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The North Carolina State Wolfpack was the hunted rather than the hunter last season as Dave Doeren’s team was 3-9 in his first season at the helm. The offense failed to turn yards into points and the defense failed to stop anybody from running the ball down their throats. The Wolfpack went 0-8 in conference play and lost seven of those eight games by double digits. All three of their wins came in September as they failed to win a game after crushing Central Michigan on September 28. That winless stretch to end the season included a 42-28 loss at home to East Carolina.

Year two of the Doeren era should provide for some improvements. The Wolfpack lacked the necessary personnel to do what Doeren and offensive coordinator Matt Canada wanted to achieve. The defense played admirably, all things considered. The Wolfpack were 14th in average time of possession, but a lot of drives stalled at midfield. The Wolfpack turned the ball over on downs 17 times last season and that added pressure to the defense.

2014 NC State Offense

Doeren, amazingly enough, has a defensive background, but it was his offense at Northern Illinois that helped to get him the NC State job. After leading the Huskies to back-to-back 11-win seasons, in large part thanks to Chandler Harnish and Jordan Lynch, Doeren upgraded from the MAC to the ACC. Offensive coordinator Matt Canada has the right quarterback for his system as former Florida quarterback Jacoby Brissett has transferred into the program. The dual threat signal caller is now eligible to play and he has a young, but promising, group of skill players around him. The Wolfpack will be very young at wide receiver as the coaching staff looks to create a spark by putting their own recruits into the offense.

Part of the problem for the Wolfpack offense last season was that there were far too many negative plays. Once Brandon Mitchell got hurt, the offense fell apart, as Pete Thomas threw nine interceptions against just four touchdowns. Wolfpack quarterbacks were sacked 36 times. When the ball did go past the line of scrimmage and was caught, the Wolfpack offense averaged 17.7 yards per pass. Four of the five starters return on the offensive line, so a more mobile quarterback in Brissett and another year of practice with the schemes could lead to a very underrated group.

2014 NC State Defense

The Wolfpack defense actually gave up fewer yards per game in 2013 than they did in 2012, but they allowed nearly five more points per game. A decent recruiting class has infused more talent into the secondary, but the Wolfpack really need to improve at the point of attack. ACC opponents ran for 5.7 yards per carry last season and the three leading tacklers from last season are no longer on the team. To make matters worse, projected starting middle linebacker M.J. Salahuddin is out indefinitely with a knee injury.

This is the weakness of the team, but an upgraded offense and some third down conversions will help. The Wolfpack offense was 81st in third down conversion percentage and the tired defense was 74th. There wasn’t much of a pass rush to speak of, as the Wolfpack defense had just 20 sacks. The relaxed defensive scheme kept big gains in the passing game to a minimum, so better gap control and more experience in defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable’s scheme could lead to some better statistics.

2014 NC State Special Teams/Coaching

The special teams could take a step forward this season. Both kicker Niklas Sade and punter Wil Baumann are seniors and the players that Canada recruits on offense could have more game-breaking potential in the return game.

On the coaching side, Doeren and his coordinators will be together for their second year as a unit. With players more suited for the schemes, the continuity should be vastly improved.

NC State Wolfpack 2014 Football Schedule

The opportunity is there for the Wolfpack to start 4-0 and surpass last season’s three wins. The first four weeks include home games against Georgia Southern, Old Dominion, and Presbyterian, with a trip to South Florida in Week 3. With home games against conference doormats Boston College and Wake Forest, the Wolfpack have a great chance to win at least one conference game this season.

The other two conference home games are a bit tougher as Florida State and Georgia Tech come to town. The Wolfpack avoided Georgia Tech last season, so their first look at the triple option may not make for a good Homecoming game. Road contests in conference play feature trips to Clemson, Louisville, Syracuse, and North Carolina to end the season.

NC State Wolfpack 2014 College Football Prediction: 6-6

The Wolfpack should be vastly improved with better quarterback play this season. While Brissett didn’t live up to his potential at Florida, the Canada offense should be an ideal fit for his skill set and he was the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year last season. A lot of underclassmen got playing time last season so the coaching staff could see what they had and that experience will benefit the Wolfpack this season. With a friendly non-conference schedule and a couple of very winnable home games in conference play, bowl eligibility looks very possible.

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