As we march closer to the season (get out of the way, August), I wanted to highlight five players who will make the difference between Dave Doeren having another seven win season, and taking this team to the next level. As Steven has mentioned, this team is good, there’s no doubt about that. The difference between winning 7 games and winning 10 games is not a big margin, which we learned the hard way last year, the extremely hard way. Without further ado, here are the five players who will make the difference between just another bowl team and a New Year’s Six contender.
1. Nyheim Hines
Hines came to Raleigh out of Garner as a heralded four star recruit. He’s been a solid player so far, he’s made plays to help the team win, but he hasn’t been the game changer that many expected. He has world class speed and has shown it on occasion, but we need more this year. He needs to be a threat to score every time he touches the ball. He fills so many roles as a kick returner, receiver and this year he will get touches out of the backfield, and potentially as punt returner. Hines is the one player on the team who can change the game with just one touch and he needs to do more of that this year. Instead of just being another guy, he needs to be an All-ACC type guy who opposing coaches need to gameplan around.
2. Ryan Finley
Finley is a solid college quarterback, there’s no doubt about that. At worst, he’s a fine game manager, and at his best last year he was a top half of the ACC quarterback. Finley had some nice games last year, but he missed a couple opportunities for game ending drives against ECU, scored 14 points against BC (I know they have some dudes on defense, but dude, c’mon), and I’ll ignore the no-show against Louisville. He never had a defining game or moment. He was just fine. If this team is going to make Cole Cubelic look like a prophet, Finley needs to take the next step and be a top three QB in the ACC. He needs to have a signature game or a two minute drive to win a game. You can do a lot worse than Finley at QB, we just haven’t seen it in 8 years, but you can also do better than last year’s version, which Doeren needs to have a signature season.
3. Nick McCloud
This defense is good, in case you hadn’t noticed. There aren’t many holes for Dave Huxtable to patch up. One of them is corner. I chose McCloud because he is the best bet to start opposite Mike Stevens. It could very well be Johnathan Alston or James Valdez who has been reinstated to the program. McCloud got the most run last year and I suspect he’ll get first shot to see the field. Cornerbacks have given us spotty, to put it nicely, play the last couple years, especially when it comes to deep balls. If McCloud can avoid getting burnt then that’s all we need. Everybody else will take care of the tackling just don’t allow touchdowns over your head. That’s literally all we need from you Nick. Don’t. Get. Burnt.
4. Reggie Gallaspy
Matt Dayes leaves some pretty big shoes to fill, which Alec wrote about yesterday. Long story short, Gallaspy needs to stay healthy. I have no question about his abilities, however, injuries have been a concern for him. Losing Gallaspy, even for one game, would cause the whole playbook to change. While it would be nice to simply plug in Dakwa Nichols, that wouldn’t happen. Nyheim would not be split out wide, and likely would not return kicks, JaySam would lose snaps at the JaySam position, and our pass blocking would get worse. It’s not as simple as just plugging in another running back the way our offense is constructed this year. We get worse at running back, return game, JaySam, and slot receiver if Gallaspy is unable to stay healthy.
5. Carson Wise
This poor dead horse we’ve been beating since Nik Sade left. I won’t make it worse. Bottom line is we’ve got to be better. The physical ability isn’t the issue. It’s 100% between the ears. Hopefully this kid gets it, because he’s been declared the starter by Doeren since he announced he was coming to Raleigh. Maybe we should have JaySam try kicking. Or better yet, run the JaySam jet sweep instead of kicking extra points.
Bottom line, last year’s team should have won 9 games and this team is a better version of last year’s team. I’ve learned to avoid the hype train but this team has ballers and 10 wins would get us to a New Year’s Six Bowl. It’s not as crazy as some of us think. I’m thrilled for Sakerlina in a month, but also terrified because the season could come crashing down before it even starts.