2010 CFBZ Prediction: 4th Place in ACC Atlantic
2010 Actual Finish: Tied for 2nd in ACC Atlantic (9-4, 5-3)
The Wolfpack came into this season on a string of 4-straight losing seasons, 3 of them led by Tom O'Brien. The pundits, yes we were one of them, didn't think that this year would be much different. Led by Junior QB Russell Wilson the Pack finished 18th in the Nation in Passing Yardage per game and 32nd in Points scored. They started off the season 4-0 beating Cincinnati, Georgia Tech and Central Florida. Who would have thought that at the end of the season the UCF win would be the most impressive out of that bunch? NC State went on to get some good wins (FSU, UNC, Boston College and West Virginia) on their way to their first winning season since going 7-5 in 2005. To get the scoop on the Wolfpack's 2010 season we caught up with the NC State blog Riddick & Reynolds.
1. NC State exceeded a lot of expectations by finishing 9-4 this year, what were you favorite moments of the season?
My highlight of the year was the Carolina win. Yeah, it extended Tom O'Brien's streak to 4-0 against the Heels since taking over as State's coach, but it was the way the game was won that did it for me. In that sense, it could've been any opponent on the other side of the trench. Trailing most of the first part of the game, State takes the lead on two of the most remarkable plays this season, a tipped pass touchdown on 4th down and a punt return for a touchdown shortly thereafter to take the lead for good. It was just a fantastic, fantastic game regardless of the fact it came against the Tar Heels (though that certainly didn't hurt:) )
2. Which player was the biggest surprise of the season?
I'll give you one from each side of the ball. True freshman Mustafa Greene was a revelation at tailback when the Pack entered the season not knowing who would tote the ball, let alone if the running game would have any efficacy. Greene showed everything you like to see in a back several years more experienced: toughness, decisiveness at the point of attack and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He showed that in the bowl game against West Virginia when he took a swing pass to the house, fighting through tackles with a strong blow on WVU's cornerback at the end of the run. The only problem with Greene this season was that he wasn't used more, certainly through no fault of his own. I expect great things from him moving forward if he stays healthy.
Defensively, I'd probably say Audi Cole was the biggest surprise in the conventional sense, i.e. someone who came relatively from nowhere to really elevate his game. I was surprised at Nate Irving's effectiveness following his car crash and rehab stint, but we all knew what Nate could deliver when 100%. Cole, however, took a huge leap forward in his growth as a linebacker and really complimented the skillsets of Irving and Terrell Manning. Cole had a tremendous game against Central Florida and had perhaps the most impressive interception of the year when he backpedaled into coverage, read the QB's eyes and made a leaping grab in front of the intended receiver. I couldn't have pictured him making that play last season.
3. What game was the turning point of the season?
Probably the Florida State win. A lot of having a great season is having the ball bounce your way (just ask Wake Forest in their ACC title season), and when it seemed all hope was lost, Ponder fumbling the ball in the fourth quarter to seal the victory showed me that we were having one of those years where the breaks go your way. They didn't ALWAYS go in our favor, but I'd say more good than bad was on our ledger in 2010. State was much healthier this year, too, and when we were midway through the year and had not lost any key player for any notable length of time, that was another hint that 2010 could be a good season.
4) Which player are you most excited about for next season?
I really want to see what kind of job Mike Glennon can do at quarterback, so as strange as it may sound to wish Russell Wilson well and along on his way, I want Mike to get two years at QB before his time here is done. The reason is if you look at our depth chart, 2012 shapes up to be loaded with a lot of junior and senior talent on both sides of the ball. It may be our best opportunity in the foreseeable future to take another run at an ACC title. If Wilson returns in 2011, that leaves just one year for Glennon, and if 2012 lines up like it should, I'd rather have a two-year starter in Glennon under center than someone taking the first starts of his career.
5. What do the Wolfpack need to improve this off-season to maintain their success from 2010 and possibly challenge for the ACC title in 2011?
We have to develop a running game, first and foremost. As exciting as the passing game can be at times, it's useless when you're trying to close out a game or wear down an opposing defense's front seven. I think the potential is there with Greene but our blocking up front has to improve. And our defensive backfield still needs work; the great play of our blitzing linebackers tended to mask their shortcomings this year. Their poor play cost us the Maryland game and ultimately the shot at the ACC title.
Next season shapes up well for a run at the Atlantic again...but for Florida State. The 'Noles look like they'll be back to their old dominant ways under Fisher and life will be even tougher for State and the rest of the Atlantic moving forward. The challenge for O'Brien is to keep pace and that will not be easy.