A strong finish by North Carolina State in 2011 has ratcheted up expectations for the Wolfpack in 2012.
The Wolfpack won their final two regular-season games to become bowl-eligible, then beat Louisville in the Belk Bowl to finish 8-5. That gave NCSU 17 wins in the past two seasons, which is the best two-year stretch at the school since 2002-03, when Philip Rivers was the quarterback.
NCSU returns 14 full-time starters, including QB Mike Glennon and CB David Amerson, who led the nation with 13 interceptions last season.
N.C. State QB Mike Glennon is back after leading the Wolfpack to a Belk Bowl win over Louisville.
N.C. State at-a-glance
|Coach: Tom O'Brien (6th season) |
Last season: 8-5, 4-4 ACC
Spring practice dates: March 23-April 21
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): G Zach Allen, G Duran Christophe, QB Mike Glennon, T R.J. Mattes, WR Tobais Palmer, RB James Washington, C Camden Wentz
Defense (7): CB David Amerson, FS Brandan Bishop, T/E Darryl Cato-Bishop, E Art Norman, E Brian Slay, CB C.J. Wilson, SS Earl Wolff
Special teams (2): P Will Baumann, K Niklas Sade
Glennon certainly isn't in Rivers' class, but if the Wolfpack can run the ball better, Glennon has the talent to contend for All-ACC honors. Too often last season, the running game went nowhere, putting too much pressure on the passing attack. Four starting linemen return, so developing a pecking order at running back should be an offensive priority this spring.
Also important is retooling the receiving corps. Leading receiver T.J. Graham is gone, as is TE George Bryan.
Defensively, a huge issue is linebacker. All three starters are gone. The line and secondary should be fine, so if the linebacker corps comes around this spring, the Wolfpack have a chance to have one of the top four or five defenses in the league.
The biggest problem: Linebacker. Heading into December, State figured to return two of three starters. Then, Terrell Manning decided to turn pro and D.J. Green lost a year of eligibility for taking a banned substance. Now State must find three new starters, a task made more difficult since the top reserve linebacker last season was senior Dwayne Maddox.
On the spot: LB Sterling Lucas. Lucas, a fifth-year senior, showed potential in his first two seasons. He made 51 tackles as a sophomore while starting two games that season. But Lucas made just 19 stops as a junior, and he missed last season with a knee injury. He is the Pack's most experienced option at linebacker and needs to show this spring that he can handle the task.
On the verge: DE Art Norman. He quietly had an impressive redshirt freshman season in 2011. He made 27 tackles, including 10 for loss and a team-high seven sacks. He also had 30 quarterback pressures while starting eight of 13 games. If last season is any indication, he could develop into an elite pass rusher in the ACC.
General overview: State has two issues that must be addressed this spring, one on both sides of the ball. Defensively, it's linebacker. On offense, State must find some receivers for fifth-year senior QB Mike Glennon. Only two wide receivers/tight ends return who caught at least 10 passes last season. Otherwise, this team looks solid. The offensive and defensive backfields and both lines return a healthy amount of players, and all of the specialists are back.
For in-depth coverage of North Carolina State athletics, go to TheWolfpacker.com
Other popular content on Yahoo! Sports:
• Pat Forde: Traversing the Heartland in search of the real March Madness
• Jason Cole: Sources say NFL players' union strong-armed into 'collusion'
• Dan Wetzel: Jets' gamble on Tim Tebow could work | QB's fantasy value