By Chris Robinson
NC State's Campus
Coming off another season where NC State fans are left speechless when recollecting on the year, the Pack looks to add a little more to their resume' than, "Uh... at least we beat UNC."
Although a 5-7 record isn't fun to sit through at Carter Finley Stadium, there is some relief in knowing three of the team's six losses came by six points or less. However, the Pack has an even more rigorous schedule for the upcoming year, with games on the road against Georgia Tech and UNC, as well as home bouts against Virginia Tech, Florida State and Big East power Cincinnati. Head Coach Tom O'Brien returns a team that cringes at the word "injuries," and will need to stay healthy to post a winning record in 2010. Having lost key players in each of O'Brien's first three years, the Pack remains hopeful as they head to into training camp with a depth chart relatively injury free, knock on wood.
Let's break down the 2010 Wolfpack roster:
Quarterback: Say "North Carolina State" aloud and tell me the first name that comes to mind. The Wolfpack and Russell Wilson are synonymous, and as his performance fluctuates, so does the overall record for the team. Wilson returns to camp after spending the summer playing baseball for the Colorado Rockies' minor league affiliate, the Tri-City Dust Devils. Not to worry though, when Wilson is on the same page with the offense, he has the ability to be the best quarterback in the ACC -Wilson tied Riley Skinner for second in the conference in passing efficiency in 2009 (147.8) while leading the league in TD passes and TDR. Behind the redshirt junior is the highly-touted backup, Mike Glennon. The 6'6, 217 lb sophomore showed flashes of greatness last season, where he completed 24 of 39 passing through limited action. Should anything happen to Wilson, and knowing the Wolfpack something is bound to happen, Glennon provides a solid number two under center.
Running Backs: Almost as much as I loved watching C.J. Spiller leave Clemson, I hated losing Toney Baker and Jamelle "U" Euguene to spent eligibility. The running back duo accounted for over 1,000 rushing yards in 2009, and now leave young backs Curtis Underwood and James Washington to shoulder the load. Underwood redshirted last year, while Washington, who has the speed to be a breakaway threat, had his season cut short by injury. The Pack also has several other viable options challenging for playing time, including talented recruits, Mustafa Green and Anthony Creecy. Redshirt freshman Travis Leggett may also find a way into the backfield after rushing for 129 yards in the 2010 spring game. This season marks the first in what feels like forever, when the Pack doesn't have a solid starter at running back. With so many unproven options in the mix, NC State needs a leader to emerge before the season opener to help take pressure off of Wilson.
Wide Receivers: If nothing else works out for the Pack, the team boasts a receiving corps that, on paper, is as strong as any in the ACC. Wide Receiver Owen Spencer highlights the depth chart after leading the nation and setting a conference record with25.5 yard per catch a year ago. Lining up alongside Spencer is senior wide out Jarvis Williams, who pulls down a touchdown about every fifth reception. The way I see it, if the running game stalls we can just keep chucking it deep until Williams hauls in five or so catches, and in the process, a touchdown or two. The Pack will decide a third starter between redshirted senior Darrell Davis and return-man extraordinaire, T.J. Graham. Graham is an unpolished receiver with blazing speed and a knack for making defenders miss, but Davis provides a larger target for the starting QB. If Graham fills the number three role, Russell Wilson may rely on screen passes and swing routes to utilize Graham's play play-making ability.
Tight Ends: While the wide outs will undoubtedly be a focal point as teams prepare for NC State, opposing defenses face another major mismatch with the return of All-ACC Tight End George Bryan. This 6-5, 265 -pound tight end ranked second on the team in receptions during 2009, when he hauled in 40 balls and snagging six touchdowns. Behind Bryan, the options look pretty thin. Back-up sophomore Asa Watson had only a single reception during last year's campaign, and will have much to prove should the worst befall Bryan.
Offensive Line: My heart tells me to be optimistic but my brain says be realistic. Even worse, the cynic in me is begging to take sarcastic shots at our "push and shove, but not too hard," offensive line. The O-Line gave up 30 sacks with Wilson under center in 2009. 2010 will mark a fresh start for this unit, and while the Pack only return one starters in Jake Vermiglio, they have several sophomores that showed promise during spring camp. The biggest storyline of the O-Line will be the development of five-star recruit at tackle, Robert Crisp. Recruited out of Athens Drive High School, Crisp towers at 6-7 and weighs in at a whopping 299 lbs. Crisp may prove to be the anchor of a young offensive line, where this season the lineman can hopefully hold their own to give Wilson more time in the pocket.
