NC State finished with one less win in 2015 than 2014, but there’s not much to fault Dave Doeren for in his third season as head coach. The Wolfpack won every Game they were supposed to, losing to the best Four teams in the ACC and then Virginia Tech on the road. They made it to a bowl Game, but took on a superior Mississippi State squad. They’ll hope to improve, but that seems unlikely now with Notre Dame on the Schedule.
The immediate question for the team will be at quarterback with Jacoby Brissett moving to the NFL. It was a two-man battle in the spring between Jalan McClendon and Jakobi Meyers, but another piece entered the puzzle in May. Boise State’s Ryan Finley completed his transfer over to NC State to reunite with the offensive coordinator he’s had the past two years in Eli Drinkwitz. The position is still a toss up considering Finley didn’t play much at Boise.
Drinkwitz plans on running a more up-tempo approach, but questions at skill positions in the spring showed up. Most of their top guys at running back, wide receiver and even on the line sat out due to injury. Because of that and Finley coming in late, it’s hard to get a good read after the spring on this offense.
Mathew Dayes (865 yards, 12 TDs) and Reggie Gallaspy (316 yards, 4 TDs) return in the backfield as does do-it-all player Jaylen Samuels (65 receptions, 965 total yards, 16 total TDs). Dayes only played in eight Games last year, so 1,000 yards should be attainable for the running back if he stays healthy. At wide receiver Jumichael Ramos (457 yards, 3 TDs) returns after leading the group in 2015. The offensive line is probably in the roughest situation with three guys moving on and then the returning starters dealing with injury or suspension. Even with quarterback a question, the line may be NC State’s first order of issue before the season.
The Wolfpack were solid defensively last year, but had no way of stopping better teams, as seen in a few of their losses. With eight starters back, they may be able to keep opponents like Clemson and UNC below 40 points. Maybe.
The middle of the line gets back tackles Justin Jones and B.J. Hill to go with linebackers Airuis Moore and Bradley Chubb. The middle of the field should be set with those guys, but they also lost their best pass rusher. The secondary has a lot of experience as well with only one major piece missing from last year’s group. Corner is set and Josh Jones is solid at safety.
Most are penciling in a win for NC State at East Carolina in the second week, but that Game is far from a freebie. Only a few weeks later the Wolfpack host Notre Dame. That non-Conference slate is much tougher than a year ago when they won all Four of their Games by at least 24 points. After the Irish, the Wolfpack then have to travel to Clemson and Louisville in back-to-back Games before hosting Florida State a couple weeks later. Matchups with North Carolina and Miami out of the Coastal division also present difficult tasks.
Maybe NC State is better and more experienced than a year ago, but with a new quarterback and tougher Schedule, it’s hard to see this team surpassing the eight wins it had in 2014.
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2016 NC State Wolfpack Football Schedule
Sept. 1 vs. William & Mary
Sept. 10 at East Carolina
Sept. 17 vs. Old Dominion
Oct. 1 vs. Wake Forest
Oct. 8 vs. Notre Dame
Oct. 15 at Clemson
Oct. 22 at Louisville
Oct. 29 vs. Boston College
Nov. 5 vs. Florida State
Nov. 12 at Syracuse
Nov. 19 vs. Miami (FL)
Nov. 25 at North Carolina