Analyzing the Atlantic: Wake Likely Weaker

Campy can't hurt us any more. - Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Part one of a six-part series taking a look at N.C. State's chances at reversing its fortunes against divisional foes.

Football season is a scant 58 days away, meaning it's high time to inundate this site with preview after preview. Alas, gone are the days of a marquee opener against an SEC team, so you won't be seeing 71 or so previews for Georgia Southern as you did for Tennessee a few years ago. We'll give the Eagles their just deserts in time; in the meantime, I wanted to take a look at the ACC Atlantic Division from the bottom up. There is nowhere to go but up for the Pack, which finished dead last in the division at 0-8 in year one under Dave Doeren; can N.C. State leapfrog Wake Forest (next to last at 4-8, 2-6) and get out of the cellar in 2014?

The Demon Deacons have a lot going against them, chiefly the loss of Michael Campanaro from an offense that managed a sad 18.3 points per game in 2013. Campanaro, the lone Wake player drafted last May (7th round, Baltimore), caught 229 balls for 2,506 yards and 14 touchdowns in his career. He added 238 rushing yards on 51 totes and two more scores. On top of that, every trickeration pass he ever attempted was completed (though one was caught by the opposition); Campanaro the passer was 6-for-7 for 174 yards and four TDs in his Wake career. That all adds up to a 454.5 QB rating. It probably only seems like 75% of that career damage came at the Wolfpack's expense, but good riddance to you, son, nonetheless.

Whoever replaces the underwhelming Tanner Price at quarterback will be doing so behind three new offensive linemen, and Wake lost its starting running back as well. Of course the steady hand of Jim Grobe has waved bye bye, too, and there's not a whole lot in new coach Dave Clawson's 32-32 career record to suggest that he is going to be able to immediately fix this offensive mess. Wolfpack fans know too well the pains of a coaching transition, especially a transition that finds the cupboard to be pretty bare at QB. Twenty points should be enough to beat this Wake team nine out of 10 times.

Things look a little less bleak defensively, where Wake features experience and talent in the secondary. Led by potential all-ACC performer Kevin Johnson, the Deacons will have three seniors in the secondary, including Merrill Noel opposite of Johnson. Both had three picks a year ago. But Wake is transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 defense despite losing all three of its starters from the three-man front of last year, including first team all-ACC nose guard Nikita Whitlock. Whitlock, he the hero of the undersized, recorded 18 tackles for a loss and nine sacks a season ago despite manning the middle of the defensive line at 5-10, 255 pounds. He's trying to make the Bengals, now converted to fullback, as an UDFA. If Wake can't stop the run or generate any pressure on the opposing QB without Whitlock and company, it simply won't matter how good the guys in the back are.

Team

2013 Record

Returning Offensive Starters

Returning Defensive Starters

Kicker and Punter Returning?

Players Lost in Draft

2013 Score

Wake Forest

4-8 (2-6)

5

6

Yes to both

1

28

N.C. State

3-9 (0-8)

7

8

Yes to both

1

13

Though the Pack's Dontae Johnson (4th round, San Francisco) was the highest draft pick from either team, Wake's overall talent loss has to be considered more damaging due to both the sheer number of starters that have moved on and especially due to the losses of Campanaro and Whitlock, respectively the heart and soul of the offense and defense. State is expected to get a major boost at quarterback from Jacoby Brissett and will hopefully finally get healthy seasons from veterans Jarvis Byrd, Robert Crisp, and Bryan Underwood. The Pack also has the advantage of being in year two of a new regime rather than year one, and this season's game is at Carter-Finley. State has struggled mightily in Winston-Salem but won the last two at home over the Deacs by a combined score of 75-9. If there is one Atlantic Division game State should be able to count on turning from an L to a W, it's this one. And the cross-divisional pairings won't do the Deacs any favors in their quest to again finish ahead of the Pack, as Wake has Virginia Tech and suddenly dangerous Duke. The Pack has an arguably easier draw with a Georgia Tech team seemingly headed in the wrong direction and perennially underachieving rival North Carolina on their slate.

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