Defensive Line: Defensive Coordinator Mike Archer faces an uphill battle to rebuild a defensive line that lost all four starters from last year. However, the depth chart isn't completely depleted. The Pack will welcome back defensive end Jeff Reiskamp, who was sidelined all of last season with an injury. Shocker, I know. Senior Audi Augustin has appeared in 36 career games and offers a solid replacement to Willie Young. The Pack also add Northeastern transfer David Akinniyi, who should see playing time as well on the defensive front. To plug in the remaining holes, the Pack will look to defensive end Michael Lemon and defensive tackles Markus Kuhn and Natanu Mageo, three players who have valuable experience. The line appears to be a grab-bag of mixed talent, but with all of the options having a respectable amount of experience under their belts, they could prove to be just the right combination for the Pack.
Linebackers: If State is to move up from dead last in scoring defense, look no further than these monsters of the midway - Or a more modest statement, the monster of the midway, Nate Irving. After missing all of last year due to injury (haven't I already typed this?), Irving is back in playing condition and twice as mean as before. He will be flanked on each side by Audie Cole, Dwayne Maddox or Terrell Manning, backers that all gained valuable playing experience in Irving's absence. Cole will most likely be the number two man after leading the team in tackles last year with 73, with Maddox trailing at 43 tackles. Together, the four linebackers can combine to be a dominant unit, capable of making opposing offenses game-plan around them.
Secondary: I've read all sorts of articles describing the secondary from last year, ranging from ESPN Insiders to the casual blogger, and two terms keep showing up: depleted and ineffective. That's not the ideal scenario a coach, or even fan, wants to see when it comes to the ACC. The conference is stacked in talented quarterbacks from Florida State's Christian Ponder to Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor. Simply put, having an "ineffective" secondary just won't cut it. The Pack looks to start four sophomores in 2010, meaning the rest of the conference will look to exploit their young defensive backfield. Therefore, State's defensive success ultimately falls on the DBs to show everyone else they're up to the task of locking down opposing receivers. I always favor the underdog, and NC State's secondary may be one of the bigger ones. If the Pack is to have a breakout season, the defensive backfield needs to rise to the challenge.
Special Teams: Once State finds the endzone four times in 2010, senior kicker Josh Czajkowski will have the opportunity to eclipse the school record of 76 consecutive PAT's. He is third among active kickers for career field goals at 26, and with increased opportunities, is an important weapon for the Pack. Redshirt freshman Chris Ward will battle last year's punter Jeff Ruiz for the punting duties. However, the big name in special teams is explosive return-man T.J. Graham. After amassing over 1,600 return yards in his collegiate career, Graham keeps fans on their toes when the opposition is foolish enough to allow him an opportunity to return a kick.
Prediction: With a loaded passing game lead by the accurate arm of Russell Wilson, NC State won't shy away from lighting up the scoreboard in 2010-2011. With an inexperienced secondary on defense, I can see most games turning to a shoot-out with State playing to have the last possession. Wilson is a veteran when it comes to leading his team in come-from-behind moments, and with a stacked receiving corps combined with an equally talented Linebacking unit on defense, the Wolfpack have the potential to create havoc in the ACC.
I see an 8-4 finish with a Music City Bowl appearance, and a fourth, consecutive victory over UNC.
|Head Coach Tom O'Brien|
Tom O'Brien heads into his fourth
season as the 33rd head football coach
at NC State in the 117-year history of
the program. Despite facing a rash of
injury to his third Wolfpack team in
2009, O'Brien led State to a pair of
wins over nationally-ranked opponents,
downing Pittsburgh, which ended the
year ranked 17th nationally, and 23rdranked
North Carolina. The win over
the Tar Heels was the third consecutive triumph for O'Brien over
State's arch-rival and gives the ‘Pack five victories over ranked foes
in the last three years. In 2008, in only his second year in Raleigh,
O'Brien led the Wolfpack to their first bowl appearance since 2004,
as State finished with four consecutive victories including a stunning
41-10 upset over its 25th-ranked arch-rival North Carolina. O'Brien
came to Raleigh after spending 10 seasons as the head coach at Boston
College, where he won more games than any coach in BC history.
