With the ACC’s move to a divisionless “10 plus one” model for its college football season, there are stark differences between NC State’s planned games and the teams it will face off against this year. Let’s take a look at the differences, a quick look at each team the Wolfpack will face and what that means for the difficulty of NC State’s path.
Among others, NC State was slated to play Louisville, Boston College and Clemson this year. The Wolfpack went 0-3 against them last year by a combined margin of minus-80. It will avoid the same fate this year as NC State only faces three Atlantic teams: Syracuse, Wake Forest and Florida State. Against that trio, NC State fared slightly better at 1-2 and a minus-46 margin. This year, the Wolfpack will play the latter two teams in Raleigh, while taking on Syracuse on the road.
Wake Forest lost one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Jamie Newman as well as its second-best receiver Kendall Hinton and top rusher Cade Carney. The losses will hobble a passing attack that put up 44 on NC State’s defense last year. Florida State is looking to finally right the ship under Mike Norvell, the Seminoles’ third coach in the past 4 seasons. Norvell convinced many of the team’s top players, including Tamorrion Terry and Marvin Wilson, not to go pro which means, as always, Florida State has the requisite talent to compete in the ACC, it just needs to put it all together. Syracuse was NC State’s lone ACC win last year, and it’s again NC State’s best bet for an ACC win. While QB Tommy Devito returned, the team lost its top defensive ends, two top receivers and its leading rusher.
This year’s Coastal matchups for the Wolfpack were Duke and UNC.Duke brings in former Clemson QB Chase Brice, who should blossom under QB guru David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils went 5-7 last year, largely due to a lackluster passing attack, so if Brice emerges as a solid starter, that game will be interesting. UNC returns a lion’s share of its talent, and adds in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes to boot. The Tar Heels have the momentum in the state of North Carolina, and the Wolfpack will face an uphill battle in Chapel Hill this year.
To get to 10 games, the Wolfpack adds Georgia Tech and Miami to its home schedule, and Virginia, Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh to its away schedule. While Georgia Tech and NC State are pretty evenly matched, as evidenced by last year’s 28-26 game, Miami may prove to be the toughest team the Wolfpack will face. Head coach Manny Diaz landed transfer QB D’Eriq King to solve the Hurricanes’ quarterback problem and returns one of the stingier defenses in the ACC. If the offense can do just enough, the Hurricanes will be a serious problem in the ACC.
Virginia and Virginia Tech are similar stories, middling ACC schools each dealing with a major loss: Bryce Perkins for the Cavaliers and Bud Foster for the Hokies. The loss of each of them changes the identity of their respective teams, and it’s fortunate for NC State that it catches the two Virginia schools in varying degrees of rebuilding. Pittsburgh, however, was coming into this year as a dark horse in the Coastal division. While the team went 8-5, three of the Panthers’ losses came by one score or less. It upset UCF and nearly did the same at Penn State, so sleep on Pat Narduzzi’s squad at your own risk.
NC State was set to play Mississippi State, Troy, Delaware and Liberty this year. With only one nonconference slot now, the Wolfpack will miss out on three extremely winnable games to get it halfway to .500. Given its home and home agreement, NC State will likely try to keep the Mississippi State game. Many ACC teams are also working to keep SEC matchups, and with the SEC and Big 12 possibly following suit in adopting “plus one” scheduling models in coordination with the ACC, it stands to reason most teams will end up looking for a Power Five nonconference game. With the ACC’s guideline that nonconference games must be hosted by the ACC team, it makes perfect sense for the Wolfpack and Bulldogs to agree to keep their meeting in Raleigh.
All in all, NC State’s new schedule looks to be a lot more competitive than planned, with the most diverse conference slate the Wolfpack has seen. While it doesn’t have any easy wins, it also doesn’t have any penciled-in losses. The result will likely be one of the more chaotic conference championship races in recent years, and that means a lot of exciting football.