predictions final

Football season is nearly upon us, which means it is once again time for the Technician Editors to make some predictions about the NC State football season. This year, Editor-in-Chief and football beat writer Jaylan Harrington and Managing Editor Tristan Tucker will join the sports editors in trying to figure out what’s ahead for the Wolfpack.

Record:

Jaylan Harrington: 10-2

If any year was going to be the year, it’s this one. UNC lost a ton of talent to the NFL, the bad men at Clemson are gone in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, and this roster is loaded at nearly every position group. This team can compete with anyone on its schedule, and can take two wins from its four biggest tests in Mississippi State, Clemson, Miami and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tristan Tucker: 9-3

One thing that couldn’t be said about past Wolfpack football teams that can be said about this one, is that there shouldn’t be a game where the Pack is completely outclassed (knock on wood). That being said, I don’t see the team overcoming UNC or Clemson this season, and there will be plenty of other challenges for this team. 9-3 is a solid benchmark for the Pack, and one it could surpass.

Nicholas Schnittker: 9-3

I went back and forth between 9-3 and 10-2 for a while before settling where I did. 9-3 just feels like the most realistic prediction. Losses to Clemson, UNC and Miami are reasonable, but as you will see with my next prediction, I think the Pack could win one of those and drop a different game, like Mississippi State or Wake Forest. I do think the Pack ends up getting that 10th win in a bowl game, but it would be a big ask to get there in the regular season.

Bryan Pyrtle: 8-4

I could see the Pack finishing a bit higher at 9-3, but 8-4 seems more likely in my personal estimation. Although I think this is the year NC State knocks off Clemson for the first time in a decade, a surprise loss to Boston College companied with losses to UNC, Miami and Mississippi State will balance the Wolfpack’s wins and losses to an even 2-to-1 ratio. The resurgence of the Tar Heels’ football program with head coach Mack Brown at the helm will be too much for the Pack, as will a stellar performance by Miami Hurricanes quarterback D’Eriq King and an SEC road matchup with the Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi. The Boston College loss may be a shock to some, but anyone who has been following NC State football for long enough will be familiar with the notion of the Pack simply dropping the ball in a game it should probably win. For these reasons, even with a likely bowl win, the Wolfpack’s regular season finishes with a respectable eight wins.

Wade Bowman: 8-4

While I am extremely optimistic for the continued development of talents on this years’ roster, an 8-4 finish seems the most realistic to me personally. It’s not much of a hot take to write Clemson off as a loss seeing as how the Pack hasn’t been able to beat the Tigers since 2011. I’m also of the opinion that Miami and UNC will be too much for the Pack to handle this year. The final loss I have predicted for NC State comes early in the season to Mississippi State in Starkville, Mississippi. A SEC opponent being the second team the Pack will face in the season will likely outperform NC State, a team that needs more than two games to get into a real stride.

Biggest win:

Jaylan Harrington: UNC

Beating Clemson may be huge, and it may happen, but it’s more important to beat UNC for a couple reasons. First, if State beats Clemson, and UNC is in playoff contention, there could be no bigger heartbreak than seeing those hopes dashed by its greatest rival. Second, the “Mack is Back” train has steamrolled through North Carolina, evidenced by the massive wave of in-state recruiting the Tar Heels have shown since Brown’s return. For this program to continue to grow, NC State needs to be a viable option for in-state recruits and that starts with beating the Tar Heels.

Tristan Tucker: Boston College

I’m not as optimistic as my coworkers that we beat Clemson. D.J. Uiagalelei should be a damn good quarterback. Also Clemson is still going to be dominant in the trenches whether or not you believe in their younger skill position players. On the other hand, Boston College is going to be a great and exciting football team this season. With several flashes last year, this season is where the Eagles can put it all on the field, and the Pack is pretty evenly matched with them.

Nicholas Schnittker: Clemson

Go big or go home and there simply isn’t a bigger game on the Wolfpack’s schedule this season than Clemson. The Pack has had some close games against the Tigers in the past and this feels like a year where NC State could get this one over the line. The game is also early in the season, which in theory should benefit the Wolfpack.

