NC State Wolfpack
2014 Record: 8-5
F/+ Rank: 55
Wins: Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, South Florida, Presbyterian, Syracuse, Wake Forest, North Carolina, UCF
Losses: Florida State, Clemson, Boston College, Louisville, Georgia Tech
The 2014 NC State Wolfpack are a stereotypical case of "We are who we thought they were." At 8-5, they put together a fine enough record to draw some eyes, but those eyes quickly realized that they won as many games as they did by simply beating teams who were worse than they were.
Coming off a three-win campaign in 2013, the Wolfpack defeated a sneaky good Georgia Southern team, 24-23, before rolling through Old Dominion, South Florida, and Presbyterian. Despite GSU winning the Sun Belt, the remaining three teams included one FCS team, one team still in their two-year transition window out to the FBS, and an FBS team that went 0-3 against Power Five opponents.
So it wasn't a shocker when NC State, at 4-0, promptly got clobbered in four straight games against teams more battle-hardened than they were. They scored 41 points against Florida State but gave up 56. They were shutout and decimated by Clemson in the Textile Bowl, losing 41-0. Boston College handled them, 30-14. And Louisville never looked back with a 30-12 victory.
A win over Syracuse lifted the Wolfpack within a game of eligibility, which they secured two weeks later with a win over Wake Forest. In between, Georgia Tech blew them out (56-23). A season-ending win over in-state rival North Carolina propelled them to a 7-5 record and a trip to the St. Petersburg Bowl against Central Florida. There, the Wolfpack opened up a 24-10 lead in the third quarter but held on against a feverish fourth quarter comeback by the Golden Knights en route to a 34-27 victory.
Series: Boston College leads, 8-4
First matchup: 1936 (BC won, 7-3)
Last matchup: 2014 (BC won, 30-14)
Dave Doeren is one of those head coaches who is potentially in a golden setup for success. A former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, he was hired by Northern Illinois after the 2010 season to continue the run of success enjoyed by the Huskies. He responded in kind, going 23-4 and helping NIU to an Orange Bowl berth in 2012. Prior to the BCS game, NC State hired him, preventing him from coaching the Huskies in Miami.
In his first year at NC State, the team went completely winless in conference and limped to a 3-9 season, posting only victories over Louisiana Tech, FCS-level Richmond, and Central Michigan. At 3-1 with only a loss to Clemson, they promptly lost every other game the rest of the way, eight in a row. That led to the largest single-season turnaround in NC State history this past year with a 3-5 record in the ACC.
NC State takes heat for their schedule, but their team is still very good, especially on offense. Jacoby Brissett threw for over 2,600 yards and ran for over 500 yards with 26 total touchdowns. Behind him, the Wolfpack have potentially the best backfield combination in Shadrach Thornton and Matt Dayes. Last season, NC State averaged over 200 yards rushing per game. Additionally, the recruited a number of solid athletes, including four-star prospects Johnny Frasier and Reggie Gallaspie.
Defensively, the team will have to replace a couple of pieces but still bring back very good athletes. They'll return the majority of the front seven and the entire secondary. Hakim Jones is back at safety, bringing with him potential hit stick power.
The majority of the offensive line is back, which will be huge for Jacoby Brissett. He didn't throw a ton of interceptions (five) and was sacked only 29 times. That means he's likely to find himself with enough time to make plays once again this year, a huge asset for the Wolfpack.
Returning Quarterback: Yes
As mentioned, Jacoby Brissett returns for his senior year. Arguably one of the best signal callers in the ACC, he has one more jump to make if NC State wants to challenge the ACC Atlantic Division.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
The problem for NC State last year was that they didn't have a marquee win outside of North Carolina, a team referred to by my video podcast colleague Mark Rogers as "perennially 7-5 regardless of how good they look." They went into the bowl game and won, but they went 3-5 in the ACC. The schedule this year is more of the same, opening up with Troy, Eastern Kentucky, Old Dominion, and South Alabama before playing Louisville. This isn't a team that needs reps; this is a team that needs challenges. If they can't get it together for the L'ville game, another 7-5 season with a 4-4 or 3-5 ACC record is in the cards for a team with a deceptively good offense.
That offense is going to be very good. It gave Florida State a scare last year, and if Brissett displays some of the leadership he flashed last year, this team is going to be able to score points. Anchored by one of the best running games, there may be an opening to pick up a couple of marquee wins this year and increase the team's bowl resume. If that happens, Doeren will have the Wolfpack poised for a run once he gets his own players into the program.