Friday, May 8, 2009

Football: Pack may be 2009's UNC

I read an interesting blog recently by’s Heather Dinich about N.C. State’s chances at winning the ACC Atlantic in 2009. She concluded that the Pack would be a “legitimate contender to win the Atlantic Division” because of improvement on defense, not just because of QB Russell Wilson, “the best quarterback in the league,” she wrote.

So I started thinking: could the Wolfpack surprise the ACC this year the way UNC did last year? (The Tar Heels went from 4-8 in 2007 to 8-5 last season). If the last five games of 2008 are any indication, then there’s a pretty good chance.

After starting out 2-6, State knocked off three straight in-state opponents en route to a 4-1 finish. In the late season run, the Pack outscored opponents 30-20, after being outscored 30-19 through the first eight games.

The turning point of the season may have been the 41-10 road blowout of UNC. The Pack entered the contest on a two-game winning streak, but had been outgained by both Duke and Wake Forest in those victories. But in Chapel Hill, the Pack defense forced six Tar Heel turnovers, Wilson racked up 329 total yards, and State outgained the Heels 466-203.

The outburst helped the Pack outgain their last five opponents by an average of 389-356 – a stark contrast from the first eight, when opponents blew past them 413-292.

But can last season’s late success translate into an entire year of success in 2009? Tom O’Brien and company certainly hope so. Experience should pay off - after two years in his system the players should be adapted to his physical, disciplined style of play. Also, 14 starters return from the squad that started the Bowl.

A schedule featuring eight home games should prove beneficial, but they’re not all easy. South Carolina and Pittsburgh form the end caps of a four-game, non-conference homestand to start the season, and all four road opponents went bowling last year. But a healthy Wilson and an improved defense should keep the Wolfpack in most games. If only they can start 2009 well, then they may surprise the ACC after all.

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