Wake Forest will be looking for revenge after an embarrassing 37-6 beatdown at the hands of the Wolfpack last year in Raleigh. This may be the year to get it back, as N.C. State has a lot of questions heading into the first year under head coach Dave Doeren.
Tom O'Brien led the Pack to a 7-6 record, but was fired after the end of the regular season. Dana Bible took the interim tag, but came up short at the hands of the Vanderbilt Commodores in the Music City Bowl 38-24.
AD Deborah Yow went out and landed possibly the hottest name on the market in Northern Illinois' Dave Doeren. Doeren has a record of 23-4 in two years, and was the defensive coordinator in Wisconsin before that.
There is no doubt that the fan base is energized, selling out Carter-Finley Stadium earlier this week for the first time in five years.
This year will likely be a struggle for the Wolfpack, but they could manage to surprise some teams as well.
The big question is whether or not a perennially impatient fan base will give him the time he needs to get the Pack to the next level.
Offensively, the hardest part for Doeren will be replacing QB Mike Glennon (gone to the NFL) and new offensive coordinator Matt Canada has a few different options, but none have stuck out so far in practice.
The most likely answer will be junior transfer Pete Thomas from Colorado State. He started for two years as a member of the Rams and has shown flashes of brilliance, but also some inconsistency.
Also looking to grab the starting job is Arkansas transfer Brandon Mitchell, who played WR last year for the Razorbacks. He has impressed recently and that is likely the reason for no starter being announced yet.
It has come out recently that Doeren will not name the starter until the August 31st season opener against Louisiana Tech.
The good news for the staff is that whoever comes out unscathed as the starter will have plenty of weapons at skill positions around him.
Wide receivers Quinton Payton and Bryan Underwood will provide great targets for the starter. Payton caught 54 balls last year for 798 yards with two TD's. Underwood caught 44 balls for 620 yards, and a whopping 10 touchdowns.
At the runningback position there is a lot of talent in Shadrach Thornton (who is suspended for the season opener against LTU), and Tony Creecy.
Thornton stuck out as a true freshman last year, leading the Wolfpack in rushing yards (694 yards on 154 carries with three TD's), while Creecy proved a formidable backup with 127 carries for 476 yards and five TD's.
A true freshman to watch is Matt Dayes, out of Cypress Bay HS in Westin, FL. He has wowed the coaching staff with his maturity on the field.
The offensive line has a few questions, and that could prove to be a big problem as the year goes on if the QB's do not pan out for the coaching staff.
On the other side of the ball the Wolfpack will have to fill in six new starters from last year's squad. Safety Earl Wolff plays for the Philadelphia Eagles now, and CB David Amerson also has exhausted his eligibility. That definitely causes some concern as to how the secondary will fare for N.C. State.
The front seven is in better shape, but also has some questions surrounding it. Darryl Cato-Bishop, Art Norman and T.Y. McGill form a good tandem on the defensive line, and pressure up front could be very important to take a lot of the pressure off the secondary that is in rebuilding mode.
The linebacking corps also has some holes to fill, as junior Ricky Dowdy transferred to NAIA school Cumberland University. Sr. Sterling Lucas also graduated, meaning somebody else needs to step up to that position.
The good news is that D.J Green will be back after being ineligible last season. He recorded 16 tackles in 2011 for the Pack. It looks like Zach Gentry and Robert Caldwell will get the majority of the PT at middle linebacker, with M.J. Salahuddin and Green at the outside spots.
A lot of true freshmen may be asked to step in and help out immediately as well, especially in the secondary. Jack Tocho has looked good in camp and will fit in somewhere in the secondary rotation
The good news for Wolfpack fans is that the special teams is pretty much the same as last year. Kicker Niklas Sade (13/23 last year), and punter Will Baumann (around 40 YPP), will continue their roles for State.
Sr. WR Rashard Smith may be next in line to return kicks after Tobias Palmer graduated. He returned punts last year for the Wolfpack and it probably wouldn't be a reach to say he could handle both duties next season.
Most people are viewing this season as a transitional one for the N.C. State Wolfpack. There is a new staff in town with higher aspirations and a higher ceiling than the previous staff, and there are also a lot of questions that need answering.
I fully expect Doeren to use a lot of the year to focus on the needs moving forward. He has already shown that he is a beast on the recruiting trail, and there are a lot of players in this year's class that could step up and showcase their skills immediately.
What the Pack does have going for it is the schedule. The football team will leave the confines of North Carolina exactly two times this year (@ Florida State and @ Boston College). The Florida State game would likely have been a loss no matter where it is played, so that isn't a big loss. The BC game could be a big on in terms of Atlantic Division rankings though.
An OOC schedule of LTU, Richmond, ECU and Central Michigan (all at home except @ECU), should get the Wolfpack three wins. That means they will need three wins out of Wake, @Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, @BC and Maryland (assuming Clemson and FSU are games that aren't that winnable) to reach bowl eligibility again.
I think that is certainly doable, but I don't see a lot more wins than 5-6 for the Pack this year. I will say that moving forward under Doeren this team could move into the third spot in the Division on a regular basis and possibly give FSU and Clemson some run in a couple of years.
The Wolfpack has taken care of business early on in the season, surviving a scare against FCS foe Richmond in the second weekend of the year. Saturday against the Deacs will be the first road game for Dave Doeren and his squad, who will enter the game 3-1. The only blemish is a 26-14 loss to the Clemson Tigers on Thursday, September 19th.
QB Brandon Mitchell impressed in the early parts of the Louisiana Tech game, but suffered a fractured foot that required surgery. He may play next week against Syracuse, but the Deacs will need to focus on QB Pete Thomas. Thomas has managed the game alright for the Pack, but has also thrown 5 interceptions.
The running game has fared very well, particularly utilizing the triple-headed monster of Thornton, Dayes and Creecy. Dayes has looked especially good early on, running for 180 yards on 40 carries, for 4 TDs.
State is well on its way to bowl eligibility, especially if it can take care of Wake Forest this weekend. That would be four wins early on, with Duke, BC, Carolina and Syracuse still left on the schedule (not to mention ECU). Coach Doeren has done well in his first year in Raleigh, and I don't expect that to change tomorrow.