Before the season started it was easy to look at N. C. State's schedule and see 8 or more wins. Florida State would be tough, Clemson on the road would be tough, Tennessee was supposedly an SEC team, and UConn's defense in a windy nooner up North presented a challenge, but the rest of the non-conference slate was baked full of cupcakes and the Wolfpack were likely to be favored in every conference contest save for the aforementioned pair above.
Now that the regular season has wound to a close, it is easy to see why Tom O'Brien is starting his retirement a few years early. N. C. State beat the toughest team on its schedule, FSU, but still managed to lose 5 games, all of which it could have (and perhaps should have) won.
The season began with a brutally deflating loss against a Tennessee team that went on to finish 1-7 in the SEC (with its lone win against a 2-10 Kentucky squad that finished winless in conference play). The Vols even struggled in non-conference games against Troy and Akron before finishing 5-7. Their third consecutive losing season cost their coach his job. Though UT is a "name" opponent, it has not been a very good football team for a long, long time, and there was nothing quality about this loss.
The next laid egg came in the form of 651 yards allowed against a Miami team that finished 7-5 and lost to the three ranked opponents it played by an average margin of 30 points. Despite firmly establishing the not ready to play theme that would plague the Pack all season (they gave up 21 first quarter points against UT and 23 against the U), the Pack fought back to tie this one at 37 and was driving for the potential game-winner with under a minute left when Mike Glennon tossed a pick after his receiver inexplicably cut off his route. A few plays later David Amerson, who slumped from All-American to a surprising choice as even a second team All-ACC selection between his sophomore and junior seasons, never saw the ball as it was tossed over his head for the game winning score.
Somehow the Pack secondary had three of their four starters earn postseason accolades despite giving up an ACC-record 566 yards passing to Stephen Morris and allowing an average of 376 yards and three receiving touchdowns in their five losses. Amerson was repeatedly beaten deep all season and Brandan Bishop was an insult to the phrase "a step slow." Earl Wolff was deserving of his selection, but one dude simply cannot make every tackle and clean up every mess his secondary mates (not to mention linebackers and linemen) left to be cleaned up. The good news for the Pack is that Juston Burris and Dontae Johnson, who were, surprisingly, their two most competent cover guys, should return next season.
After a modest two-game winning streak that included the dramatic come-from-behind victory over the Seminoles, the pain returned when TOB failed to extend his win streak over UNC to six games. The Tarheels were on pace for 100 points after yet another inexcusable, gaff-filled first quarter. The Pack rallied to take a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter only to epically collapse and then lose on an inexplicable special teams' decision that put the contest in UNC's best player's hands with the game on the line. The result, an Italian Stallion Giovani Bernard (ISGB) punt return for a touchdown with 13 seconds left, was predictable.
Going 5-1 against your rival is definitely something for TOB to hang his retirement fishing cap on, but part of the reason Dr. Yow moved to remove him has to be not only this loss, but that UNC has consistently out-recruited TOB and appeared poised to blow by him and his stagnant program with the highly caffeinated Fedora Express at the Tarheel helm.
The most unforgiveable performance of the season came a week after the end of the streak when TOB's flat-lining squad entertained the homecoming crowd with a 33-6 loss to a Virginia team that came to Carter-Finley riding a six-game losing streak and went on to finish 4-8. This latest example of the annual tradition known as the TOB WTF? game perhaps provided Dr. Yow all the ammunition she needed to get the financial support to buy out O'Brien's contract regardless of how the rest of the season unfolded.
The defense simply folded in Death Valley, allowing 62 points en route to blowing a double-digit lead for the second time in 2012. The Wolfpack surrendered and average of 43.4 points in losses but just 11.1 points in wins, and that maddening inconsistency was a hallmark of TOB teams at N. C. State. For every upset over a top 25 opponent there was a loss to a four-win squad.
There was the win over FSU and the dominating performance against The Citadel, which was a solid FCS squad with an offense that presented a unique challenge. And there was the dog walking against Wake Forest, a team that has held a slight edge in the series in recent years, but, for the most part, this was a team that rarely outperformed expectations. Considering how much weaker the schedule turned out to be than it appeared before the season opened, it is not a whimsical exaggeration to state that State could have run the table. The Wolfpack beat Florida State and had double-digit leads in their two toughest non-FSU challenges, at Carolina and Clemson, and simply soiled the sheets against three other teams it should have beaten. State sits 53rd in the Football Outsiders' overall FEI rankings; Miami is 61st, Tennessee is 63rd, and Virginia is 79th.
For those on the fire TOB bandwagon, they should be glad the Pack didn't pull out any of those games, as it would have been much more difficult to oust an eight-win O'Brien. Ultimately, I would have supported that decision had Dr. Yow had to make it. In the final analysis, anything short of 10 wins against this schedule was a disappointment.
Now, on to the week that was. You may skip the italicized, explanatory paragraph below unless you're new to the site or forgetful.
