After Alabama’s dominating win over LSU Monday night, college football withdrawal had already begun. Thus, I began reading Mark Schlabach’s Way Too Early Top 25 for the 2012 season. As I finished the Top 15 without seeing Clemson, I started hoping to see NC State somewhere. Lo and behold:
24. NC State Wolfpack: After a 2-3 start, in which Wolfpack coach Tom O’Brien was criticized for turning quarterback Russell Wilson loose, NC State rallied to win six of its last eight games, including a 31-24 victory over Louisville in the Belk Bowl. Quarterback Mike Glennon ended up being a more-than-capable replacement for Wilson, throwing for 3,054 yards with 31 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He’ll be without three of his top four receivers in 2012, with wideouts T.J. Graham and Jay Smith and tight end George Bryan each departing. Seven defensive starters are expected back, but the Pack will have to rebuild the defensive line and linebacker corps. The secondary should return intact, including ball-hawking cornerback David Amerson. NC State opens the ’12 season against Tennessee in one of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game matchups and plays nonconference games against Connecticut (road) and FCS foes South Alabama (home) and The Citadel (home).
Now, that’s not to say that the Pack is the only Atlantic Division team in the rankings. But there are heavy caveats for both Florida State (#8 – “We’re taking the bait on the Seminoles again, even after they failed to live up to very high aspirations with a 9-4 finish in 2011.”) and Clemson (#22 – “The Tigers also must replace four starting offensive linemen, and there isn’t a lot of depth in the trenches.”). I don’t know about you, but if I were a Tigger fan, there’s not a sentence that could possibly make me more nervous. If your OL is crap, your team is crap. Period, full stop. So, that turns Clemson into a very beatable foe, even in Death Valley. Plus, Dabo Swinney is still their head coach. Yes, he got significant recognition for their 2011 season…but they still did lots of Clemson-y things. Other than having VPI’s number, they really didn’t show me that much. I certainly might be wrong, but not drinking a drop of the Dabo Kool-Aid.
So, that leaves perenially disappointing Florida State, who has to come to Raleigh. Win that game too, and it’s hard to see how State doesn’t win the Atlantic Division. Of course it’s not a lead pipe cinch – but anytime you can realistically see the division coming down to a single home game…you have to feel pretty good. What more can you ask for? And for the record, I’m only marginally more impressed by Jimbo Fisher than Dabo. Even with his shortcomings, I would take Tom O’Brien on gameday (against the likes of Dabo and Jimbo) any day of the week (hopefully Thursday night, at least against the Noles).
Other interesting rankings – VPI at #18, Louisville (and the apparently indestructible Teddy Bridgewater) at #25, and UNC…nowhere to be found. Ah, that warms my cold, black heart. May Hole football schadenfreude season never end.
ESPN’s ACC correspondent Heather Dinich (while sadly falling under FSU’s voodoo spell) heartily seconds the Pack’s inclusion in the Top 25:
This is the ACC. It’s a November race. And Schlabach was spot-on to include NC State in his list. With FSU and Clemson in the same division, it won’t be easy for the Pack to get to Charlotte, but Mike Glennon could be a special quarterback this year. The difference in Tom O’Brien’s team when it’s healthy is remarkable. He’s a good coach, and he can get them there. Meet your way-too-early darkhorse prediction: No. 24 NC State.
Time will tell. But it’s good to have realistic hope again.