RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina State has spent the past two seasons leaning on experienced lineups built through years of development. Things could be a bit more unpredictable for the Wolfpack this time around.
Most notably, seventh-year coach Dave Doeren’s squad has massive holes to fill on an offensive unit that also saw significant changes on the coaching staff. That could present a major obstacle to the Wolfpack reaching the nine-win mark for a third straight season.
“That’s every year: you always hear the same thing,” offensive guard Joe Sculthorpe said. “One year’s the wide receivers, one year it’s the D-line or whatever.
“You go through with all the young guys to get the opportunity and step up and show the world they’re here to play, and they’re training just as hard as they were in the past. They just didn’t have the opportunity to step on the field and showcase it.”
That formula has worked for the past two seasons, with the Wolfpack developing young players into experienced contributors by the time they’re needed for leading roles. N.C. State has gone 11-5 in Atlantic Coast Conference play — only reigning national champion Clemson has been better — and had 11 players picked in the NFL draft in that time.
Yet this year’s roster features 53 true or redshirt freshmen, while a program-record 19 players enrolled in January.
There is no luxury of a veteran quarterback with three-year starter Ryan Finley now in the NFL along with top receivers Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers. N.C. State also lost top rusher Reggie Gallaspy and has three new offensive assistant coaches amid changes following offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz’s departure to become head coach at Appalachian State.
The good news is there are seven returning defensive starters, including the bulk of a secondary Doeren said is playing “way above where it was a year ago at this time.”
“In practice, there’s just a lot of guys trying to prove themselves right now. When you have a senior-laden team, they’re kind of like, ‘Let’s get to the game.’ So it’s been hungry at practice, it’s been fun.”
Some other things to know about N.C. State for the 2019 season:
N.C. State is sorting out who will be its starting quarterback.
Redshirt sophomore Matthew McKay saw spot duty in six games as the only quarterback other than Finley to throw a pass. He’s competing with redshirt freshman Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman, a redshirt sophomore who started his college career at Florida State.
North Carolina State needs to find its next go-to receiver. Emeka Emezie has a shot to be that guy.
“It’s different of course because they’re not there,” Emezie said of Harmon and Meyers. “They’re great guys and they’ve made crazy plays, but I know I can do that, too.”
The Wolfpack at least fixed past kicking woes with the arrival of Christopher Dunn.
Dunn made 23 of 26 field goals as a freshman to set a program single-season record for made kicks. That’s quite a change from the three seasons before his arrival, when the Wolfpack made 26 of 51 attempts (roughly 51 percent) and couldn’t be sure of converting even on the shortest of attempts.
Doeren has guided the Wolfpack to consecutive nine-win seasons for only the third time in program history, the last coming in the 1991 and 1992 seasons. N.C. State has also been to five straight bowl games.
N.C. State opens at home Aug. 31 against East Carolina after beating the Pirates 58-3 to close the regular season in December. Two weeks later comes with the Wolfpack’s biggest nonconference game with a trip to West Virginia.
In league play, North Carolina State will host both of the Atlantic Division favorites: first a Syracuse team coming off a 10-win season on Oct. 10, then a Nov. 9 visit from reigning national champion Clemson.