NC State’s plans for big year start with Tennessee

North Carolina State is looking to move to the top of the

Atlantic Coast Conference.

For Tennessee, the first goal for 2012 is to move out of the

basement in the Southeastern Conference.

Each team hopes to use Friday night’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the

Georgia Dome to set a winning pace for 2012. Still, N.C. State

coach Tom O’Brien said while the nationally televised game is

special, it won’t define the season.

”Well, the first game definitely isn’t the end-all game that

you’re going to play, but there are definitely special games and

this is definitely one of them,” O’Brien said. ”It’s a great

opportunity for us and we are looking at it that way.”

N.C. State has 17 wins the last two seasons. The Wolfpack was

8-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC’s Atlantic Division last season for

a fourth-place finish behind Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida

State.

”I feel like winning this game will finally put us on the map

and finally put us where we’re supposed to be,” said N.C. State

senior safety Earl Wolff. ”The past couple of years, we’ve had an

eight-win season, a nine-win season, and I feel like this year can

be that 10-win season, but we have to start off by beating

Tennessee.”

Senior quarterback Mike Glennon’s 31 touchdown passes last year

were the second-most in N.C. State history. Philip Rivers threw 34

scoring passes in 2003.

The Wolfpack also boasts a returning star on defense. Junior

cornerback David Amerson led the nation and set an ACC record with

13 interceptions in 2011.

N.C. State apparently will be without another top starter in the

secondary. O’Brien said this week cornerback C.J. Wilson isn’t

available because of an unspecified eligibility issue.

O’Brien said he’s waiting for Wilson to be cleared by the

NCAA.

Wilson has returned each of his three career interceptions for

touchdowns.

Tennessee finished 5-7 overall and was last in the SEC’s Eastern

Division at 1-7 in 2011.

The Vols lost top receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who transferred to

Tennessee Tech. He says failed drug tests led to his suspension

from Tennessee.

Rogers’ exit leaves more pressure on junior quarterback Tyler

Bray.

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Wolff, Amerson and Wilson give

N.C. State ”probably one of the best secondaries in college

football.”

”You have a first-rounder and probably three or four NFL draft

guys back there,” Dooley said. ”They make you pay for an

inaccurate throw. They make you pay for a mistake. And they set you

up. They can recover and make a play on a ball that most people

can’t. It is going to require some patience from (Bray).”

Bray said N.C. State’s defense has size and speed.

”I wouldn’t say they’re LSU or Alabama, but they can compare to

some of the teams in the SEC,” Bray said.

Tennessee defensive end Darrington Sentimore gave a lukewarm

review of N.C. State.

”They’re a great team, but we’re a great team also,” Sentimore

said.

”They have a great offensive line, they’ve got a good offensive

line. That’s pretty much it. The quarterback, average. The

receivers, average. But the offensive line is pretty good.”

Dooley played wide receiver at Virginia from 1987-90, when

O’Brien was the Cavaliers’ offensive line coach.

O’Brien said Dooley, who earned a scholarship after beginning

his playing career as a walk-on, carried himself like a young

coach.

”He was probably the smartest guy on offense when he played and

he did a great job telling everybody else where to go,” O’Brien

said.

Dooley is smart enough to know playing college games on Friday

night is not a good long-term plan if he wants to protect

relationships with high school programs.

”It’s certainly not something you want to do every year,”

Dooley said. ”I know our leadership, it’s not something you want

to do because we support the high schools so much and we don’t want

to ever try to take away from their support. I think it’s a

one-time deal. … Hopefully once this passes we won’t have this

scenario again.”

The Chick-fil-A Bowl committee is staging kickoff games on

back-to-back nights at the Georgia Dome, including the

Clemson-Auburn game on Saturday night.

The Clemson-Auburn game is expected to sell out. The conflict

with high school football may be one reason the Tennessee-N.C.

State game has not sold out.

AP Sports Writers Joedy McCreary in Raleigh, N.C., and Steve

Megargee in Knoxville, Tenn., contributed to this report.