College Football News takes a closer look at NC State's offense, defense, and potential major contributors to the 2014 season.
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It's Jacoby or bust for the Wolfpack offense in Dave Doeren's second year overseeing his up-tempo, no-huddle system. State was a disaster with the ball in 2013, but hope comes from Florida transfer Jacoby Brissett, who seized the quarterback job with his play this past spring and on last fall's scout team. Doeren is thrilled with the potential of his new dual-threat behind center. Now, the coach has to make sure that his attack doesn't become a solo act. For the Pack to turn the corner, the line will have to block significantly better, and the receivers must play with more consistency. Underrated WR Bryan Underwood is back from a collarbone injury suffered midway through the 2013 season. The senior will be complemented by a spate of young pass-catchers, such as Bo Hines, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Jumichael Ramos, who've all shown flashes of being ready to compete for touches at this level.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Dave Huxatable's defense was every bit as ineffective as the offense was in 2013. The Pack was soft in all phases, getting thrashed during the heart of the schedule in November. It produced a single honorable mention All-ACC performer, LB Robert Caldwell, who has since graduated. Huxtable will attempt to build around an underperforming D-line that has more talent than the output indicates. DE Art Norman and tackles Thomas Teal, T.Y. McGill and Monty Nelson possesses the speed and quickness to finally ignite a dormant pass rush. While the secondary boasts plenty of familiar faces, there are no guarantees that the results will be any different than last fall. Six letterwinners are back, seven including oft-injured CB Jarvis Byrd, who's been granted a sixth year of eligibility. But State has to be more than just a year older on the last line of defense. It has to be a year better, or else the team will again be vulnerable in the face of decent competition.
Ten Wolfpack Players To Watch
1. QB Jacoby Brissett - It's both good news and bad news that Brissett is the Pack's best offensive threat, despite not playing a down for the program. Yeah, the surroundings are sparse in Raleigh. But the staff got a chance to evaluate Brissett on last fall's scout team, and it liked what it saw. Brissett is not only a major upgrade from last year's quarterbacks, but he's also a nice fit for Dave Doeren's offense. The 6-4, 236-pound Florida transfer appeared in 14 games in 2011 and 2012, completing 41-of-74 passes for 455 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions.
2. WR Bryan Underwood - State's top wide receiver is seeking a do-over after his junior year went horribly wrong. Underwood was unable to build on his breakout sophomore season, victimized by poor quarterback play and a broken collarbone suffered on Oct. 26. He caught just 32 balls for 382 yards and a touchdown. The staff, though, knows Underwood is capable of once again being the clutch veteran playmaker that caught 10 touchdown passes in 2012, including the game-winner to shock Florida State.
3. DT Thomas Teal - Defensive coaches love interior linemen who bust through gaps to get penetration. Linemen like Teal, for instance. The senior uses his leverage and 6-1, 303-pound frame to get underneath the pads of his man. He uses his strength to drive opposing guards and centers off their base and into the backfield. Teal has made 19.5 stops behind the line in the last two seasons, including a career-best 10.5 and three sacks in 2013.
4. RB Shadrach Thornton - Thornton is the Pack's best back. Unfortunately, he's also the team's most troubled back. The program's leading rusher in each of the last two seasons is serving an indefinite suspension for multiple off-field infractions. It remains unknown if and when the 6-1, 207-pound junior will be available in 2014. With a full season of work, Thornton is a 1,000 runner. He ran for 768 yards and four scores in 2013, peaking with a 173-yard, two-touchdown outburst versus Florida State.
5. DE Art Norman - For one final year, Norman will serve as State's most disruptive pass rusher. The 6-0, 250-pound senior is built like a linebacker, which allows him to get off the snap—and around tackle—in a hurry. Norman is a veteran of 24 career starts and 17 career sacks. He'll look to channel Mizzou's Michael Sam, another undersized edge rusher, by putting it all together in his final year of college eligibility.
6. CB Juston Burris - Burris is set to reprise his role as NC State's top cover corner. He started every game in 2013, making 54 tackles and a team-best 11 pass breakups. While the junior has room for growth in coverage, he's a future all-star in Raleigh in the eyes of the coaching staff. Burris' size, 6-1 and 206 pounds, allows him to take on larger skill position players, both against the run and in pass defense.
7. OT Rob Crisp - The Wolfpack offense caught a break when its best blocker was granted a medical redshirt and a fifth season of eligibility. Crisp missed all but a couple of games with a concussion, but he's expected back in the summer. Although the 6-7, 300-pound senior has never played to his five-star high school designation, he'll be an asset in pass protection as long as he can stay healthy for an entire season.
8. S Hakim Jones - Jones had no problem fitting in as a first-time starter in 2013, making 61 tackles, two interceptions and eight pass breakups, including five against Florida State's Jameis Winston. The Pack's strong safety is an outstanding all-around athlete, with the 6-2, 198-pound frame to match up well with the ACC's bigger receivers. Just a junior with a considerable ceiling, Jones will continue to improve with each game he plays.
9. PK Niklas Sade - No one on offense, unfortunately, was more consistent than Sade, a Lou Groza Award semifinalist in 2013. The team's placekicker for the past three seasons shook off a shaky 2012 to convert 19-of-23 field goal attempts and all 31 of his extra point tries. For his accuracy on three-pointers, Sade earned the Governor's Award, annually given to the Wolfpack MVP.
10. LB Brandon Pittman - Pittman was a role player last season. This year, he's planning on being the emotional and physical leader of the linebackers. At 6-2 and 218 pounds, Pittman is never going to possess ideal size for the position. However, he has the quickness needed to make plays from sideline to sideline. As a seven-game starter at weakside in 2013, he finished with 62 tackles, seven stops for loss and three sacks.