Bryan Pyrtle: Clemson

As I mentioned above, this is the year for State to beat Clemson for the first time in 10 years. Though the Pack has not won against the Tigers since 2011, several of the subsequent matchups have been pretty close, with four of the eight games since 2012 being decided by 14 points or less. Taking into consideration that this will be Clemson’s first year without quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, who both went in the first round of this year’s NFL draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Tigers will be vulnerable to attack when they come to Raleigh for their first away game of the season. Compounded with a resurgent Devin Leary, the Wolfpack will upset the Tigers at Carter-Finley in 2021.

Wade Bowman: Miami

Despite writing the Pack’s game against Miami off as a loss in my record prediction, if there was a game that NC State could pull off an unlikely upset it would be against the Hurricanes. We all saw how close we came a year ago with Bailey Hockman under center. Miami’s core from last year remains intact for the most part, and I would consider this Wolfpack team an upgrade over last year. Containing D’Eriq King is going to be ridiculously hard, but it’s not impossible. The Pack has a solid chance to scrape out a hard-fought W in this matchup if everything goes in its favor.

Surprising loss:

Jaylan Harrington: Florida State

Don’t count out the Seminoles. I like Mike Norvell, I like Mckenzie Milton and I like the culture of some of the transfers Norvell’s bringing in, especially Jermaine Johnson. Playing on the road in Tallahassee is no easy thing, and this could turn into their ACC Super Bowl.

Tristan Tucker: Florida State

In my eyes, the Pack will drop any three of the Mississippi State, Clemson, UNC, Boston College or Florida State games. Of those, Florida State is expected to have the worst season, so I’ll tentatively go with them here. Though they don’t look good on paper, the Pack has historically struggled in Tallahassee, Florida, getting outscored by a combined 110 points in the last 20 years. At the ACC Media Day earlier this summer, there was a lot of talk about a culture shift in Tallahassee. Don’t sleep on the Seminoles for a good fight.

Nicholas Schnittker: Wake Forest

Ok, it admittedly feels like cheating to call a loss against Wake Forest “surprising,” especially given it is on the road and the Wolfpack has only won in Winston-Salem twice in my lifetime, but I have to go with the bogey team. Call it “NC State shit” or whatever you want to call it, but the Pack just seems to love dropping a game to Wake Forest. The game is also late enough in the year to make a loss sting that much more. 

Bryan Pyrtle: Boston College

After defeating Clemson just a game prior, I foresee the Wolfpack barely squeaking past Louisiana Tech in its next game due to a figurative hangover after the Clemson win. Following a bye week after narrowly avoiding defeat against the Bulldogs, I can see NC State overlooking its next opponent in Boston College. The matchup with the Eagles will also be the Pack’s first road game in over a month, so underperforming and ultimately losing to BC is an entirely possible scenario.

Wade Bowman: Mississippi State

Debates over whether this would be a surprising loss or not could certainly be had, but I feel as if many football fans that aren’t as familiar with the underperformers in the SEC don’t understand how good many of these teams are. Mississippi State is a perfect example, and I believe they will be just a little too much for the Pack to handle in the second game of the season.

Offensive player of the year:

Jaylan Harrington: Grant Gibson

NC State may have another Rimington trophy to display after this season. Grant Gibson is one of the most important players on the team, not only because he touches the ball every single play, but because he’s one of the most vocal leaders on the team. If the offense has a great year, it’ll be because the offensive line has a great year, and that will be bolstered by Gibson’s talent and leadership.

Tristan Tucker: Ikem Ekwonu

Zonovan Knight may be the Pack’s most explosive player on the offensive side of the ball, but no one is more integral to the team’s overall success than sophomore offensive lineman Ikem Ekwonu. There’s a reason Ekwonu is regularly getting mocked as a future first-round NFL talent.

Nicholas Schnittker: Zonovan Knight

Zonovan Knight was one of just two NC State offensive players to make the All-ACC preseason team and it’s easy to see why. Knight racked up just under 800 yards and scored 10 TDs, both figures that I think will go up this year. Devin Leary, as quarterbacks often do, could easily steal the show and snag this award by the end of the season, but right now, I think it is Knight’s to lose.

Bryan Pyrtle: Devin Leary

While Zonovan Knight is the obvious choice here, my gut is telling me that it is Leary’s time to shine this year. With a plethora of weapons in the receiving core and in the backfield, the redshirt sophomore gunslinger will have ample opportunities to show what he can do. With Ricky Person, Jr. and possibly Jordan Houston stealing some snaps away from Knight, Leary will take center stage in the Wolfpack’s offense.

