Head coach Dave Doeren yells at the refs for a call at the end of the game against Syracuse on Thursday, October 10, 2019 in Carter-Finley Stadium. The Pack beat the Orange 16-10.

With the finale of another college football season comes time again for one of the most controversial traditions in the sport, ESPN’s Way-Too-Early top 25. This year’s rankings hold plenty of no-brainer picks, such as Alabama reclaiming the No. 1 spot and Clemson working its way back into the top 15, but it’s not without its long shots. Of those long shots is throwing the Wolfpack into the No. 8 spot, a placement that many Wolfpack faithful will understand comes from a place of hope rather than probability.

That isn’t to say that the Pack doesn’t have the potential to sneak into the upper echelon of the rankings later on in the year, but “potential” is likely the one word that will describe the 2022-23 NC State football team the best. This year brings its fair share of uncertainties for a Wolfpack squad that is losing a handful of key pieces, especially on offense such as sophomore offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu, senior wideout Emeka Emezie and the running back duo of sophomore Zonovan Knight and junior Ricky Person Jr.

As is true in almost all high-level athletics, there’s always a man on the waiting deck, hungry to get their chance at making a name for themselves, and the individuals who will fill these key gaps are no different. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Devin Carter is going to be forced into a WR1 role, the running back tandem of sophomore Jordan Houston and redshirt freshman Delbert Mimms III will hope to rekindle the flame in the backfield and the departure of NC State’s first consensus All-American since 2017, Ekwonu, will leave a massive opportunity ready to be seized by the next man up.

The good news however is that nearly all of the uncertainties around this squad begin and end on offense, with the defense having the potential to return 14 of 15 tacklers in the coming season. The odd man out is graduate defensive lineman Daniel Joseph, who has used up all of his NCAA eligibility. Last season was one of constant battles for the defense on and off the field, with starting spots acting as rotating doors due to consistent injury issues. Simply put, in a sport as physical as football, players are going to suffer significant injuries, but the prospect of a completely healthy team come fall is an incredibly exciting one. 

While the linebacking trio of redshirt junior Payton Wilson, graduate Isaiah Moore and junior Drake Thomas all hit their individual strides at different times due to injuries amongst the unit, the concept of all three on the field at the same time has to be terrifying for opposing offensive coordinators. Pair a linebacking core with potential to be one of, if not the best in the nation with experience surrounding it at all positions and there’s a legitimate conversation to be had on NC State’s chances to boast one of the best defenses in college football. 

Personally, I’m expecting a massive year for head coach Dave Doeren’s squad next season, building off of its successes in the 2021-22 season. With that being said however, a No. 8 ranking in the Way-Too-Early poll could only make sense if everything goes right for the Pack this year, and let’s be honest, when does it ever? NC State will almost surely make a splash in the top 25 at some point throughout the year, and a better preseason ranking for the team would definitely be somewhere in the bottom 10 of the list. Publishers such as Bleacher Report and SI agree, listing the Pack at 20 and 19 in their respective rankings.

The 2022-23 NC State football squad absolutely has top-10 potential, but potential only gets you so far in the world of college sports. As the season inches closer, more and more details about how the roster is rounding out will surface and provide some clarity on the actual position the Pack is in regarding filling the gaps left behind by those who have moved on. For now, however, the idea of the Wolfpack as the No. 8 team in the nation will only lead to broken hearts, something that this program has specialized in for its 130 years of existence.

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My name is Wade Bowman, a senior in the Poole College of Management studying marketing. I've been at Technician since September 2020.