At the ACC Media Day, Tom O’Brien stated that he was gunning for the ACC title and that this year was the year to do it. In his own words, we’ve beaten everyone in our division, over the last couple of years, we just need to do it all in the same season.
I’m not sure how that logic tracks, but we’ll roll with it. Certainly NC State didn’t win by “luck” when it smashed #22 (#7 at the time) Clemson 37-13 last season (at home), but NC State’s win against #17 Florida State 28-24 (at home) wasn’t quite so decisive. Also consider that this season, NC State will need to play Clemson on the road in Death Valley rather than in the safe confines of Carter-Finley. Not only will the Clemson game be on the road, but it will be against a team seeking revenge after both an embarrassing loss to NC State and a humiliating 70-33 bowl loss against West Virginia.
We did a preview of both Florida State and Clemson here on WolfpackWorld, but let’s look at their weaknesses and see what NC State has to do in order to beat these teams. We also have to ask ourselves how we’ll match-up against a likely Coastal Division champ.
As for CLEMSON, they will be several months removed from their bowl loss against West Virginia, but don’t count on them forgetting that NC State was 1 of only 3 regular season losses in 2011 (1 of 2 in the ACC). The fortunate thing for NC State is that a Clemson defense may be the most vulnerable for attack. It would be foolish to think that Coach Dabo isn’t addressing some of the defensive issues from 2011, and Clemson is returning 7 starters, but remember that West Virginia didn’t necessarily stop Clemson from scoring (and with one of the best quarterbacks and receiving corps in the ACC, that’s not a trivial task); rather, West Virginia took advantage of a weak secondary and run up the scoreboard. Clemson’s defensive strength are their linebackers. This works nicely for NC State, who is considered by some to have the best 2nd or 3rd offensive line in the ACC. What NC State will be looking to do is neutralize their receivers as much as possible, force Clemson to a ground game, and let Glennon do his thing in the air on offense. With Clemson’s linebackers, O’Brien might want to keep away from his traditional 1st and 10 draw play…
WE’LL BEAT CLEMSON BECAUSE… Glennon’s strength is his passing game. Mix that with a more senior front line and Clemson’s linebacker threat may be neutralized.
WE’LL LOSE TO CLEMSON BECAUSE… Clemson is reeling from pointless losses in 2011 and will “want it” more than NC State, especially if we’ve already lost some demoralizing games, come November. This game being in Death Valley, there will be a huge “emotion” factor to the gameplay. Clemson returns 7 starters on offense, including their statistical leaders which may be too much for NC State’s seasoned secondary to handle.
Fortunately, we will play FLORIDA STATE once again in Carter-Finley, pairing up nicely with our last upset of the ‘Noles. Unfortunately, Florida State beat us 34-0 in 2011 and they weren’t even “that good”. They were sporting a freshmen quarterback and a swiss cheese offensive line riddled with young players. They are returning many players on offense included their guard and center which may make FSU an even harder opponent to crack than they were last year. On defense, there aren’t many flaws to find. The ‘Noles lost some Backs from last season, but their depth chart is solid enough to plug the holes. They return 9 starters overall, including a pair of Ends that combined for 15 sacks in 2011.
WE’LL BEAT FSU BECAUSE… NC State’s offense is strong, but their defensive experience will be key. FSU still has a fairly young offensive line and Manuel did spend several games on the sideline due to injuries in 2011. If NC State’s linebackers can step-up and land some solid hits on Manuel early on in the contest, it may be enough to stop their offensive production and allow our own offense to find some weaknesses in their solid defense.
WE’LL LOSE TO FSU BECAUSE… The walk and talk like a better team. They have depth at every position, one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, and even in a “down” season landed a 9-win season. This is the type of team that you beat with a well seasoned program with depth at every position and NC State’s lack of a star linebacker should be some area for concern until Wolfpack fans see the first several games against Tennessee and UConn.
VIRGINIA TECH‘s passing game was very similar to NC State’s last season (around 60-62% for over 3100 yards), but their running game produced almost a 100% increase from our rushing yardage on only a 50% increase in rushing attempts. In other words, Virginia Tech can throw, but they are just as deadly on the ground, scoring 26 touchdowns rushing of their 47 total touchdowns on the season. Their defense was able to hold their opponents to under 50% completions and 3.22 yards per rush (compared to NC State’s defense against the rush resulting in opponents earning 3.72 yards per rush). Virginia Tech always has been good… well, until they meet a BCS opponent. They are coming off a season where their only regular season loss was against a VERY good Clemson team. This year they return only three players on offense, but one of those is their center and another is dual threat quarterback Logan Thomas. Their defense returns 8 starters includes a couple of the best Backs in the ACC. Their main weakness will be depth and adjustment as returning starters from 2011 are expected to cover wholes elsewhere on the team.
WE’LL BEAT VIRGINIA TECH BECAUSE… Virginia Tech had a lot of turnover on offense and you can’t win a game without offense. If an inexperienced receiving corps hasn’t stepped up by the time the ACC Title game comes around (assuming VT is the Coastal representative), David Amerson, Earl Wolff, and the rest of the secondary may have a field day picking VT off and allowing the offense to pass the ball up the field on an uncomfortably thing defense.
WE’LL LOSE TO VIRGINIA TECH BECAUSE… Quarterback Logan Thomas is a dynamic quarterback that can carry teams and has the potential to be a Russell Wilson “esqe” asset that can pull VT out of a tough situation. VT also has an experienced defense and position changes have anot always meant a degredation in performance.
IS NC STATE READY TO BE AN ACC TITLE CONTENDER?
The short answer is “sort of”. NC State is certainly capable of beating these teams and clenching an ACC Title berth, but you don’t walk into the season with the same confidence that many will walk into basketball season with. At the end of the day, NC State is coming into the 2012 season with an experienced team that only earned 7 regular season wins last season, including two D1-AA games. Fans shouldn’t expect NC State to stumble since Glennon has settled into his position and the coaching staff has seen multiple off-season improvements, but “confident” is not the word I would use to describe our ACC Title hopes.
NC State is a program that will be approaching the ACC Title as an underdog, which is not necessarily a bad place for O’Brien to be. The goal, one would assume, is that NC State be a program that is always in the hunt for a title, but with programs like FSU, Clemson, and Virginia Tech, that means NC State is going to need to make the leap from “a decent program in the ACC” to “one of the nation’s top 25 programs”. NC State can do it, but it’s not going to happen this season and it’s not going to happen without domination in recruiting and having the flexibility to adjust to problems as they occur… not waiting until a bye-week to make a “miracle run” at a bowl.