The feature that EA Sports is touting in NCAA Football '13 is the ability to add a Heisman Trophy winner to any team, so I was trying to figure which Heisman winner would help State the most given the circumstances at the time. In terms of sheer excitement, I'd pick Reggie Bush or Bo Jackson, but I don't know that they'd have propelled those teams into the national title conversation.
Chuck Amato didn't work out at NC State for a number of reasons, some of which he could control, and others he couldn't. Sometimes your timing is just bad and that's ultimately what defined Amato's tenure. The 2003 team led by Philip Rivers had one of the best offenses in the country but was derailed by terrible defense. In 2004, the reverse was true.The '04 team finished 5-6, coaching staff turnover continued, and recruiting suffered. It was the beginning of the end.
That 2004 team ranked No. 1 in total defense and was in the top 10 in rushing defense, pass defense, and pass efficiency defense. But as good as that group was, it only forced 15 turnovers over the entire season. That's
football is stupid just bizarre given the talent on the field: Mario Williams, Stephen Tulloch, Marcus Hudson, Freddy Aughtry-Lindsay, Manny Lawson, John McCargo, Tank Tyler, Andre Maddox, Pat Thomas. That's three first round draft picks and three other guys who played multiple years in the league all on the same defense.
Add to that takeaway-averse defense a sub-par and incredibly mistake-prone offense and you somehow get a team that finished below .500 despite being the ACC's best on paper. They beat the ACC champs (Virginia Tech) on the road that year and it wasn't a fluke.
NC State out-gained all 11 opponents and only won five times. The Pack did not have a positive turnover margin in any game against a Div. I-A team. That is some crap right there.
Which is where 2004 Heisman winner Matt Leinart comes in. Leinart completed 65.3% of his passes in 2004 and threw 33 TDs against just six interceptions. (Jay Davis threw nine more INTs in 20 fewer attempts that year.) State's offense still had plenty of weapons following the departure of Rivers and Cotchery, they were just underutilized in that passes intended for them often landed anywhere but near them. Tramain Hall** was in his final year, T.J. Williams gave the Pack a solid option at tight end, Richard Washington was a slot speedster who could be as dangerous as Hall, and both Brian Clark and Lamart Barrett had the potential for big games, if they'd only had more help. T.A. McLendon was still around to carry the ball, and for all his issues, dude was better than anyone we've had since.
[**Hall caught 69 passes for 799 yards in Rivers' final year, then his production dipped to 28-324 the next season. That difference alone is enough to illustrate how much the 2004 team hurt for lack of a decent QB.]
So while Leinart's statistics wouldn't translate exactly, he'd have been in a fine position to succeed, and he'd have had the nation's best defense behind him. I think Leinart would have come pretty close to getting the Pack to approximate its 2003 offensive output, and in that case, Leinart would have taken NC State to the BCS national championship game.
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