It's ACC Week here at Crystal Ball Run and so far we've talked about some history and answered some burning questions facing the conference. But it's time to step things up a notch or two as we put our jury to the task of figuring out one of the more intriguing teams in the conference, North Carolina State.
The question facing our jury: Can North Carolina State breakout and win the ACC this season?
First off, before getting to the arguments, let's remember this was a team that jettisoned Russell Wilson right into the waiting arms of Wisconsin in favor of hot recruiting prospect and "threatened" transfer Mike Glennon last season. The Wolfpack ended 2011 with an 8-5 (4-4 ACC) record that included a 31-24 win over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. So, why are we asking if they can contend for the conference crown in 2012?
Simply put, the ACC has been the surprise conference for awhile now, producing winners like Wake Forest, Clemson, and Maryland over the past ten seasons - all not exactly perennial championship contenders in recent ACC history. Clemson last won a title before last season in 1991, Maryland hadn't won since 1985 when it took home the 2001 ACC crown, and Wake Forest's 2006 victory was just it's second in school history.
Now that you have our opening statement, let's get into the arguments after the jump...
The Case For NC State: Tom O'Brien is one heck of a coach, just look at what's happened at Boston College since his departure for the Wolfpack, it hasn't exactly been pretty. Having him in the fold can only help a team that clearly doesn't have the named talent at all positions like FSU and Clemson do within the Atlantic division let alone the conference.
Offensively this could be O'Brien's best team in his tenure in Raleigh. He's got a star in QB Mike Glennon who got his first taste of starting last season after the heralded recruit sat his first two year learning behind Russell Wilson. It's safe to say he's a star in his own right, throwing for over 3,000 yards and 31TD's last year.
He was sacked 38 times, but that offensive line is older and more experienced in 2012 and could feature as many as 4 seniors. All of that tells me they'll be better than last season and that can only help Glennon improve his numbers and stay upright to throw to a very good WR corp.
Defensively the Wolfpack have some big time players in the secondary in CB David Amerson (ACC record 13INT's last season) and S Earl Wolf along with two other returning starters in what could be one of the nations best DB crews.
The scheduling folks at the ACC also gave NC State a bit of a break since they avoid both Va Tech and Georgia Tech out of the Coastal division.
The Case Against NC State: For as good as Mike Glennon is, and he's very good, he may not even be the best in the Atlantic division let alone the conference as FSU's EJ Manuel and Clemson's Taj Boyd are at least his equal (they may not be better pure passers, but they add elements Glennon doesn't in the running game). That's point one against the Pack.
Point two? The defense has a massive weak spot at linebacker. It's so weak that the group could well be the worst in the conference. Why? Well they lost major playmaker Terrell Manning to early entry in the NFL draft and then another quality playmaker in D.J. Green to NCAA suspension for the season for taking a banned substance. The leader of this group will have to be Sterling Lucas who missed last season do to injury. Having no experience at that level doesn't bode well for a team that's looking to climb the ladder in the ACC.
Point three? History. In order to become the top dog in the ACC Tom O'Brien's crew is going to have to buck 119 years of mediocrity if they want to become a challenger for the conference crown. That's right, for all but one of the 120 years NC State has played football they have failed to reach double digits in wins. Question is does this team have the right pieces to overcome those kind of historic odds against it? Once again history says no as they are just 11-13 in ACC play over the past three seasons.
The schedule also isn't all that kind having to face a rising SEC team in Tennessee to start the season and then playing conference road games at Miami, North Carolina, and Clemson.
Final Verdict: NC State will not contend. While the Wolfpack have a chance to be better than last season they are sitting in the same division as Florida State and Clemson and getting past them may be asking a bit too much of a team that has so many holes on the defensive side of the ball. If they can find a way to win at Miami and vs. FSU to start their ACC slate then it could be a different story, but it's very possible we're looking at a 8-5 or 9-4 type team come the end of the season with three of those losses coming in conference play.