For NC State fans, last year was really supposed to be “The Year.” A bevy of returning starters, and NFL talent, and a QB with experience, put expectations high. Although the team did go 8-4 in the regular season, losses to Notre Dame, Clemson, and then Wake Forest down the stretch really took the luster off what could have been a historic season for the program. They beat Arizona State in the Sun Bowl, but that won’t really fill up the history books the way they had hoped other postseason success would.
I guess that makes this “The Year after the Year.” Those types of years usually don’t go that well. The team loses its entire monster defensive line (all 4 were NFL draft picks, which is wild), and both their game-breaking running backs (both went to the NFL as well.) The cupboards aren’t bare, but it’s impossible to replace those types of talents at a place like this in just 1 year.
Despite winning 8 games last year in the regular season and losing that much, the markets see a similar season coming, as they list NC State’s win total at 7 -125/-105 (5D), 7.5 +130/-150 (BOL), and 7.5 -135/+105 (DSI). Yes, that’s right, if you want a tiny arbitrage that pays off in December across 2 books, this team is for you.
|11/8 (Th)||Wake Forest||-5|
|11/24||@ North Carolina||PK|
They are going to need QB Ryan Finley to be incredible to have success in their conference slate. He is the team’s best player, he had really good numbers last year (65.1 comp pct., 17/6 TD/INT), and they honestly don’t have much else. There is some help back at receiver but they lost their NFL-Caliber starter there too (Jaylen Samuels, who basically did everything, including lead them in catches). At running back all of the top-level talent went to the NFL (Nyheim Hines) as well, and the offensive line lost their best 2 pieces (both on the right side). Offensive Coordinator Eli Drinkwitz is still here, and in Year 3, so the continuity between him and Finley will remain, and Finley has the talent to win games, but some unknown faces are going to have to emerge for this team to do anything more than reach a bowl game.
I’m not sure I’ve ever even heard of a team losing 4 NFL draft picks off the same defensive line in the same season, but here we are. Bradley Chubb, BJ Hill, Kentavius Street, and Justin Jones were monsters, and they are now going to play on Sundays. The entire defensive front is going to be comprised of new starters, so although Dave Huxtable remains as coordinator in his 6th year, he’s got his work cut out for him to make the pieces fit properly. One bright spot is the secondary, where they return 3 starters off a well-performing unit. Huxtable’s defenses have done very well in all his seasons here, so it’s possible he can get an overachieving effort from this group.
We finally come to the bright spot for NC State: the schedule. This team can start with 2 easier games against James Madison and Georgia State (although James Madison is among the elite FCS teams in the country), and are home 5 of the first 6 weeks of the season. Whatever ironing out they need to do to get all the new starters up to speed, at least they have a lot of time early on to do it before the meat of the schedule hits. On the back end, they’re on the road 4 of the last 6 weeks which a home game against Florida State in the middle. That’s grueling, but if you have a young team that needs confidence, I think you’d rather things shape up this way. James Madison could be a popular underdog pick in Week 1, as they are talented enough to win the FCS title this year and could catch the Wolfpack still trying to adjust schemes for all their new players.
Win/Total pick: Under 7.5 +105 (DSI)
I just really don’t think you can lose what they’ve lost and expect to win 8 games. There are way too many unknowns, no matter how good Ryan Finley is. A quarterback can’t do it alone, just ask Josh Allen last year at Wyoming. Even Lamar Jackson maintained his Heisman-worthy level of production and his team got worse from the year before because of what they’d lost. The home games with West Virginia in non-conference and Boston College in conference, which figure to be toss-ups, will probably decide the fate of this bet. The 3 years before last, this team won 6, 6, and 7 games in the regular season. I think a return to that type of production is what I’d expect here.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
Last spring, a lot of people were busy talking up the Washington Huskies. It can be frustrating to be on a team like that early in the research period, just to find out that everybody else is on board. To a lesser extent, the North Carolina State Wolfpack feel like that type of team this year. NC State isn’t going to go to the College Football Playoff and probably won’t even finish above Florida State, Clemson, or Louisville in the ACC Atlantic Division, but a lot of people have high hopes for Dave Doeren’s team.