His squads also boasted some of the nation's highest graduation rates
during his tenure there. A 1971 graduate of the U. S. Naval Academy,
O'Brien posted a 75-45 mark with the Eagles, engineering one of the
most remarkable turnarounds in recent college football history. His
2006 squad won nine games for the third consecutive season and the
fourth time in five years (the Eagles won their 10th game following
O'Brien's departure). It marked the sixth straight year and seventh
time in eight years that BC had won at least eight games. The Eagles
advanced to eight consecutive bowls under O'Brien's tutelage (winning
the last six). The recipient of the American Football Coaches
Association's 2004 Academic Achievement Award for posting an
100% graduation rate, O'Brien's BC program received Honorable
Mention status seven additional times during his tenure in Chestnut
Hill. Boston College was ranked No. 1 in the country by USA Today
when that publication recently re-ordered its 2005 regular season poll
and the final 2005 Top 25 by APR score (Academic Progress Rate)
to measure a combination of athletic and academic success. Before
coming to BC in 1997, O'Brien served as the offensive coordinator
at the University of Virginia for six seasons, during which time the
Cavaliers were consistently ranked among the top offensive teams in
the ACC. He came to UVa in 1982 from Navy with George Welsh. ||
|Sept. 4||Western Carolina (ESPN3.com, 6:00 p.m.)|
| Sept. 11||at UCF (CBSCS, 7:30 p.m.)|
| Sept. 16||Cincinnati (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.)|
| Sept. 25||at Georgia Tech|
| Oct. 2||Virginia Tech|
| Oct. 9||Boston College|
| Oct. 16||at East Carolina (CBSCS, Noon)|
| Oct. 28||Florida State (ESPN, 7:30 p.m.)|
| Nov. 6||at Clemson|
| Nov. 13||Wake Forest|
| Nov. 20||at North Carolina|
| Nov. 27||at Maryland|
2009 In Review
After a promising 3-1 beginning, NC State fell victim to
the injury bug and a porous defense to finish the year 5-7
overall and 2-6 in the ACC for 5th place in the Atlantic Division.
Still, there were bright moments for Tom O'Brien's
third Wolfpack team as the Wolfpack defeated two teams
Pittsburgh and North Carolina who were ranked nationally
at some time during the 2009 campaign. The win over
the Tar Heels was O'Brien's third straight against State's
arch-rival. TE George Bryan, who was on the watch list
for the John Mackey Award, earned first-team All-ACC
honors after he finished 2nd among ACC tight ends in pass
receptions with 40. DE Willie Young was named to the
All-ACC second team after finishing 3rd in the ACC in QB
sacks (8.0) and in tackles for loss (14). QB Russell Wilson,
who completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 3,027
yards and an ACC-best 31 TD passes, was named Honorable
Mention All-ACC. Wilson finished 15th nationally in
pass efficiency with a 147.77 rating while also accounting
for 35 TDR which tied for the second-best single-season
mark in ACC history. TB Toney Baker overcame knee
injuries to finish 6th in the ACC in rushing and was named
the recipient of the 2009 Brian Piccolo Award for Courage.
WR Owen Spencer broke his own ACC singleseason
mark for yards per catch, averaging a nation's-best
25.5 yards. WR Jarvis Williams led the ACC in TD pass
receptions with 11.
State loses 11 starters overall, tying Virginia Tech for the
most of any team in the ACC. In all, the Wolfpack lose
four starters on offense, 7 on defense. Gone from the offense
will be three of the five members of State's offensive
line in T Jerraill McCuller, G Julian Williams and C
Ted Larsen. Also departing is TB Baker and his primary
backup in Jamelle Eugene. Defensively, the Wolfpack
will have to find replacements for seven starters including
the entire defensive line in DE's Willie Young and Shea
McKeen and DTs Alan Michael Cash and Leroy Burgess...
In all 5 of the top 7 tacklers will be missed including
S Clem Johnson, LB Ray Michel, reserve S Bobby Floyd
and starting CB DeAndre Morgan.
