Countdown to Kickoff: NC State Wolfpack
O'Brien's Pack Looks to Keep Upping Expectations
Coach Tom O'Brien's Wolfpack may have finally turned the corner in Raleigh. O'Brien's NC State team has won 17 games over the last two seasons and boasts wins in back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1977-78. The Wolfpack won six of its last eight games to close the 2011 season, including victories over Virginia, North Carolina (O'Brien's fifth straight against his arch-rival) and seventh-ranked Clemson. The 2012 season will feature increased expectations. The Pack returns 14 starters and received five votes to win the Atlantic Division in the league's preseason media poll.
NCSU will be looking to increase production on the offensive side of the ball after the 2011 group finished 11th in the ACC in total offense (344.8 yards per game). Senior Mike Glennon, who was named to the pre-season watch lists for the Davey O'Brien, Archie Manning and Johnny Unitas Awards, leads the offense (62.5% completion rate, 234.9 yards per game, 31 TDs in 2011), and will be throwing to a group of receivers that will be without the combined 119 grabs of departed seniors T.J. Graham, Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan. Tobias Palmer (37 catches in 2011) will lead the way, with contributions also expected from wideouts Quintin Payton and Brian Underwood, and tight ends Mario Carter and Ara Watson. The running game struggled at times (3.04 yards per rush), but James Washington has the look of a star. The senior totaled 1,212 yards rushing and receiving, a combined yardage total that ranked sixth in the ACC, and he is joined by a pair of talented runners in sophomore Mustafa Greene, who missed all of last year with an injury but ran for 597 yards as a freshman in 2010, and sophomore Tony Creecy, who is coming off a strong performance in spring practice. The offensive line returns three of five starters, led by center Camden Wentz and guard Zach Allen and tackle Rob Mattes, and figures to be more airtight after surrendering 32 sacks in 2011.
NC State's defense was aggressive and opportunistic in 2011, finishing second nationally in forced turnovers with 39. That included an NCAA-best 27 interceptions, fueled by the ball-hawking of corner David Amerson, whose 13 picks led the nation and were the most in the NCAA's FBS since 1968. The Wolfpack also tied for ninth nationally in sacks (40). All four members of the starting secondary return, as well as a defensive line of Thomas Teal, Carlos Gray, Art Norman and Darryl Cato-Bishop that combined for 12.5 sacks. Experience at linebacker is an issue, as the Wolfpack will have to replace all three 2011 starters. Veteran Sterling Lucas returns to the middle after missing all of 2011, and will be flanked by young talent in Ricky Dowdy and Rodman Noel. Kicker Niklas Slade and punter Wil Baumann both look to add consistency in their sophomore campaigns after showing flashes of potential as rookies.
With Glennon and Washington operating behind an effective offensive line and State's defense again performing aggressively and effectively, look for NC State to be a force in the Atlantic Division in 2012. The Wolfpack will have to be ready from the beginning, as State faces SEC foe Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Friday, August 31 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome. The improving Volunteers will be the first of several major tests for O'Brien's Wolfpack as it seeks to contend for the Atlantic title and a third straight postseason appearance. - Charlie Sallwasser
2011 In Review
Consistency was a trademark of Coach Tom O'Brien's teams in a 10-year stay at Boston College, which averaged 8.5 wins per year in his last eight years in Chestnut Hill... And consistency is something which had been missing in O'Brien's first three seasons in Raleigh due to a variety of reasons, most of them injury-related...But in 2011, O'Brien's Wolfpack team began to demonstrate consistency, winning six of its final eight games--including a fifth-straight win over arch-rival North Carolina--on the way to an 8-5 campaign, 4-4 in the ACC and a 31-24 triumph over Louisville in the Belk Bowl...That, combined with a 9-4 mark in 2010 gives O'Brien's Wolfpack a familiar average of 8.5 wins in each of the past two seasons...That State was able to accomplish this despite the loss of former QB Russell Wilson and injuries to more than a few key players marked the maturation of O'Brien's program... Wilson's replacement, QB Mike Glennon, saw to it that the Wolfpack hardly skipped a beat, completing 62.5 percent of his passes for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns....The Pack improved most, though, on defense, where a veteran secondary led by All-America CB David Amerson, and big-play linebackers Terrell Manning and Audie Cole helped State rank 6th nationally in turnover margin, after placing just 101st the year before...Behind Amerson's FBS-leading 13 interceptions, State led the nation in picks, making a total of 27...Amerson was named winner of the Jack Tatum Award as the nation's top defensive back and earned 1st-team All-America honors...DE Art Norman, who had 5.5 QB Sacks, was named an Honorable Mention Freshman All-America.
State loses eight starters overall, including four each on offense and defense... Offensively, the receiver corps took the biggest losses with starting WR's T.J. Graham (46 catches, 16.6 avg., 7 TDs) and Jay Smith (40 catches, 9.8 avg., 4 TDs and TE George Bryan (33 catches) departing...Also missing will be T Mikel Overgaard...On defense, the linebacker corps took a big hit with the departure of 2nd-team All-ACC LB Terrell Manning, who led the ACC with 14.5 TFLs, Honorable Mention All-ACC LB Audie Cole (State's leading tackler with 108 hits), and LB Dwayne Maddox (46 tackles, 6.5 TFLs)...Also gone is DT Markus Kuhn.
Numbers & Notes
3 - Wolfpack junior CB C.J. Wilson has had only three interceptions in his career but the Lincolnton, N.C. native has made the most of them, returning all three for touchdowns and 130 yards in returns.
80% - The winning percentage for Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien in bowl games, the best of any coach in the FBS with at least 10 bowl games. O'Brien has coached in 10 bowls, winning eight.
.583 - The winning percentage of NC State head coach Tom O'Brien against nationally ranked teams in his four seasons at NC State. O'Brien has posted a 7-5 mark against teams which were ranked in the Top 25 of either the AP or USA Today weekly polls. Since the 2003 season, O'Brien's teams at NC State and Boston College have faced 23 nationally ranked opponents and have beaten 14 (.609) of them.
152.49 - The pass efficiency rating of QB Mike Glennon against the two nationally ranked opponents he faced last year. Against 21st-ranked Georgia Tech and 7th-ranked Clemson, Glennon completed 39 of 58 passes (.672) for 416 yards, 5 TDs and only one interception.
309 - The average weight, per man, of NC State's projected 2012 starting offensive line, with junior Rob Crisp (6-7, 312) leading for a starting berth. Joining Crisp at T are Andrew Wallace (6-5, 304), C Camden Wentz (6-3, 301), as well as G's Zach Allen (6-3, 328) and R.J. Mattes (6-6, 313).
1,212 - The combined yardage for RB James Washington (rushing and receiving) in 2011. Washington ran for 897 yards and had 315 yards in pass receptions. Washington's total was 6th best in the ACC.
NC State 2012 Football Schedule
Aug. 31 vs. Tennessee
Sept. 8 at Connecticut
Sept. 15 vs. South Alabama
Sept. 22 vs. The Citadel
Sept. 29 at Miami
Oct. 6 vs. Florida State
Oct. 20 at Maryland
Oct. 27 at North Carolina
Nov. 3 vs. Virginia
Nov. 10 vs. Wake Forest
Nov. 17 at Clemson
Nov. 24 vs. Boston College