Improving NC State looks to contend in ACC in 2012

North Carolina State has an experienced quarterback leading its

offense, an all-American anchoring its secondary and the chance to

contend for the Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

With 17 wins the past two seasons, N.C. State appears capable of

challenging league favorite Florida State and Clemson in the

Atlantic Division race. Sixth-year coach Tom O’Brien said this

year’s Wolfpack team has built depth and experience with 16

returning starters, who helped the team shake off some early ups

and downs to surge in the final month and close with a bowl victory

for the second straight year.

The players know the opportunity awaiting this fall, starting

against Tennessee in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta on Aug.

31.

”As a senior class, we realize what’s at stake,” said

quarterback Mike Glennon, a fifth-year graduate student preparing

for his second full season as the starter. ”We were Coach

O’Brien’s first full recruiting class. That’s the pitch he gave to

us, that they came down from Boston College to win an ACC

championship. … That’s the mindset we’re going to use.”

The return of Glennon and cornerback David Amerson gives both

units a potential star to build around. Glennon replaced Russell

Wilson and threw for 3,054 yards and 31 touchdowns, with the 31 TDs

tied for second most in school history only to NFL first-round pick

Philip Rivers.

Amerson, meanwhile, was a second-team Associated Press

all-American after setting an ACC single-season record with 13

interceptions. The junior led a secondary that finished with a

national-best 27 picks last season and returned three for

touchdowns.

N.C. State (8-5, 4-4 ACC) battled injuries and inconsistent play

through the first half of last year, including a 44-14 loss at

Cincinnati and a 34-0 loss at Florida State. But the Wolfpack won

four of five to close the year, starting with a shutout of rival

North Carolina and including a 37-13 rout of then-No. 7 and

eventual ACC champ Clemson.

That late run also included a rally from 27 down in the second

half to beat Maryland in the regular-season finale, the biggest

comeback in school history.

”Any time you have a group of experienced guys that have seen a

lot and played a lot,” fifth year senior center Camden Wentz said,

”you try not to settle for anything less than what you’ve already

accomplished.”

O’Brien is hoping this year’s team can stay healthy and apply

some of those experiences to fulfill some of its potential.

”I think you talk about the ACC championship as the goal and

what you set out to do when the season starts,” O’Brien said.

”But in order to do that, you have to focus on the task at hand

each and every week. … We always want that to be our goal, but we

have to be more concerned right now with getting to be a much

better football team individually so that collectively we can have

success week in and week out.”

The offense has four starters back on the offensive line to

protect Glennon and open holes for a group of halfbacks led by

senior James Washington (897 yards, seven TDs in 2011). Glennon’s

receivers are a little more unproven, with fifth-year senior Tobais

Palmer as the leading returnee with 37 catches.

On defense, Amerson is joined by safeties Earl Wolff and Brandan

Bishop, and cornerback C.J. Wilson as returning starters in the

secondary playing behind an inexperienced group of linebackers. The

defensive line also has experience with the return of Darryl

Cato-Bishop, Brian Slay and Art Norman (seven sacks as a

rookie).

Cato-Bishop said the Wolfpack players won’t get ahead of

themselves thinking about their chances in the ACC.

”Of course you think about it because it’s every team’s goal in

the ACC to win the ACC championship,” he said. ”But you have to

know yourselves. If you don’t put in the work to be great or be

good, you’re not going to achieve your goals. … You’re either

getting better or getting worse.”