The outlook for the Wolfpack, though, is brighter, despite
the losses. O'Brien welcomes back 14 returning starters
including 7 on offense and 5 on defense and P Jeff Ruiz
and PK Josh Czajkowski. Czajkowski should be a contender
for national honors this year after converting 83.9
percent of his career field goal attempts. Wilson, a twosport
standout, has the ability to hurt defenses with his
passing and running and has a career pass efficiency rating
of 141.94. Wilson missed spring practice with baseball,
but in his absence, sophomore QB Mike Glennon, who
completed 61.5 percent of his passes for 248 yards and a
TD in limited action last fall, impressed. Both QB's will
have a bevy of fast targets in WRs Owen Spencer, Jarvis
Williams, Darrell Davis, T.J. Graham and All-ACC
TE George Bryan who combined for 152 catches and 25
TDs. Replacements will have to be found for TB's Baker
and Eugene with Curtis Underwood and James Washington
the primary candidates. The offensive line also needs
retooling, but State has a couple of lynchpins in place in
T's Jake Vermiglio and Mikel Overgaard. Defensively,
the Wolfpack should be strong at linebacker, where 2009
starter Audie Cole and backup Terrell Manning will be
joined by 2008 starter LB Nate Irving. Cole was NC
State's leading tackler (73) last fall, while Irving had 80
tackles and 4 interceptions two years ago, but missed all
of 2009 recuperating from an off-season auto accident.
Upfront is different story as State will have to replace all
four starters. Michael Lemon, Jeff Rieskamp and transfer
David Akinniyi emerged from spring as the contenders
at DE, while Brian Slay, Natanu Mageo and Markus
Kuhn, who redshirted last year, are the leaders at tackle.
The secondary should be in much better shape with 2 starters
returning in CB C.J. Wilson and FS Brandan Bishop,
who will be joined by four other young DBs who saw starting
experience in 2009 in S Justin Byers, S Earl Wolff,
CB Rashard Smith and CB Jarvis Byrd.
Numbers and Notes
.889 - The percentage of field goals senior PK Josh
Czajkowski has made in his last 23 games as NC
State's placekicker. After a miss against Clemson in
2008, Czajkowksi has made 24 of 27 FG attempts, with
two of the misses coming on an extremely wet field and
in a rainstorm against Pittsburgh. He has also has made
73 straight PAT attempts, the second-longest current
streak in the ACC.
1 - Senior LB Nate Irving, who missed all of last season
due to injuries suffered in a preseason auto accident,
has been named to the preseason watch list for
the prestigious Lombardi Award this year.
2.44 - Through the first two seasons of his career, NC
State junior QB Russell Wilson has averaged 2.44
TDR per game. Former Wolfpack great Philip Rivers
holds the ACC record for most career TDR (112), but
his average per game (2.29) is less than Wilson's. Wilson
also has a higher average of TD passes per game
(2.09) compared to Rivers (1.94).
5 - NC State junior QB Russell Wilson finished 5th
nationally in 2009 in points responsible for, a category
which takes into account TDR. Wilson threw for 31
scores (186 points) and ran for 4 more (24 points) for a
total of 210 PRF, an average of 17.50 per game.
9 - NC State will face nine opponents in 2010 who
went to bowl games last year. The Wolfpack will play
three non-conference foes UCF (St. Petersburg), East
Carolina (Autozone Liberty) and Cincinnati (Allstate
Sugar) and will also meet six ACC teams in Georgia
Tech (FedEx Orange), Virginia Tech (Chick-fi l-A),
Florida State (Konica Minolta Gator), Clemson (Gaylord
Hotels Music City), Boston College (Emerald) and
North Carolina (Meineke Car Care) who participated
in post-season play
20 - WR-KR T. J. Graham already ranks 20th on the
ACC's career kickoff return yardage list despite missing
five games to injury in 2009. Graham has averaged
25.0 yards on 64 career returns for 1,602 yards, returning
two for touchdowns.
25.5 - The per-catch average for NC State senior WR
Owen Spencer. Spencer led the nation in per-catch
average for receivers who qualified for the national
standings making 30 catches for 765 yards and 6 TDs.
His effort also broke his own single-season ACC mark
established just last year.