2019 College Football Preview: N.C. State Wolfpack

(Photo: Mustafa Green, 2011 NC State Football)

NC State Wolfpack

Head Coach: Dave Doeren

2018 Record: 9-4, 5-3 Conference

Bowl: 13-52 Loss to Texas A&M at Gator Bowl

Over/under 7.5 wins (O +115; U -145)

Make 4 Team Playoff: +40000

NC State won nine games last year, but there has been massive turnover since last year’s iteration of Wolfpack football. Out are the play-caller, the quarterback, the primary running back, the receivers, and three starting offensive linemen. After back-to-back nine-win seasons, regression is expected. College football oddsmakers do not expect a ton, setting the over/under at 7.5 wins for NC State, but it might take a while to integrate the big recruiting class.

Head coach Dave Doeren is not patient, citing that Clemson won the National Championship while starting a true freshman. NC State might not have the bar set that high, but Doeren is excited at what his team can do with so many new faces in 2019.


The losses of its QB and top receivers from a year ago will set things back some. Ryan Finley is out at QB, and top WRs Kelvin Harmon and Jakobi Meyers are gone as well. The offensive coordinator is gone as well, with Eli Drinkwitz departing to take over the head coaching role at Appalachian State. His assistants from last year, Des Kitchings and George McDonald, take over as co-coordinators this year. The offense will resemble last season’s schemes, but, of course, it features new faces at all the key roles.

Matthew McKay is a third-year sophomore and replaces Finley at quarterback. McKay is a quick-footed mobile quarterback, but he attempted just eight passes last season. He ran 13 times for a total gain of 36 yards and a TD in five appearances. Freshman Devin Leary and sophomore Bailey Hockman were vying for the starting QB role, but McKay appeared to have the lead in spring. Doeren does not appear to be in a total rush to settle the position though, with a lot of questions still to be answered. Whoever emerges as the QB, he will have options. Among those is junior Emeka Emezie. He caught 53 passes for 616 yards with five TDs last season, and sophomore Thayer Thomas will be the slot receiver after catching 34 passes last year as a freshman.

Running back will also receiver a makeover after NC State ran through three different 1,000 yard running backs the past three seasons. Sophomore Ricky Person Jr had 471 yards last year, and he will be a featured back this season. Person does not have a lot of depth behind him, either.

Freshman Bam Knight looked great in spring, and his speed could provide some big plays this season if the offensive line can create him adequate rushing holes. The offensive line also has to be rebuilt, though. It has a new coach in John Garrison and he has to integrate three new starters in 2019.


NC State lost its starting DL to the NFL two years ago, and it is still reeling from that. The Wolfpack ranked No. 108 in pass defense, and pass-rushing was nearly nonexistent. The secondary was eaten alive from quarterbacks having an eternity to pick their targets. The Wolfpack will attempt to improve on that without many new faces entering the fold. NC State does return eight defensive starters, including five in its secondary.

Senior end James Smith-Williams tied the team lead in sacks last year with six, and he will be the leader of the front four. Sophomore tackle Alim McNeill and true freshman tackle Joshua Harris will have bigger roles, while Savion Jackson is ready to star at the end. These guys have a lot of ground to make up to reach the level that the 2017 team did, but the talent is there if nothing else. The linebacker positions are loaded with star recruits. Payton Wilson and Drake Thomas headline that group.

Senior safety Jarius Morehead is the best of the secondary, and he led the team in tackles last year with 81. He also led the team in interceptions with three. The cornerback play will have to improve this year, but a lot of that should come if the defensive line does a much better job—including limiting the excessive penalties that happened last season. Stephen Griffin started just six games last year, and his health is also crucial for the secondary where he occupies the role of safety.

Special Teams

Chris Dunn did a superb job last season as a freshman placekicker. He made his final 15 field goals. The returns will have to be much better, as Thayer Thomas failed to keep up the noted production of big playmakers before him on punt returns. Tobari Hines will handle kick returns. The Wolfpack are hoping to recapture some of the dominance it previously held in special teams.

Final Word

With 13 players departed for the NFL, there will be some steps back taken by this program this season. Still, its schedule is reasonable enough that NC State still could return to a Bowl game—if barely. Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under at 7.5 wins, which is setting the bar somewhat high for a group that has to integrate so many new pieces at key positions.

Prediction: 7 wins (under)

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