Division in 2012, and the Wolfpack controlled their own destiny after beating the Seminoles in Raleigh in early October.
Win out and they would play for the program’s first ACC championship since 1979 and possibly a first BCS bowl as well.
Instead, the Pack limped home at 3-3, including losing to rival North Carolina for the first time in six years, losing an embarrassing 33-6 blowout on homecoming to a Virginia team that was on a six-game losing streak, and having 62 hung on them by Tahj Boyd and the Clemson Tigers.
Failing to live up to expectations cost Tom O’Brien his job even though he took the program to three straight (middling) bowls.
Losing their coach, as well as a lopsided bowl to Vanderbilt, was definitely not how Wolfpack fans envisioned this season ending. This was supposed to be the year.
Ultimately, it had to be the year O’Brien was let go. If nine wins and a Champs Sports Bowl victory over a Big East squad is the best you can do with five years of Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon as your signal callers, the game has indeed passed you by.
From a personnel standpoint, N. C. State’s main strengths are the return of go-to receiver Quintin Payton (51 catches for 796 yards and two touchdowns in 2012) and running back Shadrach Thornton (694 yards rushing, 4.5 yards per carry, and three touchdowns; 30 catches for 274 yards and a touchdown receiving), who emerged down the stretch of his true freshman season to give the pass-heavy Pack some semblance of a running game.
Defensively, the Pack have rangy 6-foot-3 playmaker Dontae Johnson (70 tackles), who is equally adept at cornerback and safety, as well as Justin Burris (three interceptions), who looked very good as the team’s third corner last season.
The defensive line returns mainly intact, led by end Darryl Cato-Bishop, who recorded 6.5 sacks last season. T. Y. McGill (10.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks) can be disruptive from the interior line.
But the main strength is probably less about returning personnel and more about the new energy that should be infused into the program by a young and ambitious coaching staff. Hopefully having an emotional leader on the sidelines will breathe life into what too often seemed like a listless squad under the stoic TOB.
The main focus this spring will be finding Glennon’s replacement. Colorado State transfer Pete Thomas will battle Manny Stocker for the starting nod. Thomas put up decent numbers for the Rams and was highly touted out of high school, but the new staff may prefer Stocker’s mobility in their spread offense. Whoever wins the job this year will have to ward off a challenge from Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett when he becomes eligible in 2014.
The new signal caller will play behind at least three new starters on the offensive line, as the center and both guards from 2012 have exhausted their eligibility. This could be addition by subtraction, as last year’s unit was among the worst at the FBS level at allowing sacks and, along with the coaching staff, seemed to view run blocking as an afterthought.
Despite the personnel losses on offense, the biggest concerns are actually on the other side of the ball. The Pack will not return five of their top six tacklers and have gaping holes at the linebacker and safety positions.
Safety Earl Wolff, who led the team with 119 stops and will likely enjoy a long career in the NFL, cleaned up a lot of messes over the years, provided a ton of leadership, and will be sorely missed.
State has several smallish outside linebacker types like D. J. Green, Rodman Noel and Brandon Pittman, but it has no obvious candidate to captain the defense at middle linebacker.
Most of Wolfpack Nation has tremendous respect for TOB. He ran a clean program and beat the hated Heels five times in six years, but his recruiting classes struggled to outpace Duke and Wake Forest, much less compare to Clemson and Florida State, so he was never able to get to the consistent 8-9 win and a bowl standard he set at Boston College.
Having exceptional quarterbacks during his tenure covered up a lot of depth and talent issues, and, because he could not recruit at a championship level, his teams ultimately never competed at that level. It was time for him to move on.
Only time will tell if Dave Doeren and staff will take N. C. State from mediocrity to contender, but the early returns are good. He managed to address numerous gaps in the incoming class despite a short recruiting window while convincing most of the commits pledged to the previous staff to stay in the fold.
Given the Pack’s excellent facilities and Doeren’s remarkable success as a head coach at Northern Illinois, it is not difficult to imagine him stuffing the coffers with enough talent to make the Pack players not only on the ACC level, but nationally as well.
But it’s going to take time. Doeren inherited a roster filled with holes and role players. In the foreseeable future, N. C. State will be fighting for .500 in league play and a bowl bid.
A favorable 2013 schedule that features eight home games and non-conference matchups against some of the worst defenses in college football (Louisiana Tech, Central Michigan, East Carolina) should help the Pack post a respectable overall record while Doeren brings in the talent needed to take the next step.
For more North Carolina State football analysis and commentary you can follow David on Twitter @Omega__Wolf.