With just a little over two weeks before the opening game, it’s time to predict how NC State’s football team will compete this season, the fourth of coach Tom O’Brien whose troops for the past three years are 16-21 overall and 9-15 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The closest the Wolfpack has come to a winning season under O’Brien was in 2008 with a 6-6 regular season and a 4-4 conference slate. But, State lost its bowl game that season.
Even though NC State fans, self-included, are absolutely without a doubt THE most optimistic college football fans anywhere and everywhere, a quick look at the schedule with five Sports Illustrated top 25 teams—#10 Virginia Tech, #13 North Carolina, #14 Georgia Tech, #18 Cincinnati, #25 Florida State—on board, there’s a good chance the O’Brien-led Wolfpack will turn in a repeat non-winning record performance in 2010.
The writers at SI predict an ACC record of 3-5 and an overall 6-6 mark, and, looking over the line-up of opposition this fall, it’s easy to agree, giving State conference wins over Boston College, Wake Forest and Maryland and non-conference wins over Western Carolina, Central Florida and East Carolina. If the Sports Illustrated prediction holds, the silver lining to the cloud is that Athletics Director Debbie Yow does not get a bonus for the Wolfpack placing sixth or better in the league. The Pack would tie for third in the Atlantic Division but four teams from the Coastal Division would have better league marks, so, assuming a combined league and not a Divisional finish, State would tie for seventh. Of course, that’s just the sub-plot to football (and basketball). If you’ve forgotten, check out Ms. Yow’s contract on the July 2 posting in this space.
Anyway, instead of looking at personnel—which if this is Tom’s fourth season, it must be that he now has four sets of recruits and only a few red-shirted seniors are left over from Chuck Amato—I’m going to focus on the schedule and show how the Wolfpack could do a lot better. By the way, one current assistant coach told me that many of Chuck’s players were just not the caliber necessary to compete at NC State. Whatever.
On the other hand, in Sunday’s The News & Observer, there was a story about NC State’s secondary, an article which started out with a play sophomore cornerback CJ Wilson made on the first day of practice this summer, stopping a back-pedal coverage of a receiver to step in front of the intended pass-catcher and coming up with an interception. Wilson told the reporter he would not have made that play last fall. Quote from Wilson: “I didn’t watch enough film. I was young. I wasn’t in the film room as much as I needed to be. I was inexperienced.”
Okay, he was a freshman but where the hell were the coaches, demanding Wilson and other get into the film room, to learn to be better. I’m not a professional at coaching, just a sideline observer, but I do believe that if anyone needs to be hand-held into the film room and into the weight training room, it’s freshmen first, followed by sophomores and then juniors and seniors, the latter two knowing better than to stay away. “I was inexperienced.” Give me a break.
But I digress. Let’s take a swing through the 2010 Wolfpack schedule in a different way:
Should win games but relaxing will not be good games: Sept 4 Western Carolina at home; Sept 11 at Central Florida; Oct 10 Boston College at home; Nov 13 Wake Forest at home; and, Nov 27 at Maryland. Even though these are considered the “easy” games, and even though NC State has more and better talent than each of these five, the Wolfpack needs to play its best football for these five games, no let-up because a little slip here and there will create a disastrous season: 5-0 overall; 3-0 in the ACC.
No chance games: Sept 25 at Georgia Tech; and, Oct 2 Virginia Tech at home. Two games against two programs that are far-above what’s happening at NC State right now. Georgia Tech’s offense will create havoc on State’s defense; Virginia Tech offensive ground game will create havoc on State’s defense. 0-2 overall and 0-2 in the league.
Toss-up game: Nov 6 at Clemson. This could be close with State winning or a runaway with Clemson on top. I’ll go with the latter because of the excitement coach Dabo Swinney’s got going with his program and his fans. A little charisma goes a long way in Death Valley. It would do the same in Raleigh. 0-1 in over and the ACC.
Two games which maybe the most important to the program this year: Sept 16 Cincinnati at home; Oct 28 Florida State at home. Both of these games are Thursday nights; both are on ESPN; these are the two most important games on the schedule by far because of the significance of winning in front of a national television audience. There’s a chance NC State could win both, at least the game against Cincinnati. If the cards fall correctly, the Wolfpack will be 2-0 heading in the Cincinnati game and riding a wave of something, maybe not excitement, but just enough to play well enough to win that game. The Florida State game is a different story. Seminoles are too tough this year. 1-1 overall; 0-1 in the ACC.
Two games of most importance to the fans: Oct 16 at East Carolina; Nov 20 at North Carolina. I recall beating East Carolina in Carter-Finley Stadium a couple of seasons ago, and one of those purple clad people making a ridiculous remark that went something like this: “You State fans kill me. If there’s just one game you want to win each season it’s against East Carolina.” She needs to get a life. There is at least one other game of a little more importance than East Carolina, and if you ask me, every game on the schedule is more important than the East Carolina game, a game scheduled for NC State by the North Carolina General Assembly with threats of appropriations being pulled from the NC State campus. NC State should win this one in Greenville; State would always beat East Carolina. On the other hand, the three-game winning streak against North Carolina will probably come to an end as the Tar Heels have a wonderful team filled with professional athletes…oops…football players who accepted something from agents. No sour grapes here. If State had players the agents wanted, the Wolfpack might be better: 1-1 overall; 0-1 in the conference.
Final record: 7-5 overall; 3-5 in the ACC.
The key, then, to a winning season, to give Debbie Yow a reason to rejoice because she will not have to deal with a coach on a four-season non-winning record run, is beating Cincinnati and doing everything else that’s obvious. There’s no incentive in Yow’s contract for the football team going to a bowl game, but I believe there is for O’Brien. And, with wins over Western Carolina, Central Florida, Cincinnati, Boston College, East Carolina, Wake Forest and Maryland, according to contractual agreements, he’ll deserve the bonus. State fans will rejoice, buy tickets to a bowl game and call the season successful.
From where I sit, NC State could and should do better every year. But then, I'm one of the most optimistic college football fans ever.
Thanks to the two or three loyal readers who wrote last week to ask me where I’ve been. Well, my day job has been extremely busy and this writing gig has taken a back seat. I’ll post when I post and let you know when I post. Thanks for reading. I welcome your comments.