It makes a lot of sense. The Wolfpack finished 7-6 last season, but 9-4 against the spread, and actually outgained opponents in ACC play by an average of 418-403. The Wolfpack nearly won at Clemson and also gave Florida State an enormous scare in Raleigh. After a thrilling upset win at North Carolina in a rivalry game to get into a bowl, the Wolfpack rode that wave into the Independence Bowl and hammered Vanderbilt. The schedule is pretty brutal, but Doeren seems to be building something special.
Perception and reality may not be in proper alignment between what the magazines are saying and what the betting market is saying. While it seems like people are expecting big things, the win total line at 5Dimes Sportsbook is 7.5 with the under at -130. Keep in mind that the number does not include conference championships or bowl games. It only applies to the regular season.
|Date||Opponent||Projected Line||Expected Wins|
|9/2||South Carolina (N – Charlotte)||-5.5||0.65|
|9/23||@ Florida State||+12||0.18|
|10/28||@ Notre Dame||+5||0.36|
|11/11||@ Boston College||-8||0.74|
|11/18||@ Wake Forest||-8||0.74|
Total Expected Wins: 7.67
It isn’t flashy or sexy, but the methodical NC State offense can get from Point A to Point B. Boise State transfer Ryan Finley had a fine season with a completion percentage north of 60 percent and an 18/8 TD/INT ratio. There may be a little bit more emphasis on Finley in the offense this season with Matthew Dayes in the Cleveland Browns organization after a 1,200-yard season, but Finley’s has a lot of talent back at the wide receiver position. He’ll lose one in Nyheim Hines, who could slot in as the starting running back, but this is a very balanced, very respectable offense.
One of Doeren’s claims to fame on the offensive side of the ball has been the ability to fashion a quality offensive line. The Wolfpack allowed just 17 sacks last season after allowing 39 in 2015. It usually takes at least two years to truly turn the needle for the direction of a program and probably another two years to get those players to fit nicely into the system. Doeren has had good run-blocking lines here throughout his tenure, but a responsible quarterback and a balanced offense led to better pass blocking as well.
In 2013, which was Doeren’s first year, the Wolfpack allowed 30.2 points and 399 yards per game. Since then, the points per game allowed have dropped in each of his seasons at the helm. Last year snapped a three-year trend of yards per game falling off, but the Wolfpack limited the opposition to just 5.1 yards per play and just 3.3 yards per carry. That speaks to how vastly improved the Wolfpack are in the trenches. They also set a four-year high in sacks with 37. Teams like NC State, that don’t have the explosive, high-upside skill position talent, need to win battles in the trenches. Doeren’s team does.
North Carolina State did lose a couple of NFL draft picks from the secondary, but most of the front seven is back and a lot of the key contributors with regards to sacks and tackles for loss are back in the mix. The Louisville and Clemson offenses did a number on this group with nearly 1,050 yards of offense in those two games, but the Wolfpack played well against pretty much everybody else. They obviously draw those two again, plus Florida State, but they also played those three games in a span of just a few weeks. The games are more spread out this season.
With five road games and a neutral-site game, the Wolfpack get fairly fortunate in terms of travel this season. One of their road games is in Winston-Salem against Wake Forest. Last year, NC State played Louisville right after the heartbreaking loss to Clemson and got run off the field. This year, the schedule is a little bit kinder, even though the quality of competition is still very high.
Win Total Pick: Over 7.5
This is a very slight lean, since my projected numbers have this win total pretty close to what it actually is. The schedule is obviously tough. Louisville comes to town on a short week, which could make for an interesting game, and the Wolfpack get teams like Marshall, Furman, Syracuse, and North Carolina at home. There are definitely better options to play out there in the win total market, but NC State could be undervalued again because the strength of this team lies in the trenches and that’s not an area that Joe Public is focused on. If it was over/under seven ATS wins, I’d be more confident in that line.