After going 9-4 in 2017, NC State lost a ton of key pieces (only nine returning starters) and I expected a dropoff. They struggled a bit with James Madison in week one, largely because it turned out that the Dukes were an awesome team, but overperformed expectations pretty much the rest of the way and ended up matching last year’s 9-4 record despite being throttled by Texas A&M in the bowl game.
Just 11 starters return this year and QB Ryan Finley is gone along with the OC, three rushers/receivers with 1,000+ yard years, and three all-conference (or higher) players on the line… and yet, I’m still scared to doubt Doering, who used to coach at NIU, my favorite G5 coach factory!
I’ve already listed the departures on offense, so I’ll mostly go over the pieces that new co-OCs Des Kitchings and George McDonald have to work with here.
Both guys were promoted from within, so have a good sense of the roster, but I’m unsure who the new QB will be. Last year’s backup Matthew McKay did essentially nothing last year, throwing eight times in blowouts. He’ll be challenged by four-star redshirt freshman Devin Leary (the leading passer in New Jersey high school football history!) and Florida State transfer Bailey Hockman.
Whoever wins the job actually has some talent to work with despite the losses of Harmon, Meyers, and Gallaspy. Emeka Emezie and Thayer Thomas will step up after combing for 999 yards and eight touchdowns last year, and Wake Forest/Oregon grad transfer Tabari Hines comes in to push young guys like CJ Riley.
The run game wasn’t great last year despite the awesome line. Ricky Person Jr. averaged 4.2 a touch last year, and Trent Pennix averaged just 3.1 in limited touches. Freshman Zonovan Knight (what a name!) could challenge for snaps as well. Despite the very notable losses on the line, they do return two solid hands on the right side in Justin Witt and Joshua Fedd-Jackson. Joe Sculthorpe has a couple of games of starting experience as well. The offense will obviously take a step back, but without knowing who starts at QB, it’s hard to say how steep the drop will be.
While the offense got decimated this year, it was the defense that got decimated in 2018. NC State lost Bradley Chubb, BJ Hill, Justin Jones, and Kentavius Street among others, but the defense was still average last year, and most of the key guys return.
Leading tackler Germaine Pratt is a tough loss, but 14 of the 18 guys with more than ten tackles last year are back, and after being young last year this group now has some experience.
James Smith-Williams and Larrell Murchison are two names to watch on the ends (ten sacks, 7.5 TFL combined). Safety Jarius Morehead (four PBUs, three picks) and corner Nick McCloud (eight PBUs, two picks) provide some veteran leadership in the secondary as well.
An incredibly talented group of blue-chippers join the team as well, most notably freshman Savion Jackson on the line.
I feel really good about the defense. They’ve brought in a ton of highly touted recruits, especially in the front seven, to challenge the starters and add depth, and they should be one of the ACC’s top groups this year.
I feel pretty good about NC State! Will they win nine games again this year? Maybe. It’s certainly on the table (the model projects 7.5 in the regular season on average, so a slight deviation and a bowl win would put them there). Is an ACC title on the table? Probably not. This isn’t a team in Clemson’s league, but outside of that they should be competitive in every game this year and could finish in the top 25 if they take care of business in a few tough road games.
|Date||Opponent||opp. rank||Proj. Margin|
|14-Sep||at West Virginia||42||-2.0|
|28-Sep||at Florida State||34||-3.1|
|19-Oct||at Boston College||64||1.0|
|2-Nov||at Wake Forest||55||-0.3|
|21-Nov||at Georgia Tech||69||1.8|
Average Projected Record: 7.5 wins, 4.5 losses (4.4 wins, 3.6 losses)