How to read the post: A capsule for each Pack opponent, including the team's record and most recent result, is listed under the heading "Week 1," "Week 2," "Week 3," etc. based on what week during the season that the Pack played that opponent. The Pack opponent for each week is listed in bold.
Week 1: Tennessee (5-7) 37, Kentucky (2-10) 17
Jim Chaney now owns the record for the highest winning percentage of any coach in Vols' history at 1.000. Chaney, the offensive coordinator turned interim head coach (sound familiar?), saw his offense hold up their end of the bargain for most of the season, as UT ranked as the 38th most efficient unit according to the Football Outsiders. It was Sal Sunseri, the linebackers coach brought in from Alabama to shore up the defense, who Derek Dooley can thank for having to hang up his orange trousers. Sunseri's unit ranked 88th in defensive efficiency and yielded 37 or more points eight times. In one of BTP's 29,000 previews for the season opener, I noted that successful position coaches do not always make good coordinators, and that Tennessee could struggle transitioning to Sunseri's 3-4. Sunseri was definitely not ready for prime time and the Vols were not ready to stop anyone all season.
Week 2: UCONN (5-6) 23, # 20 Louisville (9-2) 20 (3 OT)
Even with three overtimes, the Huskies could only manage 23 points, but it was enough to pull off the upset against the Cardinals and keep the Huskies nipping at the heels of bowl eligibility. You know your defense is pretty solid when your quarterbacks combine for a 9-for-28 passing day for 92 yards and you win anyway. The Huskies sacked Teddy Bridgewater four times, breaking his left, non-throwing wrist in the process, and rank an impressive 20th in the nation in defensive efficiency. Bridgewater gutted out the fourth quarter despite the wrist injury, bringing the Cardinals back from a 10-0 deficit, but he could not make enough plays against the stingy Husky D to get his team over the top.
Louisville plays Rutgers, also an upset victim in its game against Pittsburgh, for the Big East championship Thursday night on the Mothership. I think the Scarlet Knights right the ship and win, and I cannot wait for the Georgia Tech-Rutgers match up in the Orange Bowl! UConn will need another upset, this time at Cincinnati, to make the postseason.
Week 3: LA-Lafayette (7-4) 52, South Alabama (2-10) 30
The Ragin' Cajuns declawed the Jags
in their season finale. What? We get more SOAL than we bargained for? Somehow South Alabama has a 13th game on its regular season schedule. The Jags get to go to Hawaii Saturday to play Hawaii, another solid program at 2-9, in what seems like a better deal than just about any actual bowl game possible. How can this be? Perhaps it was a consolation prize for SOAL getting left out of THE game (apparently if it is not in the game, it is not in the game).
Week 4: The Citadel (7-4)
The Bulldogs closed their season with a week 12 win over Furman.
Week 5: Miami (7-5, 5-3) 52, Duke (6-6) 45
It's probably a good thing that the Blue Devils answered the bell against the Tar Heels; since that bowl-clinching win Duke has dropped five straight, mostly in the fashion of the magnificent blowout. Miami's defense did keep Duke in this one, but ultimately the Canes held on to a 21-point fourth quarter lead despite a 432-yard, four-touchdown day for Sean Renfree. The highlight of the game was most certainly Renfree's 99-yard TD toss to Jamison Crowder that ignited Duke's fourth quarter run. My guess is that the 99-yard reception at least ties some sort of record.
For Miami, freshperson Duke Johnson continued to make the future look bright with a 176-yard, three-TD performance on the ground. Duke out-duked Duke for 11 yards per carry. Clive Walford continued the tight-end explosion (he, Mario Carter, and Brandon Ford all went over 100 yards last week) with 99 yards receiving and a touchdown to lead the U's air attack.
Week 6: #4 Florida (11-1) 37, #10 Florida State (10-2, 7-1) 26
The Seminoles were doing the ACC proud and trying to help unclutter the BCS at-large bowl picture until the fourth quarter, when they not only let a 20-13 lead slip away, they flat got took. The Gators rolled up 24 straight points and E. J. Manuel's TD run on the final play of regulation only served to make the final score look closer than it should have. Florida is probably the third or fourth best team in the SEC, while FSU is the ACC's best, yet the Gators won by two scores on the road. This is ACC football.
Moving forward, FSU will have to do something about its propensity to collapse late in big games if it wants to be taken seriously again on the national stage (and hopefully drag the rest of the league up with it, assuming the Noles are still in the league).
Week 7: Bye week.
Week 8: North Carolina (8-4, 5-3) 45, Maryland (4-8, 2-6) 38
Speaking of runs: the Fighting Edsalls claimed a 14-point lead over the Heels when Stefon Diggs took the opening kickoff of the second half 99 yards to pay dirt, but the highly caffeinated Fedora Express answered with a 24-0 run to spoil all that endearing peskiness. How bad is UNC's defense? After a shade over 30 minutes of football, ACL-UM had 35 points on the board with linebacker Shawn Petty under center. Unfortunately, the normally reasonably decent Terp D did not hold up their end of the tortoise shell. Bryn Renner threw for 300+ and five scores and ISGB rushed for 163 yards and a score.
