That’s right Wolfpack fans, it’s almost time for the kickoff of the season against the Vols. Let’s look at some headlines as we lead up to Friday’s game.
NC STATE FOOTBALL
JP Giglio (N&O)
David Amerson: N.C. Stateâ€™s pickoff artist
Who is Amerson? Statistically, Amerson put together one of the best seasons in college football history by a cornerback in 2011.
His 13 interceptions established a school and ACC record. Only one player in Division I history, Al Worley of Washington in 1968, has had more in a single season.
Four times, Amerson intercepted two passes in a game, including touchdown returns in wins over Virginia and Louisville.
It wasnâ€™t just the volume of plays Amerson made, but also the ratio.
â€œIt seemed like every time he got a chance to make a play, he made it,â€ senior safety Brandon Bishop said. â€œIt usually doesnâ€™t work that way in the secondary.â€
Caulton Tudor (N&O)
Pack fans havenâ€™t been so giddy in years
After years of running in place, the school and its teams seem to be gaining traction at a favorable time for making impressive and sustainable strides.
But as State quarterback Mike Glennon said recently, this wave of energy is about to come full circle. It began with the football teamâ€™s late-season win over eventual league champ Clemson, followed by a miraculous comeback win over Maryland and then a solid bowl performance in a win over Louisville.
The basketball players took over from there, meshing late to develop into one of the toughest teams in the country.
Not to be outdone, the baseball team made a splash with big wins, big bats and the arrival of Carlos Rodon, the best freshman pitcher in the land.
â€œThe whole school has a lot of momentum going right now,â€ Glennon said. â€œEverybodyâ€™s got a feeling that anythingâ€™s possible.â€
JP Giglio (N&O)
ACC looking for a redemption year after sour ending to 2011
Five games to watch
4. N.C. State at UNC (Oct. 27): Butch Davis did his best to ignore N.C. State, and went winless in four years against Tom Oâ€™Brien, who tacked on a fifth win, an ugly 13-0 shutout, against interim coach Everett Withers last season. New UNC coach Larry Fedora says this game matters. Weâ€™ll see.
Five players to watch
5. David Amerson, N.C. State: The cornerbackâ€™s 13 interceptions were the most by anyone in college football since 1968. How many chances will he get this season? He doesnâ€™t need many. He only saw three passes in the bowl game and intercepted two.
Luke Decock (N&O)
Pack’s other cornerback Johnson likely to be tested early, often
Amerson plays the â€œfieldâ€ cornerback position, taking the wide side of the field, covering more ground. Johnson will play the â€œboundaryâ€ side, the short side of the field, where heâ€™s more likely to face the kind of hard, short passes Tennesseeâ€™s Bray excels at, placing even more pressure on his debut.
But with his size (6-foot-3, 196 pounds), football IQ and athleticism â€“ Johnson played basketball in high school in New Jersey â€“ defensive backs coach Mike Reed thought he had all the attributes necessary to make the move work.
â€œHis football IQ is better than a lot,â€ Reed said. â€œThatâ€™s what allows him to play inside or outside. Heâ€™s been on slot receivers. Itâ€™s a lot easier going from the slot to the outside than it is going from the outside to the inside. Heâ€™s done a good job. He can run. He has great hips. He has good feet. I feel very confident on Dontae out on the edge.â€
N.C. State tried C.J. Wilson and Rashard Smith in that position last year but were never completely satisfied with the results. (Smith has since moved back to wide receiver, where he started last season.) Wilson is back, and Jarvis Byrd returns after missing last season with a knee injury, but the other reserves at the position are a pair of redshirt freshmen.
JP Giglio (N&O)
N.C. State still deciding on running back rotation
N.C. State has three veteran running backs in James Washington, Tony Creecy and Mustafa Greene. Coach Tom Oâ€™Brien typically rotates two over the course of the game.
How the carries will be split up next Friday in Atlanta for the season opener against Tennessee is still to be determined, Oâ€™Brien said Thursday. Asked if there was any separation in the competition, he said, â€œnot really.â€
â€œThatâ€™s one of those things,â€ Oâ€™Brien said. â€œTomorrow weâ€™re going to take off and do a lot of talking about personnel and everything.â€
Washington, a senior, led the team with 897 rushing yards last season and Creecy, a sophomore, added 382. Greene led the team in rushing in 2010, with 597 yards, but missed last season with a foot injury.
All three add value in the passing game, where receiver Bryan Underwood continues to miss practice with a knee injury. Oâ€™Brien said Underwood had minor surgery before Aug. 11 but thereâ€™s no update on him.