Wade Bowman: Devin Leary

My brain tells me that Zonovan Knight is the right pick here but my heart wants nothing more than for Devin Leary to develop into the true gunslinger that he showed glimpses of a season ago. Wolfpack fans will forever reminisce on the days of phenomenal arm talents such as Philip Rivers and Mike Glennon, and Leary has all the tools he needs to add his name to that list. If his 336 yards and four touchdown throwing performance against Pitt in 2020 is any indication of what’s to come, Leary will develop into a premier quarterback in the ACC.

Defensive player of the year:

Jaylan Harrington: Payton Wilson

This isn’t the time to overthink things. Payton Wilson is one of the top tacklers in the ACC and the country, and he’s the heart of the defense. Without Wilson flying around making plays, this defense isn’t nearly the same, and for that reason he’s my defensive player of the year.

Tristan Tucker: Payton Wilson

The guy that will be spearheading the self-proclaimed “best defense in the ACC, if not the nation,” Wilson is as dominant as they come. The dude had 108 tackles last season, which obviously led the ACC. ‘Nuff said.

Nicholas Schnittker: Payton Wilson

An All-ACC preseason selection, Payton Wilson is the easy and correct prediction for DPOY. Simply put, Wilson is the best player in the best position of the Wolpack’s defense. The linebacking corps for this Wolfpack team is stacked, so if Wilson proves to be the best of them throughout the season, this is an easy selection.

Bryan Pyrtle: Payton Wilson

Put simply, Payton Wilson is a tackling machine. At the center of one of the best linebacking units in the ACC, Wilson will lead the charge in the box scores as well as in the general performance of the Wolfpack defense. After notching a team-leading 108 tackles last season, Wilson is primed for an even better season with the return of several key defensive pieces such as redshirt junior linebacker Isaiah Moore, junior safety Tanner Ingle and graduate defensive lineman Daniel Joseph.

Wade Bowman: Payton Wilson

No surprises here, redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson currently is, and will remain, the best defensive player on this team by the end of this season. The sky's the limit for the 6-foot-4 stud of an athlete, who I fully expect to exceed all expectations this year despite being named as a member of the All-ACC preseason team.

Breakout player: 

Jaylan Harrington: Cory Durden 

This year, transfers will make a huge impact on how far the team goes and the most important one may end up being Florida State transplant defensive lineman Cory Durden. Defensive coordinator Tony Gibson has raved about his ability to play every position along the defensive line, and he may need to as 2020 starting defensive tackle Alim McNeill is gone and 2020 starting defensive end Terrell Dawkins appears to still be recovering from surgery.

Tristan Tucker: Trent Pennix

A position change and a void at the tight end position is going to lead to plenty of opportunity for sophomore tight end Trent Pennix, a serviceable 6-foot-3 tank who was buried on the depth chart as a running back for several seasons. Now, Pennix is listed as a tight end, and the only upperclassman who will push him for minutes is redshirt senior Dylan Parham. Think Jaylen Samuels, a guy that made the NFL based on how versatile he was as a pass-catcher, runner and blocker. Pennix will be involved in plenty of fun sets in the upcoming season.

Nicholas Schnittker: Porter Rooks

For the second time in these predictions, I feel like I’m cheating just a little bit. I picked Rooks to be a breakout player last season and while I wasn’t right last year, we might as well try again this year. In his first freshman season (last year), Rooks racked up just under 300 receiving yards on 24 receptions, averaging 11.5 yards per reception. With a consistent arm under center this year (fingers crossed), Rooks should be poised for a big year in a deep position group.

Bryan Pyrtle: Jordan Houston

Though Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person, Jr. are the de facto one-two punch in the Wolfpack backfield heading into the season, the flashes of brilliance I saw last season from Houston are enough to give me confidence that he will break out as a third option for the Wolfpack backfield, especially in the receiving game. If Houston can consistently slip past defenders like he showed that he can last season, he will be primed for a breakout year.

Wade Bowman: Derrek Pitts Jr.

A real shot in the dark with this one, Derrek Pitts Jr. has plenty of potential to add some much- needed depth to a relatively weak Wolfpack secondary. The grad transfer who spent time at both Marshall and West Virginia has plenty of expertise and on-field experience, and will find the most use from those in serving as an on-field leader for NC State this year. His repertoire at both of his previous schools is enough to earn him a starting spot at cornerback this year, and I fully expect him to step up in a big way for the Pack in the upcoming season.

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