We’re just about out of speculating time, so here are a few more guesses while I have the chance ...
1) Who is NC State’s most important player on offense this season?
What with NC State replacing so many contributors on the offensive side of the ball, there are several ways I can go here. In an effort to not simply cop out and pick quarterback Matt McKay—who I assume will start—I am going to talk myself into a different guy. Or try to.
Ricky Person will have a huge say in the success of the offense this year, since he will be the skill player most frequently tasked with taking pressure off of State’s new quarterback. His natural running ability and his speed are extra important with the attrition along the offensive line, as well.
NC State’s offense also could use more chunk plays in 2019—of any kind, really, but the more they get out of Person and the ground game, the better off the Wolfpack will be.
State’s offense was fine last season but often needed a lot of plays on any given drive to net points. The more plays you run on a drive, the higher your odds of making a crucial mistake (turnover, major penalty, etc.) You’re really playing with fire when you’re piling lengthy drives onto the shoulders of a first-year QB.
Home runs are good. Ricky Person can deliver some of those, which could mean a lot.
2) Who is NC State’s most important player on defense this season?
The Pack needs more from its defensive line on standard downs (not obvious run or pass situations, in other words) for the defense to take a step forward as a unit, and Larrell Murchison is the biggest key to making that happen.
It’s such an advantage to have guys who command attention for multiple blockers with regularity—that creates opportunities for the defense elsewhere, and it can lead to mistakes. The Murch Man is capable of being that sort of facilitator. And who knows, maybe some more takeaways will come around with that.
Additionally, I have been workshopping more nicknames for Larrell:
— Lord Murchison of Sackshire
Okay so that’s all I have right now.
3) What will be the biggest change between last year and this year for NC State?
The offense has new play-callers, a new starting quarterback, and plenty of new players to break in elsewhere so the whole operation might be unrecognizable at first. NC State’s approach may change a little, also—maybe we will see more plays designed to get Matt McKay involved in the running game, for instance. I’d be good with that.
Ultimately this is going to be an offense with a different personality and a different set of strengths, and there will be adjustments and we will find some new bread-and-butter, though those back-shoulder throws by Ryan Finley will be missed.
4) What is the most important game on State’s schedule, and why?
Most likely, NC State’s season will be defined by the Syracuse-BC-Wake Forest stretch. All three of those games are winnable, but only one of them is at home. The biggest of those three, given the painful recent history, has to be Wake Forest.
The Pack out-played Wake by a good margin in Winston-Salem two years ago and found a way to lose anyway, and then last year there was ... well I’m not sure what that was. Like a Benjamin Button situation spanning four quarters where the end result is the fetal position.
NC State needs two of three from the Cuse-BC-Wake stretch to put itself in good position to finish with a winning league record for the third consecutive year, and that may pivot on Winston-Salem again. Blowing the game against the Deacs last year cost State a 10-win season. That was a big deal, even if it was mostly symbolic.
State can’t let those guys define another one of their seasons.
5) What will NC State’s record be when it’s said and done, and where is the Pack going bowling?
I like NC State at 8-4 (4-4) but would be willing to accept—and even live with—any and all records better than that one. We’ll be feeling modern, southern, stylish, and perhaps a little pleaty, in the Belk Bowl against, let’s say, Missouri.