No. 28 North Carolina State
Coming off their third-straight season with seven or more wins, North Carolina State is looking to take the next step toward ACC Atlantic contention.
They have the seventh-most experienced roster, according to Phil Steele, and return veterans at every position, including quarterback with senior Ryan Finley.
2016 Record: 7-6 (3-5, ACC)
The Wolfpack went 7-6 overall and 3-5 in the ACC for the second-straight season — their third-straight season of 3-5 in the conference.
The early-season loss to East Carolina was concerning and they labored through a four-game midseason losing streak that featured an absolute dismantling at Louisville (54-13) and close misses against Clemson (24-17, overtime) and Florida State (24-20).
Head Coach: Dave Doeren (5th year, 25-26 overall)
After literally decades of seven-, eight- and nine-win seasons — along with a handful of three- or five-win disappointments — Dave Doeren was hired to get NC State to the next level. Though he has delivered stability, the 45-year-old former Northern Illinois head coach has yet to deliver the big one.
As Doeren enters his fifth season, expectations are the highest they've ever been during his tenure.
“You want expectations and you have to earn them,” Doeren said. “That’s the one thing I told our guys. Be proud of people talking nicely about you, but also understand that changes quickly when you don’t live up to those things. And so the bottom line for me and our program is we don’t look at where you want us to end up. We all want to be champions in college football. There isn’t a coach that won’t tell you that. Our focus is on the daily grind.”
Key Returning Offensive Players
QB Ryan Finley, RB Nyheim Hines, WR Jaylen Samuels, WR Stephen Louis, OT Will Richardson, OT Tyler Jones, G Tony Adams, C Garrett Bradbury
After taking a step back in most offensive categories last year, North Carolina State is looking for a more dynamic, explosive and consistent attack in 2017. Second-year coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz has spent the offseason trying to get as many playmakers on the field at the same time.
"We’re about to find out,” a beaming Doeren said about their recharged offense. “I’m excited for that. I think that’s one thing that coach Drinkwitz and his staff, that’ll be what fall camp is — how do you use the pieces the right way?”
Ryan Finley is back at quarterback after throwing for 3,059 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2016. The Boise State transfer relied on a heavy dose of bubble screens and back-shoulder connections to power the passing attack.
Positionless pass-catcher Jaylen Samuels — who's been a fullback, tight end and slot receiver in his three seasons — is Finley's top target. Backing the Pack did an interesting breakdown of Samuel's "Swiss Army Knife" role in their offense.
With running back Matthew Dayes gone, the Wolfpack turn to a pile of inexperienced players, including one who's barely played the position, junior Nyheim Hines. A converted receiver, the 5-foot-9, 197-pounder had 43 catches last year and just 13 carries (for 44 yards).
The offensive line returns four starters, including three-year starter and 2016 all-conference guard Tony Adams, whom Doeren said "never gets the recognition" he deserves.
Key Returning Defensive Players
DE Bradley Chubb, DE Darian Roseboro, LB Jerod Fernandez, LB Airius Moore, CB Mike Stevens, S Shawn Boone
North Carolina State's defense jumped form 43rd in the nation in 2015 to 27th in 2016. It helps when you have one of the most disruptive players in college football. Bradley Chubb was unblockable, registering 21 tackles for loss and 10 sacks.
“We want to be that team that you don’t want to play because you know we’re going to hit you hard in the mouth,” Chubb said at ACC Kickoff. “We just want to be that team that you don’t want to play because you know we’re going to play as hard as we possibly can, and you’re going to get the best from us every week.”
Longtime starters Jerod Fernandez and Airius Moore are back at linebacker after combining for 175 tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss. They're much-improved coverage guys and led a unit that ranked eighth nationally in rush defense (108 yards per game).
The second is their most thin and inexperienced group after three starters left. Shawn Boone isn't the biggest safety in the nation (5-foot-10, 201 pounds) but he usually plays like a 6-foot-2, 220-pounder.
Notable Player Losses
RB Matthew Dayes, CB Jack Tocho, S Josh Jones
North Carolina State didn't lose an army but three huge pieces are gone. Matthew Dayes, Jack Tocho and Josh were all selected in the 2017 NFL Draft.
Jones, a second-round pick of the Green Bay Packers, led the team in tackles and interceptions and was one of the most versatile defensive backs in the ACC. Dayes, meanwhile averaged better than five yards per carry during his four-year career and left Raleigh with 3,793 total yards and 40 touchdowns.
Notable Player Additions
WR C.J. Riley, DT Shug Frazier,
With the return of 16 starters and more than a dozen other key players, there aren't many opportunities for new faces and Doeren isn't one to infuse the roster with immediate-impact JUCO players.
Keep an eye on receiver C.J. Riley and defensive tackle Shug Frazier, both redshirt freshmen who could earn snaps in fall camp. Frazier was a top-400 recruit and the nation's 39th-ranked tackle in 2016.
North Carolina State opens the season in Charlotte against South Carolina, their first meeting with the Gamecocks since 2009.
They open ACC play three weeks later at Florida Sate and have their home opener a week later against Syracuse. Other notable games include Louisville (home) on Oct. 5, Notre Dame (away) on Oct. 28 and a rematch with Clemson (home) on Nov. 4.
The Clemson game is their lone home game in a five-game stretch between Oct. 14 and Nov. 18.
|Saturday, Sept. 2||vs. South Carolina|
|Saturday, Sept. 9||vs. Marshall|
|Saturday, Sept. 16||vs. Furman|
|Saturday, Sept. 23||at Florida State|
|Saturday, Sept. 30||vs. Syracuse|
|Thursday, Oct. 5||vs. Louisville|
|Saturday, Oct. 14||at Pittsburgh|
|Saturday, Oct. 28||at Notre Dame|
|Saturday, Nov. 4||vs. Clemson|
|Saturday, Nov. 11||at Boston College|
|Saturday, Nov. 18||at Wake Forest|
|Saturday, Nov. 25||vs. North Carolina|