NCAA Football Preview - North Carolina State Wolfpack
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From The Sports Network By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: Last year, Chuck Amato's troops were poised for a serious run at the ACC title, with All-American Philip Rivers under center and plenty of talent around him. The year started well enough, with a rout of Western Carolina (59-20), but a pending date with Ohio State in week three took its toll on the Wolfpack, who got caught napping at Wake Forest, falling to the Demon Deacons 38-24. The game against the Buckeyes was a classic, but in the end, NC State was just 1-2, falling in Columbus, 44-38 in triple overtime. Big wins would follow that heartbreaking defeat, with the Pack topping Texas Tech and North Carolina, but the team dropped two of its next three games and should have lost all three if not for an interception return for a touchdown against UConn with just five seconds remaining. A pair of wins over Duke and Virginia were nice, but the team closed out the regular season with disappointing losses to Florida State (50-44 in 2OT) and Maryland (26-24). With a 7-5 record, a spot in the Tangerine Bowl was the best the team could do. The Wolfpack made light work of Kansas in that game (56-26), giving the team its third postseason victory in Chuck Amato's four seasons in Raleigh. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: How do you replace one of college football's all-time best signal- callers? The answer is that you can't. Philip Rivers was named the ACC Player of the Year in 2003 and with good reason. He is the ACC's all-time yardage leader and second in NCAA history (13,582), while ranking the same in passing yards (13,484). Last season, Rivers completed 72 percent of his passes, for 4,491 yards and 34 TDs. His replacement will most likely be junior Jay Davis or redshirt freshman Marcus Stone, or perhaps both. The offense does return eight starters from a year ago, but the other two defections were just as vital to the team's success over the last couple of seasons, with all- conference performers Jerricho Cotchery (WR) and Sean Locklear (OT) no longer in the mix. The offensive line will hopefully get a healthy Chris Colmer back in the lineup. The 6-6, 305-pounder was a second-team All-ACC performer in 2002, but took a medical redshirt last year. The line will also feature senior Ricky Fowler (6-2, 303), who has been dominant as well when healthy. The offensive front will need to not only protect Davis and Stone, but more importantly open holes for junior tailback T.A. McLendon. The 5-11, 220-pound battering ram has been tremendous when he is on the field. Last season, he fought through injuries to rush for 608 yards, scoring nine TDs and averaging 4.7 ypc. Cotchery and his 1,369 yards and 10 TDs are gone. The production in the vertical game should still be top-notch, with the return of wideouts Sterling Hicks (injured for most of last season) and Tramain Hall (69 catches, for 799 yards and seven TDs). DEFENSE: The Wolfpack struggled big time on the defensive side of the football last year, resulting in generous yardage gains for the opposition. The team allowed nearly 30 points per game (29.6), getting especially abused by the pass (284.1 ypg). Nine starters return from last year's unit and that should help this team shore things up. The pass defense will be better, as safeties Andre Maddox (team-leading 145 tackles, eight TFLs) and Troy Graham (92 total tackles) and cornerbacks Lamont Reid (37 tackles, eight PBUs) and Dovonte Edwards (26 tackles, 10 PBUs) will provide stability in the secondary. The linebacking corps may be one of the most underrated units in the ACC this year, with the return of tackling machines Pat Thomas (130 tackles, eight sacks), Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay (105 tackles, seven TFLs) and Oliver Hoyte (97 tackles, eight TFLs). The defensive front must produce a more consistent pass rush this time around, and with sophomore Mario Williams blossoming as a real star in the ACC, that is a distinct possibility. Williams finished his freshman campaign with 56 tackles, eight TFLs and five sacks). A healthy Renaldo Moses (started just five games last year due to injury) could give the team potent rush ends that will give offensive coordinators nightmares. SPECIAL TEAMS: Both placekicker Adam Kiker and punter Austin Herbert are gone. This summer the entire kicking duties have fallen on the shoulders of, or more specifically the leg of sophomore John Delaney. The 6-4, 210-pound youngster has a huge leg, which he displayed last year, as 40 of his 75 kickoffs resulted in touchbacks. In terms of return duties, it doesn't get much better than Tramain Hall, who averaged over 10 yards per punt return, with two taken for TDs. OUTLOOK: The Pack will certainly feel the sting of Rivers' departure, as the ultra-efficient QB takes his act to the NFL. The non-conference schedule this year features home dates with Richmond and Ohio State to start the season, with a date with East Carolina in Charlotte closing out the campaign. The team should win at least two of those games and that just leaves the eight conference games in between. The road slate in the ACC is challenging to say the least, with trips to Virginia Tech, North Carolina, Maryland and Clemson. Teams coming to Raleigh include Wake Forest, Miami, Georgia Tech and Florida State. Another 4-4 finish in league play is not only possible, but perhaps probable. It may take a year or two for NC State to finally enjoy the kind of success the team had under Rivers' leadership. However a six-win campaign these days is good enough to get a postseason berth. NC State seems destined for such a season.