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Boston College football opponent previews: NC State

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North Carolina State v Boston College Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

I’ve always considered NC State to be a benchmark game for Boston College each year.

Except for the years when BC was very down, NC State generally represents one of those 50/50 matchups that are crucial to BC’s overall record, and NC State is likely to perennially be battling with BC in the middle tier of the ACC.

A running joke about NC State is their annual classification as a ‘sleeping giant’ in the ACC, and their fans’ stunned reactions when they lose to Boston College (despite that fact that we’ve had the upper hand over them more often than not since joining the ACC).

The script is somewhat flipped this year, though; BC is the team coming in with some media hype and reputation as a team on the rise. BC fans will look at this as an early season big game that the Eagles should win if they are going to push for the 8-10 win season that fans are craving.

But NC State will pose a tough test for the Eagles.

The Wolfpack are coming off a strong year in which they went 8-3 during the regular season, featuring wins over #24 Pitt and #21 Liberty. Their three losses were all quite respectable, coming against two ranked teams (UNC and Miami), as well as in their bowl game against Kentucky.

In the preseason media poll, NC State was pegged to finish 2nd in the ACC Atlantic, just ahead of BC in the #3 spot. So you get the idea - these could be two fairly evenly matched teams.

The BC-NC State game this year will come at a crucial juncture for the Eagles. After a three-game slate that most people think BC should handle pretty easily to start the season, they then host Missouri, then make the difficult trek to Clemson.

After a bye week, BC will then host NC State, likely sitting on either a 3-2 or 4-1 record, with the State game potentially setting the tone for the rest of the year.

Let’s take a look at the tale of the tape for that matchup:

Previous Results

BC is 10-7 against the Wolfpack all time, including a 45-24 victory in the last tilt in 2019. That game was one of those moments where it came together and was beautiful for Steve Addazio’s team, with AJ Dillon rushing for 223 yards and three touchdowns as BC ran all over NC State, racking up 429 rushing yards overall.

BC is 9-6 against NC State in the “ACC era,” with the first two matchups between the teams taking place in 1936 and 1937.

Coaching

Dave Doeren returns for his ninth season at the helm of NC State, and offers up perhaps one of the better examples in the country of a mid-tier program taking a patient approach with their head coach, and it paying off.

After starting his NC State run with records of 3-9, 8-5, 7-6, and 7-6, the Wolfpack have posted pretty impressive marks in three of four years since:

2017: 9-4 (6-2 ACC)
2018: 9-4 (5-3 ACC)
2019: 4-8 (1-7 ACC)
2020: 8-4 (7-3 ACC)

Doeren remarkably has moved himself up into 2nd place on NC State’s overall wins list, with a 55-45 all time record with the Pack.

This offseason, he signed a two-year extension to keep him with NC State through 2025.

Offense

Last season, NC State was mid-Pack (ha!) in the ACC in team offense, averaging 32.7 points per game in conferenceplay.

They had some instability at quarterback, with then-sophomore Devin Leary picking up an injury that limited him to just four games. But Bailey Hockman stepped in and led NC State to a potent passing attack, throwing 23 touchdowns on the year to sit third in conference play.

Hockman has transferred to Middle Tennessee State, but NC State fans are hopeful that Leary’s return will be an upgrade at the QB position. Leary was strong in limited playing time last year, throwing for 890 yards and 8 touchdowns over the course of 4 games before getting hurt.

During NC State’s dumpster fire 2019 season, Leary got thrust into the QB role as a redshirt freshman. While the results weren’t great overall for most of the season, he did sling three touchdown passes against BC in a losing effort. Leary has great arm strength and accuracy, and should be able to get use out of NC State’s outstanding WR corps.

Emeka Emezie, Devin Carter, and Thayer Thomas, three of NC State’s top receivers, are all back. Thomas is a big threat as a slot receiver, while you can expect Emezie to stretch the field. The mix of strong returning receivers and a potential upgrade at QB means the NC State passing attack should once again be one of the league’s best.

NC State loses one starter on the offensive line in guard Joe Sculthorpe, but brings back four from a unit that was decent enough in 2020.

The Pack’s running game was improved from the mess of 2019, but it wasn’t quite good enough to crack the top half of the league in most statistical categories - like BC, this was a team that was much more reliant on the passing game.

But also like BC (and perhaps to an even greater extent), NC State will be expecting the run game to step up and be a bigger factor this year, as they bring back their three leading rushers - including a returning sophomore expected to play a starring role.

Zonovan Knight, who ran for 7 touchdowns and 640 yards last year, returns to lead the way at running back, and was voted preseason all-ACC. If Knight can live up to those expectations, and Leary can provide an upgrade at QB, NC State should have a more balanced attack that has no trouble putting up points.

Defense

NC State returns nine starters from their defense that was so-so in 2020, yielding 31.3 points and 432 yards per game (pretty similar to BC’s numbers, actually). They did a pretty good job at getting at the quarterback and getting sacks but were vulnerable to a strong passing attack otherwise, giving up 263 yards per game and 18 touchdowns through the air.

Be on the lookout for their veteran linebacker corps of Drake Thomas, Isaiah Moore, and preseason all-ACC pick Payton Wilson, who will likely put pressure on the QB and make some big plays. David Hale rated NC State’s linebacker corps as the best in the ACC.

The Pack added some transfers to bolster their defense with a hope of pushing it into the top half of the league, with Derek Pitts coming from Marshall as a cornerback, and Cory Durden and Cyrus Fagan transferring from Florida State.

Durden is a defensive tackle who came in highly regarded to FSU and co-led the ‘Noles with 5 sacks in 2019, before sitting out the 2020 season with both a shoulder injury and COVID.

Fagan, a safety, was mired in the depth chart a bit at NC State, and comes to the ‘Pack as a veteran, fifth-year senior who will compete for a starting spot.

Forecast

BC-NC State should be an interesting matchup between two teams who will look at this game as a launching pad to their ambitions of, at a bare minimum, being the team shadowing Clemson at the top of the ACC Atlantic.

What also makes this interesting is that both teams have good quarterbacks and receiving corps, with passing attacks that will likely be the strength of their offense — while carrying some questions about the defense, particularly as it pertains to giving up chunks of yards.

This is a recipe for a high-scoring barnburner on a cool October day at Alumni Stadium, with both teams coming off a bye week on October 9 and likely to be carrying strong records into this game.

I like BC in this matchup, because in a battle of strength against strength, BC seems to have a little bit more, with Phil Jurkovec and his receiving corps being a tick ahead of NC State, and with BC’s highly-regarded offensive line hopefully pushing the run game forward. The combination of the experienced star QB and home field advantage leads me to pick BC in this one.

Give me Boston College 38, NC State 34 in a fun game that leaves fans buzzing and excited for the possibilities in the back half of the season.