- David M. Hale, ESPN Staff Writer
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Today, we're looking at NC State, which changed coaches in spite of a third straight bowl appearance last year and is now entering a season of transition.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Coach: Dave Doeren (first year at NC State, 23-4 overall)
2012 record: 7-6 (4-4 ACC)
Key losses: QB Mike Glennon, LG R.J. Mattes, WR Tobais Palmer, LB Rickey Dowdy, S Earl Wolff, CB David Amerson
Newcomer to watch: QB Pete Thomas. The redshirt junior sat out all of last season after transferring from Colorado State, but he may be the answer to NC State's gaping need at quarterback this year. A two-year starter before transferring, he threw for 18 touchdowns and completed better than 63 percent of his passes to establish his credentials, then outplayed Manny Stocker this spring to gain an edge on the starting job with the Wolfpack.
Biggest games in 2013: vs. Clemson, Sept. 19; at Florida State, Oct. 26; vs. North Carolina, Nov. 2
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: It would be easy enough to look at Miami's dismantling of NC State's secondary to the tune of an ACC record 566 passing yards and assume there was nowhere to go but up. But the truth is, in spite of its notable missteps last season, there was a ton of talent in the defensive backfield, and much of it has moved on for 2013. Gone are longtime stalwarts Amerson, Wolff and Brandan Bishop, meaning a massive overhaul is in store. Johnson is the lone returning regular from last season, and Hakim Jones and Jarvis Byrd will need to step up into bigger roles.
Forecast: The Wolfpack won 24 games in the past three seasons, but it wasn't enough to save Tom O'Brien's job. He was fired before a bowl loss to Vanderbilt, and Doeren, the former Northern Illinois coach, was brought in to right the ship. It's a tall order for the new coach.
It's a year of transition across the board for NC State. Not only has Doeren revamped the coaching staff, but the Wolfpack will be looking for a new starting quarterback after sending Glennon to the NFL. They also must replace four offensive linemen and overhaul a significant portion of the defense. That's a lot of transition, but there is room for optimism.
NC State returns ample talent at the skill positions on offense, including its two top rushers from last season in Creecy and Shadrach Thornton, who combined for nearly 1,200 yards rushing in 2012. Doeren has a strong track record of running the football with success, and after finishing 111th nationally in that department last season, there's plenty of room for improvement.
The secondary is a concern defensively, but NC State does return some serious talent on the line of scrimmage -- including all four starters from a year ago. McGill is a rising star, and Cato-Bishop and Art Norman should disrupt plenty of opposing quarterbacks. Whether it's enough to overcome the questionable defensive backfield, however, remains to be seen.
Of course, the swing vote on the season is likely to be Thomas. NC State's schedule is manageable and there are plenty of weapons on offense if Doeren can find a quarterback capable of exploiting them. It's a new era at NC State, but a fourth straight bowl game isn't out of the question.