It’s a new year with the highest expectations yet as we inhale the sweet, fresh air of prosperity otherwise known as 2008.
NC State is ranked 15th nationally heading into David DeKalb’s third season, and the team is picked to finish first in the Atlantic. At least we’re getting some respect within the league at this point; that’s an improvement. We knew we were going to have a target on our back after serving notice to the ACC last December.
This is a transition year, as State is replacing Marcus Stone at quarterback (that’s NC State Legend Marcus Stone to you) and a gaggle of defensive talent that this coaching staff was fortunate enough to inherit. The change at quarterback leads to some trepidation among the coaches, but Stone’s replacement—Mike Greco, apparently?—is rated similarly and so we do not expect a huge drop-off.
And we plan to run the hell out of the ball behind Andre Brown and Toney Baker, who are both among the highest-rated players on the team. We have loads of underclassmen in significant spots on the two-deep defensively, and they’ll have their growing pains, but we expect the offense to be good enough to at least secure another winning season.
To begin the season, we roll through Alabama A&M and Louisiana Tech, then beat Duke 31-24 in Durham, but here we lose Andre Brown to another significant injury. Coach DeKalb then endured the first loss to UNC of his tenure, a 27-21 letdown in Chapel Hill.
That disappointment aside, we’re not looking at a bad start at all. Toney Baker has 461 yards rushing on the season at 6.7 per carry, but in what proves an alarming piece of foreshadowing, he also leads the team with 292 receiving yards.
We bounce back from the bummer at UNC by beating Miami 24-22 behind two rushing scores from Toney Baker. We then crush Army, 35-3, as Baker runs for 190 yards and four touchdowns.
At this point, we are 5-1 (2-1) and things seem fine, but we have just enjoyed our last win of the season.
State closes out the middle third of its schedule with 42-14 blowout loss at No. 14 Clemson that is followed by a demoralizing 30-27 home loss to Wake Forest.
Toney Baker still leads the team in receiving yardage. Uh oh.
At No. 16 Florida State, we are losers in blowout fashion again, 46-25. We return home only to lose to Boston College by a field goal, 35-32.
Our young group is in a really tough spot now, with closing games against a pair of top-15 squads. The first of those, against Nebraska, ends in a 35-14 defeat. We scheduled the Marcus Stone statue unveiling for this weekend. I damn well told them that was a bad idea!
Our sorry limp to the finish concluded with a 49-17 loss at No. 14 Maryland, which it turns out was severely underrated—like a lot of the ACC—during the preseason. Both Maryland and Florida State end the year ranked in the top 7 in both polls.
Also, Nebraska’s running back wins the Heisman, and the Huskers finish second in both polls. Ohio State beat them in the national title game. Coach DeKalb is once again set to have a stern conversation with his AD over scheduling, because that Nebraska game ended up being a real bad idea.
If the one-possession losses go the other way then this season has a different feel to it, but there’s no ignoring the alarming margins in losses to ranked opponents. What had been a stout defense our first two years was flat-out not up to the challenge this time around, and while the coaches expected some hiccups with a number of underclassmen on the two-deep, they did not see it going like this.
Toney Baker and Andre Brown combined to run for over 1,700 yards at about six yards per carry, but the passing game was ghastly—the turnover at receiver was an enormous handicap that we didn’t fully anticipate. Greco really never had a chance to thrive, and for that we are sorry. Losing John Dunlap and Darrell Blackman proved super painful. The lack of depth at WR led Greco to severely under-perform his rating.
Coach DeKalb would be the first to tell you he is enduring a minor crisis of confidence here, preoccupied as he is about not becoming just another coach who couldn’t get anything done once the roster was entirely his.
NC State is heading into 2009 picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic, but the Pack landed another promising recruiting class—No. 14 overall—in the offseason.
We expect the offensive line to be a significant strength, led by the Twin Towers at tackle: RT Dallas Mcrae (a 6’7 mountain-child rated 95 overall) and LT Eric Fletcher (also a 95). Mcrae (look, I agree the R should probably be capitalized but this is how the game is punctuating it, okay) was a Freshman All-American two years ago and enters 2009 as a pre-season 1st-team All-ACC pick. (Fletcher, for whatever reason, is perpetually snubbed for any pre- or post-season honors.)
Toney Baker is back. The defensive line is maturing, and we love what we have at the safety spots.
We’re making a change at quarterback that is going to throw this year well up into the air, but we’re good with our process, damn the outcomes: redshirt freshman Damon Chambers, a former blue-chip recruit, is gonna run this show for better or worse.
NC State is ranked 37th in the EA Sports 119 to begin 2009. There are only 10 seniors on the roster.
We know losses do not sell season tickets, nor do they sell steaks at the Sizzler. Frankly, we don’t know what sells anything at the Sizzler. But we’re ready to learn, and we promise to be better, with eyes toward another championship window in 2010 and 2011.