October started with a bang, as O'Brien led his team to an upset of then undefeated Florida State (17-16), followed by another close win at Maryland (20-18). The team fell in back-to-back games to North Carolina (43-35) and Virginia (33-6) and sat at 2-3 in-conference with three games to play. NC State did show some grit down the stretch with wins over Wake Forest (37-6) and Boston College (27-10) sandwiched around a shootout loss at Clemson (62-48).
O'Brien was out, as Dave Doeren capitalized on his successful two-year run at Northern Illinois and was hired on Dec. 1. Interim coach Dana Bible led the Wolfpack into the Music City Bowl, where the team fell to Vanderbilt on New Year's Eve, 38-24.
OFFENSE: NC State usually had a puncher's chance in most games thanks to the solid play of Mike Glennon under center. However, Glennon parlayed his 4,031 passing yards and 31 touchdown throws into a third-round NFL Draft selection this past April. The team must also contend with five other starters from last season no longer in the mix.
First and foremost on the list of things to accomplish for new offensive coordinator Matt Canada is to find a solid offensive line and a competent guy to pull the trigger behind it.
Sitting out last season after transferring from Colorado State, junior Pete Thomas (6-6, 236) came out of the spring with the starting quarterback job. Thomas was a two-year starter for CSU and showed flashes of brilliant play.
The cupboard isn't completely bare in terms of skilled players around Thomas. He will benefit from having a couple of veteran receivers back in the fold in senior Quinton Payton and junior Bryan Underwood. A big target at 6-4, 211 pounds, Payton posted 51 catches last year, for 798 yards and two touchdowns. Underwood isn't as big (5-9, 177), but of his 44 catches a year ago, 10 went for scores.
The team also returns its top two rushers from a year ago, in sophomore Shadrach Thornton (694 yards, three TDs) and junior Tony Creecy (476 yards, five TDs).
DEFENSE: The Wolfpack must also replace six starters on the defensive side of the ball this season, with the hardest hit area being the secondary. Safety Earl Wolff was a First-Team All-ACC selection a year ago and joins former All- American cornerback David Amerson in the NFL this season. Gone also is safety Brandan Bishop. Both Wolff and Bishop went over 100 tackles last year and that production will not be easy to replace.
The strength of the defense this year should be up front, where players like ends Darryl Cato-Bishop (36 tackles, 6.5 sacks) and Art Norman (33 tackles, 5.5 sacks) should provide constant pressure off the edges.
The linebacking unit for NC State is a bit of an unknown heading into the season, but players like senior D.J. Green (ineligible last season) and sophomore M.J. Salahuddin will get an opportunity to shine.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game for NC State is a little more stabilized with both juniors Niklas Sade and Will Baumann back. Sade was 13-of-23 in field- goal attempts, with a long of 50 yards, while converting 44-of-46 PATs. Baumann averaged just under 40 yards per punt last season with 16 landing inside the 20-yard line.
OUTLOOK: Doeren is in the big leagues now and must make the transition in a hurry to keep the NC State faithful at bay.
Doeren is looking forward to getting to work.
"It's exciting. This is the fourth BCS conference I've been a part of and to be a head coach here at a place of such rich tradition amd great fans, it's exciting."
The Wolfpack do get all four of their non-conference games at home this year, with Louisiana Tech, Richmond, Central Michigan and East Carolina all coming to Raleigh.
The team gets its first four games of the season in the friendly confines of Carter-Finley Stadium, although during that span, Doeren will get a harsh lesson in ACC football by conference favorite Clemson. Other league games at home for NC State include Syracuse, North Carolina and Maryland. NC State only travels four times this season, all in conference, against Wake Forest, Florida State, Duke and Boston College.
Working the kind of magic he did at NIU isn't expected right from the get-go in Raleigh. The Wolfpack will struggle at times, especially until they have a proven commodity under center and a defense that can counter-punch the kind of offensive proficiency that the ACC elite are capable of.