Don't expect Pack to learn a lot in opener
Posted August 27
Raleigh, N.C. — Depending upon which power ranking you choose, there’s a fair chance NC State will open its football season Saturday against the 128th -- and weakest – team in the entire country at the Division I, FBS level.
Such are the expectations for Georgia Southern, a Sun Belt Conference team in its first season under head coach Willie Fritz.
At least six of the various preseason power indices have the Eagles rated between No. 120 and 128. It’s a humble football neighborhood that includes fellow Sun Belt members Appalachian State, Georgia State, Troy (which faces Duke on Sept. 6), New Mexico State and Idaho.
Virtually all of the conference ratings have the Sun Belt last in terms of overall expectations. Only Louisiana-Monroe, which hosts Wake Forest on Thursday, South Alabama and Louisiana Lafayette among the 11 Sun Belt schools are deemed strong enough to put on competitive showings against teams from the so-called “Autonomy 5” leagues -- ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC.
Just don’t sing that song to Florida (a Georgia Southern victim last season) and Wake, which lost last season’s game against Louisiana-Monroe in Winston-Salem.
But so much has changed at Georgia Southern -- which wound up 7-4 overall and 4-4 in the conference -- since last season that Wolfpack fans should legitimately wonder if anything of genuine consequence will be learned during this first game of Dave Doeren’s second season.
Georgia Southern ran a wishbone-like offense under the coaching of Jeff Monken last season. Monken was lured away by Army specifically because of that offensive system.
Fritz was a big winner with Sam Houston State (Huntsville, Tex.) at the FCS (Division I-AA) level, where his offenses ran spread options, and although he inherited an moderately experienced line with the Eagles, it’s likely the entire season will be one of irregular offensive experimentation for the coach and his players.
That said, State still has an explicit to-do list, of course.
The top priority in that regard has to be simply blending in a ton of new personnel. If there’s any justification at all for the frail, non-conference schedule, it has to be accruing game reps for a wave of newcomers.
This will be the nucleus of players who eventually determine where Doeren takes the program. And while the coach and many fans sincerely believe an impressive rebound is at hand, the facts remain that he still doesn’t have an ACC win and national expectations remain modest at best.
Those same power index ratings that put Georgia Southern so low don’t reflect much deference for State, either. The CBS Index has the Pack at No. 98, Dunkel Index at No. 96, Real Time at No. 111 in the combined divisions, Massey Index at No. 89 and ESPN at No. 74.
For reasons relating to confidence and unit harmony alone, new State quarterback Jacoby Brissett and his offense didn’t need an daunting opening-game test.
But overall, State’s biggest problem last season was a defense that struggled throughout, and particularly so in the eight ACC losses. The unit was dealt more than its fair share of injuries and two of its best performances -- against Clemson and Syracuse in the third and sixth games -- still ended in losses that negated any hope of generating momentum.
However, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the defensive players and coaches get a meaningful reading Saturday -- and maybe even over the next three against Old Dominion, South Florida and Presbyterian.
In that vein, there’s still a distinct possibility that State could be 4-0, much improved offensively and yet encounter a staggering case of defensive shell-shock when the league schedule starts at Florida State a month from today.