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NC State’s defense wasn’t as good as expected in 2017, which is a reason for ... optimism?

Maybe not—probably not—but you ain’t getting me off the optimism train with August around the corner.

Clemson v North Carolina State Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

NC State’s defense is an odd case in that it lost a lot of talented, experienced players but also wasn’t exceptional with those guys on the field. The credentials of the defensive linemen are well understood by everybody at this point, but still, this excerpt from Bill Connelly’s NC State preview is worth highlighting:

The Pack fielded a line that featured the No. 5 (Chubb), No. 69 (tackle B.J. Hill), No. 84 (tackle Justin Jones), and No. 128 (end Kentavius Street) picks in April and ranked 44th in Rushing S&P+. They were 57th in rushing success rate allowed, 48th in stuff rate, and 75th in Adj. Sack Rate. With an all-NFL line. Explain that to me.

I cannot, sir. I’m as confused now—perhaps moreso—than I was while I was watching it happen.

There is a chart in Connelly’s ACC power rankings post that also illustrates the surprisingly nondescript nature of the Wolfpack defense. Relative to the rest of the ACC’s defenses, NC State did nothing of note in terms of both success rate and its ability to limit explosive plays. (Scroll down to the “ACC defenses heading into 2018” header for the chart in question.)

You could look at the loss of experience and talent and the relatively modest returns of 2017 and conclude that there is decent chance NC State’s defense could fall off a cliff. On the other hand, you could say the Wolfpack would at least appear capable of replicating that ‘17 performance—which wasn’t bad, mind you—with a less star-concentrated, more balanced collective effort.

This being the offseason, and what with camp starting at the end of the week, I am of course going with door number two. Despite the still-nagging question marks at corner.

The defensive line is probably going to regress back toward average in some places, which is bad, but the defensive secondary I’d expect to do the same, which on the other hand is good. Everything will be a perfect equilibrium of okayness!

I have to figure as well that the turnover spigot will eventually turn on for Dave Doeren, because it hasn’t yet in five full seasons.

Turnovers forced by season (national rank):

2013: 21 (60)
2014: 20 (65)
2015: 22 (43)
2016: 22 (47)
2017: 21 (44)

(That’s some bizarre consistency in a highly volatile aspect of football, by the way.)

State has never averaged two forced turnovers per game in the Doeren era, and while that’s a tougher bar to reach than you might think (only 24 FBS schools averaged 2.0+ turnovers forced per game in ‘17), this facet of football is tilted heavily toward luck. And thus clearly 2018 is the year in which the football gods release the turnover spigot and our buckets overfloweth with pick-sixes and decisive fumble recoveries. Let it be decreed this July: 32 turnovers in 2018 for the mighty Wolfed Pack.