Oâ€™Brienâ€™s preseason policy is to update injuries when a player is declared out for the season. Underwood, a third-year sophomore, caught 16 passes for 226 yards last season.
College football preview: Breaking down The Big 5
The star: They call David Amerson “The Pickoff Artist,” and with good reason. The junior cornerback led the nation and set an ACC single-season record with 13 interceptions in 2011. Amerson won the Jack Tatum Award as the nation’s top defensive back. He’s a leading candidate this year for the Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s best defensive player.
The question mark: While many continue to point out that N.C. State has completely revamped its linebacker corps, a bigger question mark is at receiver. Three returning running backs logged more catches (73) last season than the four receivers who saw action (61). More than half of those (36) belonged to senior Tobais Palmer. Bryan Underwood (16) was next, but he suffered a training camp injury that required surgery and his return is uncertain. We know quarterback Mike Glennon will put his throws on the money, but does the Wolfpack have the players to catch the ball?
The magic number: 13. The number of seniors with starting experience on the Wolfpack roster this season. That’s twice as much senior starting experience as N.C. State has had during coach Tom O’Brien’s first five years. Eight of those players are on offense.
You should know: Sophomore Tyler Brosius was expected to be N.C. State’s backup quarterback, but he quit football to play junior college baseball. True freshman Manny Stocker has now moved into the backup role. … Mustafa Greene, who led the Wolfpack in rushing as a freshman in 2010, is back after sitting out last season with a foot injury.
College football preview: Duke, ECU, N.C. State and Wake coaches
O’Brien came to N.C. State after producing a model of consistency at Boston College, where he annually produced bowl teams that won between seven and nine games. His first three Wolfpack squads struggled with injuries and consistency, but the last two have produced 17 victories, including two bowl wins.
Expectations are high that this could be the breakout season N.C. State has been waiting for under O’Brien. The Wolfpack have a golden opportunity to make a national impression when they open the season against Tennessee in Atlanta on Friday. A victory over the Volunteers could be a steppingstone to O’Brien’s best year ever.
Bret Strelow (FayObserver.com)
College football preview: ACC pick six
3. Who says you can’t wear white after Labor Day?
If there’s no such thing as bad publicity, Randy Edsall’s program struck it rich with the “Maryland Pride” alternate uniforms it unveiled last season during its Labor Day game against Miami. The Terrapins’ new home and away uniforms for 2012 aren’t too wild, with player names now included on the back of the jerseys and the state flag stretched like a racing stripe across the sides of a white helmet.
There’s room for one of Maryland’s league rivals to steal the spotlight, for better or worse.
N.C. State’s jerseys have a small “N” and “C” within the larger “S” on “STATE” that’s positioned over a player’s number, and Duke will use three helmets, adding a blue one with a white “D” and an all-black one to the normal white helmet with a blue “D.”
North Carolina is getting in on the act with plans to wear a white helmet with the interlocking “NC” in blue at home against Virginia Tech on Oct. 6, but no helmet has generated more negative buzz than the white one the Hokies will use against Austin Peay on Sept. 8.
It features two orange bird feet on each side, prompting quarterback Logan Thomas to tweet, “Our whiteout helmets are so ugly.”
At least they have people talking.
4. Which quarterback race is the most compelling?
Ten QBs who were the primary starters for their teams in 2011 are back. Meanwhile, Miami and Maryland have quarterbacks with at least some starting experience.
One of those guys, Miami junior Stephen Morris, becomes the full-time starter after backing up Jacory Harris for most of the previous two seasons. Danny O’Brien’s decision to transfer from Maryland to Wisconsin created an opening for junior C.J. Brown, who started five games last year, but he will miss the entire season after tearing the ACL in his right knee. Earlier this week, coach Randy Edsall named true freshman Perry Hills the starter over classmate Caleb Rowe.
The most intriguing QB battle exists at Virginia, where Michael Rocco is a returning starter who led the Cavaliers to an 8-5 record last season. Promising sophomore David Watford appeared in 10 games last year, and Alabama transfer Phillip Sims is immediately eligible after playing in 10 games as a redshirt freshman for the BCS national champions. ESPN ranked him as the top quarterback in the high school Class of 2010.
Virginia coach Mike London plans to release a depth chart Monday.
Brett Friedlander (starnewsonline.com)
Wolfpackâ€™s Greene working to get his â€˜up-downâ€™ career back on track
Mustafa Greene was one of the last players off the field following a recent football practice at N.C. State.
