SI.com 2003 College Football Preview




SI.com's College Football Team Previews - from Athlon Sports

  North Carolina St. Wolfpack

 
The Lowdown
Coach: Chuck Amato (4th year, 26-12)
2002 record: 11-3 (Beat Notre Dame 28-6 in Gator Bowl)
ACC finish: 4th
2002 offensive stats:
Rush: 144.1 ypg
(6th in Acc, 62nd in nation)
Pass: 247.7 ypg (2nd, 35th)
2002 defensive stats:
Rush: 125.3 ypg (2nd, 32nd)
Pass: 175.5 ypg (1st, 15th)
Projected Starters
Offense (7 returning starters in bold)
SE   5   Sterling Hicks   Jr.  
FL   82   Jerricho Cotchery   Sr.  
LT   70   Chris Colmer   Sr.  
LG  76  Ricky Fowler  Jr. 
C   53   Jed Paulsen   Jr.  
RG   54   Sean Locklear   Sr.  
RT  71  Derek Morris  Fr. 
TE  15  John Richter  So. 
QB   17   Philip Rivers   Sr.  
TB   44   T.A. McLendon   So.  
FB  49  Chance Moyer  Jr. 
Defense (5)
DE  Mario Williams  Fr. 
NT  63  John McCargo  Fr. 
DT  94  Alan Halloway  Sr. 
DE  42  Chip Cross  So. 
SLB   39   Roger Pollard   Sr.  
MLB  31  F. Aughtry-Lindsay  Jr. 
WLB   52   Pat Thomas   Jr.  
CB   1   Marcus Hudson   Jr.  
CB   28   Lamont Reid   Jr.  
ROV   36   Andre Maddox   Jr.  
FS  27  Troy Graham  Jr. 
Special Teams
21  Adam Kiker  Sr. 
P   30   Austin Herbert   Sr.  
KR  28  Lamont Reid  Jr. 
PR  82  Jerricho Cotchery  Sr. 
2003 Schedule
Aug. 30  Western Carolina 
Sept. 6  at Wake Forest 
Sept. 13  at Ohio State 
Sept. 20  Texas Tech 
Sept. 27  North Carolina 
Oct. 4  at Georgia Tech 
Oct. 11  Connecticut 
Oct. 16  Clemson 
Oct. 25  at Duke 
Nov. 1  Virginia 
Nov. 15  at Florida State 
Nov. 22  Maryland 
When Chuck Amato came to NC State in 2000, he brought with him a swagger that had been missing under former coaches Mike O'Cain and Dick Sheridan. Amato immediately talked of winning ACC and national titles. Some scoffed at his confidence. How could NCSU -- a school with outdated facilities and a historically halfhearted commitment to football -- challenge Florida State for league dominance?

Few question Amato anymore after the Pack finished last season ranked 12th in the final Associated Press Top 25. State concluded the 2002 campaign with a 17-7 win over Florida State and a 28-6 Gator Bowl thumping of Notre Dame. Signs of things to come?

We may find out come Sept. 13 -- the day State faces defending national champion Ohio State in Columbus.

OFFENSIVE KEYS:

Philip Rivers enters his senior year with a legitimate shot at the Heisman Trophy. In three years, Rivers has passed for almost 9,000 yards, thrown 61 touchdowns and guided State to a 26-12 record. "I can't put into words how much Philip Rivers means to this team, this program and this university," said Amato.

Rivers has carried so much of the load that his backup, third-year sophomore Jay Davis, has attempted only 19 passes in his entire career.

Tailback T.A. McLendon set the State record for rushing touchdowns in a season (18) and posted the second-best rushing total by a freshman in school history with 1,101 yards -- all this while fighting off injuries to both shoulders and a fractured wrist. He had a second surgery on his wrist in the spring.

Few teams in America have as good a combination of skill and depth at receiver as N.C. State, and it begins with senior Jerricho Cotchery, who's well on his way to becoming one of NCSU's all-time greats. Sterling Hicks missed spring practice after undergoing shoulder surgery, but the junior gives Rivers a fleet-footed target, as do newcomers Richard Washington and Tramain Hall.

State's line gave up just 11 sacks in 14 games a year ago. Returning are tackle Chris Colmer and guard Sean Locklear. Center Jed Paulsen missed spring workouts because of surgery, but he should have that spot locked up. Adding size is Derek Morris, a 6-foot-6, 358-pound former USA Today and Parade All-American.

DEFENSIVE KEYS:

The Pack lost five players who started eight games or more on the defensive line, leaving tackle Alan Halloway (295 snaps last year) as the most experienced returnee. But the star of the group could be freshman end Mario Williams, a 6-foot-7, 254-pounder who enrolled in January and went through spring drills.

Outside linebacker Pat Thomas, the third-leading tackler a season ago, appears ready to step into the leadership role vacated by Dantonio Burnette. Freddie Aughtry-Lindsay had the most tackles of any non-starter a year ago, with 86, and Manny Lawson may be the most athletic player on the entire squad.

The Pack is loaded in the secondary. Rover Andre Maddox is the team's leading returning tackler, and former receiver Dovonte Edwards gives State some sure hands at cornerback. Lamont Reid broke up a team-high nine passes a season ago.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

Austin Herbert averaged just over 37 yards per punt a season ago, while Adam Kiker was 14-of-16 on PATs, and 5-of-7 on field-goal attempts. Those numbers aren't bad, but State went for it on fourth down a lot inside the 35-yard-line. The Pack was second in the nation in kickoff returns last year, and Reid took two to the house.

FINAL ANALYSIS:

N.C. State, which smacked both Florida State and Notre Dame to end last season, needs to avoid the late-game naps that plagued the 2002 squad if it has any hope of representing the ACC in a BCS game this year. With perhaps as much talent as has ever been assembled in Raleigh, that shouldn't be a problem. Nonetheless, an injury to Rivers could make for a disappointing finish.

The key conference games come at the end of the season. N.C. State must be fine-tuned for Virginia, Florida State and Maryland. The ACC championship will be decided in those weeks.

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