After a promising start, the Fighting Edsalls ended up improving by just two wins over last season thanks to their colossally unlucky injury luck.
Week 9: North Carolina (8-4, 5-3) 45, Maryland (4-8, 2-6) 38
The Tarheels were just one win better in 2012 in their first season under Larry Fedora, though they are a vastly different team. The Tarheels went from solid in offensive efficiency last season (46th) to among the nation's elite (15th). Last year, UNC's 26th-ranked defense was its calling card, but this year the unit slumped all the way to 75th. Overall FEI actually likes last year's Tarheels a little better (41st compared to 49th), W-L record be damned, likely due to UNC's pathetic schedule that included an FCS patsy, Idaho, and EZU, and, as luck would have it, did not include FSU or Clemson. It will hard to tell what Fedora has until the schedule improves, but a 10-win top 15ish squad the likes of Dabo's Tigers is not out of the question if they can play a wee modicum of defense.
Week 10: Virginia Tech (6-6, 4-4) 17, Virginia (4-8, 2-6) 14
Virginia was not as good as its 8-4 record indicated last season, but it is probably not as bad as its 4-8 mark this season. The Hoos lost four games by six points or less this year after winning 5 games last year by 7 points or less. Lucky or unlucky, it is safe to say that the progress of TOB-disciple Mike London's Cavs stalled in year three. After winning road games at FSU and Miami in 2011, London's best accomplishment this season was either: a) beating an already beat down by the NCAA Penn State after the Nittany Lions' kicker missed an extra point and 11 field goals, or b) taking his mentor behind the woodshed in N. C. State's homecoming game. As Derek Dooley can tell you, having beating N. C. State at the top of your résumé is not good for job security. London will need to settle his quarterback situation and liven up an anemic offense-the Hoos went out with a whimper, gaining just 217 yards against the Hokies-and show improvement next season or he will find himself on the hot seat.
Week 11: Vanderbilt (8-4) 55, Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5) 21
Speaking of hot seats, one would think that Jim Grobe has coach for life status at Wake Forest after bringing home an ACC championship. However, that title was way back in 2006, and the Deacs have managed bowl eligibility just once in the last four seasons (a 6-6 effort that ended in a bowl loss). Wake was shutout twice this season and, with bowl eligibility on the line in each contest, closed the campaign on a three-game slide of 31, 38, and 34-point losses. Yikes!
Like London, Grobe will have to get consistent production out of the quarterback position to get back to bowling in 2013. Tanner Price, Omega's favorite whipping boy, ranked 99th of 100 qualifying FBS quarterbacks in efficiency this season. If he is the answer, someone is asking the wrong question.
While publically not a candidate for the N. C. State job (wink wink), James Franklin has already done what TOB could not as State's coach: beat Wake in Winston-Salem. Actually, he has done it twice.
Week 12: #12 USC-East (10-2) 27, #11 Clemson (10-2, 7-1) 17
What a difference a defense makes. The Tigers made it 0-4 vs. the SEC for the ACC last weekend as Tajh Superfluous H Boyd was irked all day long by the stiff Cock defense. After accounting for 8 scores against the Wolfpack, Boyd managed to get the Tigers into the end zone twice in the first quarter (one rush, one pass), but then the felines fell flaccid, managing just 3 points over the game's final 46 minutes. (Alliteration and penis humor! Pulitzer!) For comparison's sake, the Tigers scored over a point a minute against N. C. State.
Pobre Dabo. Not only did Clemson lose bragging rights to Ye Olde Ball Coach, it also lost a shot at a BCS bowl. Boyd was bad, completing less than 50% of his passes and getting picked twice. It was hard for him to find a rhythm when the Cocks controlled the ball for over 39 minutes. Note to whoever next coaches the Pack: controlling the ball is a really good way to counter explosive offenses the likes of which Clemson and UNC are likely to have for the foreseeable future.
Week 13: N. C. State (7-5, 4-4) 27, Boston College (2-10, 1-7) 10
It was a funeral-like atmosphere in Carter-Finley, as good buddies TOB and Spazstachio coached their last game. Of course we did not know what TOB knew at the time, but, looking back, there was something in yet another subdued C-F atmosphere that hinted of lame duck.
But give the old marine credit for coaching ‘em up until the very last. I will always remember him ripping the hell out of senior walk on Jonathan Fisher when he ran out of bounds, stopping the clock and ultimately forcing State to turn it over on downs, when Fisher got his courtesy carry in the closing minute. At the time, I was actually kind of pissed at TOB for showing the kid up after his moment under the Carter-Finley lights. It's not like the game was in doubt. Give the kid a break! But now that I know that TOB knew it was his last few seconds on the sidelines, I kind of think it was a pretty special moment. Some of us might have wanted to prolong it as long as possible, but TOB was trying to teach the guys to play the right way, just as he tried to teach them to live the right way, all the way to the end. For that, I will always be thankful.