In the 100 days leading up to the kickoff of the college football season on Saturday, Aug. 25, HERO Sports is ranking the top 100 teams in the FBS. Each day, starting May 17 and ending Aug. 24, a new team is revealed in the HERO Sports Top 100.
Despite the return of known commodities like Ryan Finley, Kelvin Harmon, Garrett Bradbury and Darian Roseboro, among others, it's hard to get a read on North Carolina State this season. And it's not because they lost Bradley Chubb and more than a dozen other key players. It's because, for example, the pass defense was miserable for most of 2017 even though the front four boasted four future NFL players. It's because guys like Nick McCloud and Jarius Morehead have a ton of talent but the secondary can't figure things out. It's because a good offense was worse than UTEP in the red zone.
NC State is good enough to post back-to-back nine-win seasons for the first time in 26 years. They could also barely reach bowl eligibility thanks to a tricky schedule and several small holes in the two-deep.
North Carolina State reached nine wins for the first time since 2010 and the 11th time in program history by, in part, winning six ACC games for the first time since 1994 and beating Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, their third bowl win in the last four years.
But, they blew chances to hit 10 wins for just the second time ever. They couldn't score late vs. South Carolina, had two fourth-quarter turnovers vs. Wake Forest and were doomed by a bad third quarter vs. Clemson.
Head Coach: Dave Doeren (6th Year, 34-30)
Dave Doeren was "fired up" about the Tennessee job and was in negotiations with the Vols before then-Tennessee athletics director John Currie stop responding to Doeren's agent and moved onto Mike Leach.
From all accounts, Doeren loves NC State and NC State loves him — evident by a new five-year extension signed during the Tennessee flirtation — but still, he wanted a different job.
RB Nyheim Hines, RB Jaylen Samuels, OT Will Richardson, G Tony Adams, DE Bradley Chubb, DE Kentavius Street, DT B.J. Hill, DT Justin Jones, LB Jerod Fernandez, CB Jonathan Alston, S Shawn Boone
NC State extended their draft streak to 22 years — in a big way. They had seven selections, the most in program history and the second-most of any program this year.
Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill, Nyheim Hines and others are the headliners, but the Wolfpack was gutted elsewhere, too, losing key players like leading tackler Jerod Fernandez, All-ACC guard Tony Adams and defensive backs Jonathan Alston and Shawn Boone.
Returning Offensive Players
QB Ryan Finley, RB Reggie Gallaspy, WR Stephen Louis, Jakobi Meyers, WR Kelvin Harmon, OT Tyler Jones, G Terronne Prescod, C Garrett Bradbury, P A.J. Cole
NC State won big when Ryan Finley opted for a sixth year of eligibility after a strong junior season in which he led a balanced offense with more than 3,500 passing yards while posting the longest streak of pass attempts without an interception of any FBS quarterback in 2017 (336).
But as balanced as they were, they were mediocre in several areas and were miserable in the red zone. The return of Finley, three starters on the offensive line and most of their skill players should change that.
Jack-of-all-trades running back/fullback/tight end/everything Jaylen Samuels is gone but two downfield threats return in Kelvin Harmon (below) and Stephen Louis, both of whom averaged more than 14 yards per reception last year.
“He’s just got a real knack for going up and getting [the ball]," Finley said of the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Harmon last year. “He’s really powerful, a really a good route runner. He’s a really hard worker and he’s very reliable. He’s just a really trustworthy, solid guy who can go up and make plays, as we saw last year, so it’s exciting to get him out there.”
The primary ball-carrier is Reggie Gallaspy, a senior who's battled injuries and sat behind Matthew Dayes and Nyheim Hines the last three years. The 5-foot-11, 235-pound former four-star recruit is a strong, powerful runner who could sniff 1,000 yards behind an offensive line that lost two all-conference players but returns three senior starters, including center Garrett Bradbury, the best No. 65 in college football.
Returning Defensive Players
DE Darian Roseboro, DT Eurndraus Bryant, DT Shug Frazier, LB Germaine Pratt, CB Nick McCloud, S Jarius Morehead
NC State has the offense to contend for an ACC title. The defense, however, is more questionable than a hunk of ground beef you forgot to refrigerate last week.
As talented as their defensive line was last year, the pass rush was subpar (sack rate of 5.7 percent was 74th in the FBS) and when Chubb and Co. didn't get to the quarterback, it was ugly, especially in the first half (14.3 points allowed per first half, up 3.6 points from 2016) and on third downs (41 percent).
Darian Roseboro — who would've been the fifth defensive linemen drafted had he skipped his senior year — is their best (and only semi-proven) pass-rusher, though this is his first season as a full-time starter. The 6-foot-4, 283-pounder had 2.5 sacks last year and flashed a wicked combination of strength and speed both off the edge and inside.
"There’s still things I need to work on, like being more consistent in my pass rush,” Roseboro said in April. “That’s something I think I’ve improved on this spring."
Tackles Shug Frazier and Eurndaus Bryant will clog the middle (and Bryant showed he can rush the passer last year, too) and senior Germaine Pratt will anchor the linebackers in Doeren's 4-2-5 system.
The secondary needs to be better. While the group battled injuries, they played very poorly for most of the year. The good news is that junior corner Nick McCloud is back, as is junior safety Jarius Morehead.
"I feel like we have got a lot more chemistry than we did last year," McCloud said in April. "We had older guys last year but I feel like the chemistry this year is going to be a lot better and it has helped me a lot in practice because we have been practicing a lot together."
RB Ricky Person, RB Damontay Rhem, DE Joe Jabros, DT Grant Gibson, DT Larrell Murchison, DB Stephen Griffin
NC State's new faces will come from a variety of places. They have a true freshman early-enrollee running back in Ricky Person, a four-star prospect and the nation's fourth-ranked running back in the 2018 class, and a Division-II transfer running back in Damontay Rhem.
On the defensive line, they have two JUCO transfers in Joe Babros and Larrell Murchison and a redshirt freshman in Grant Gibson. And in the secondary, Tennessee transfer Stephen Griffin is expected to play nickel but can fit anywhere.
“He’s got a mean streak in him,” Darian Roseboro said of Babros. “We love that.”
North Carolina leaves Raleigh one time before their Oct. 20 trip to Clemson. Five of their first six games are a home and they have a bye before the Clemson game.
They do, however, close with four of six games on the road, including their final two.
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