The extra work he was doing wasnâ€™t by choice, though. The grueling up-downs were penance for what he termed â€œa little violationâ€ during the dayâ€™s workout.
As punishments go, it was nothing serious â€” just a quick refresher course on the importance of playing by the rules. Not that Greene needs any more reminders. Heâ€™s had so many of them during the past year-and-half, itâ€™s no wonder he referred to last weekâ€™s disciplinary drill as â€œa blessing.â€
After everything heâ€™s been through while battling his way back onto the field from a rash of injuries, legal problems and academic issues, the redshirt sophomore from South Carolina is just glad to be back on the field doing anything thatâ€™s asked of him as a member in good standing of the Wolfpack.
â€œThere was a point in time where I wondered if I would ever get back out there again, but my teammates can coaches helped me get behind that,â€ Greene said. â€œItâ€™s been rough. But I got through it and Iâ€™m just glad to be here.â€
The TV schedule kicks off with the season debut of the Tom Oâ€™Brien Show, which will air in the Triangle area on WRAL-TV 5 this Sunday night (8/26) at 11:35 pm. The Tom Oâ€™Brien TV Show will be available for the rest of the state for free on Gopack.com/All-Access each and every Monday. Fans outside the Raleigh television market will also have a chance to see the show on Fox Sports South Tuesdays at 6 pm. Time Warner customers across North Carolina and South Carolina can watch The Tom Oâ€™Brien Show via Carolina on Demand, channel 199 and 1047 each week.
The newest addition to the TV line-up is a Saturday weekend preview show called â€˜Inside Wolfpack Sports,â€™ which is slated to begin on Saturday, September 8th at 8:30 am on Fox Sports South. Each Saturday morning, co-hosts Tony Haynes and Mark Thomas will look ahead to that weekendâ€™s football or menâ€™s basketball game with interviews from players and coaches along with providing updates on other Wolfpack sports teams. Inside Wolfpack Sports will also be available for free online each Saturday at Gopack.com/All-Access.
Inside Wolfpack Sports – Zach Allen
Matt Carter (TheWolfpacker.com)
Rob Crisp adjust to left tackle
On the first day of preseason camp, junior Rob Crisp lined up at left tackle. It was a development that Crisp himself did not know about until the beginning of camp.
“The coaches try to hold onto everything until the last minute,” Crisp stated. “I found out as soon as everybody else did. I kind of thought in the back of my head based on summer workouts, but I didn’t know until the beginning of camp.”
Last year’s starter at left tackle, fifth-year senior R.J. Mattes, slid inside to left guard to make room for Crisp, who lined up during spring practices at right tackle.
“I’ve been playing left tackle all my life, so it’s good to be back home,” Crisp said. “It’s exciting, but I still have a lot to work on being how I haven’t played it since my freshman year.”
Matt Carter (TheWolfpacker.com)
Art Norman gets to go home for opener
Of all the Georgia-natives inked, few have as close a connection to the 2012 season opener against Tennessee on Aug. 31 in the Georgia Dome in Atlanta as defensive end Art Norman. He starred at Chamblee High in Stone Mountain, Ga., which Norman estimated was no more than 20 minutes away from Atlanta if the traffic was good.
“It is home,” Norman said.
The Tennessee game will also be the third time Norman has played in the Georgia Dome. He played there in middle school and once again as a 10th grader in the state playoffs.
“It’s a big deal,” Norman noted. “But I feel like this is going to be the best out of the three.”
Because of its proximity to Norman’s home, he has been targeted with requests for tickets. He estimated that somewhere around 30 family and friends have asked. Problem is players only get four for the game.
“I’m really focused on my family first, and that’s probably a good 12 or something, and then my friends and coaches after,” he stated. “I’ve been asking everybody on the team, ‘I’d get you some Uconn or Citadel tickets.’ Trying to get as many as I can.”
Matt Carter (TheWolfpacker.com)
Forrest West eager to play again
“It’s definitely not as big a learning curve as it was in the spring,” he said. “What I am doing now kind of feels more natural. Now I am reacting, I know what I am doing.”
West acknowledged that the spring game gave him confidence that he has a role on the team, even with a crowded and deep depth chart at defensive end.
He also believes that a grueling summer conditioning program installed by first year strength coach Corey Edmond is also paying dividends.
“Camp-wise, I feel like I am in the best shape I’ve ever been in for a fall camp,” he said. “And this is my fourth year doing a fall camp. Body is not as dinged up or beat up as it had been because we trained harder than we have ever trained before.”