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Today at No. 79: NC STATE Coach: Dave Doeren (11-14, entering third year; 34-18 overall) 2014 record: 8-5, 3-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference; fifth...

stanford pickToday at No. 79: NC STATE

Coach: Dave Doeren (11-14, entering third year; 34-18 overall)

2014 record: 8-5, 3-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference; fifth in Atlantic Division

Look back: NC State’s 2014 season was marked by sporadic play, but Dave Doeren ultimately has to feel good about the direction of his program. The Wolfpack started 4-0 against a relatively blasé schedule before beginning conference play on a four-game losing streak that included three straight losses by a combined score of 101-26. But NC State, behind transfer quarterback Jacoby Brissett, mustered up enough firepower to beat in-state rivals Wake Forest and North Carolina before earning a 34-27 win against UCF in the St. Petersburg Bowl.

Offensive starters returning: 8

Offensive starters lost: 3

Defensive starters returning: 5

Defensive starters lost: 6

Key losses: WR Bo Hines, OL Rob Crisp, LB Rodman Noel, DL Thomas Teal, LB Brandon Pittman, DL Art Norman, P Wil Baumann, OL Tyson Chandler, K Niklas Sade

Top returnees: QB Jacoby Brissett, RB Shadrach Thornton, DB Hakim Jones, LB Jerod Fernandez, DB Dravious Wright, RB Matt Dayes, TE David Grinnage, WR Bra’Lon Cherry, DB Josh Jones, DL Mike Rose, OL Tony Adams, OL Quinton Schooley, OL Joe Thuney

Strengths: Dave Doeren regularly fielded one of the country’s most potent rushing attacks while at Northern Illinois and is starting to produce similar success on the ground in Raleigh. After the run game floundered in 2013 (3.93 yards per run), Doeren’s squad got on track in 2014, ranking 24th nationally with 5.23 yards per carry. Running backs Shadrach Thornton (907 rushing yards, 9 touchdowns) and Matt Dayes (894 yards from scrimmage, 13 total touchdowns) form a nice one-two punch, but Brissett is at the core of the team’s running renaissance. The dual-threat quarterback transfer from Florida had 529 rushing yards and three touchdowns on the ground to go with 2,606 passing yards, 23 touchdown and five interceptions.

With Brissett back for his senior year, a stable of proven running backs and three returning linemen, NC State’s offense should surpass its 30.2 point-per game average from last season.

Weaknesses: Consistency is a must for NC State if the program is going to jump to the next level. The Wolfpack beat up on lesser opponents but were outclassed by more established programs (2-5 versus bowl-eligible teams). Brissett’s evolution is an essential part of NC State’s growth as well. His passer rating varied greatly from wins (154.77) to losses (113.76). Bringing back seven other starters should help in that department as more pressure will be taken off Brissett, although the loss of leading receiver Bo Hines (left for Yale) hurts.

Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable has prided himself over the years in fielding deep lines that come in waves. So while NC State loses four of its five leaders in sacks (15.5 of the team’s 30 sacks), it does return some key leaders up front such as defensive lineman Mike Rose (46 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 5 sacks) and defensive tackle B.J. Hill (39 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss). Still, the Wolfpack ranked in the bottom half of the ACC in rushing yards allowed (168.38) and yards per carry (4.20) last season, an area that must be tightened.

Outlook: There are plenty of reasons for optimism in Raleigh: the Wolfpack return a slew of playmakers on offense, have several prominent members of a young defense coming back and continue to accumulate talent. With another manageable schedule, the Wolfpack should be in line for a bowl game in 2015.

2015 SCHEDULE

Sept. 5 Troy

Sept. 12 Eastern Kentucky

Sept. 12 at Old Dominion

Sept. 26 at South Alabama

Oct. 3 Louisville

Oct. 9 at Virginia Tech

Oct. 24 at Wake Forest

Oct. 31 Clemson

Nov. 7 at Boston College

Nov. 14 at FSU

Nov. 21 Syracuse

Nov. 28 UNC

Vincent Rizzo

College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com

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