ACC

Another fast start? How the first six football games are set up for NC State.

How will NC State football do in the first half of the season?

The News & Observer's Joe Giglio previews the NC State football's first six games of the 2019 season. How does he think the Wolfpack fare against ECU, Western Carolina, West Virginia, Ball State, FSU and Syracuse?
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The News & Observer's Joe Giglio previews the NC State football's first six games of the 2019 season. How does he think the Wolfpack fare against ECU, Western Carolina, West Virginia, Ball State, FSU and Syracuse?

N.C. State has always been good early in the season under Dave Doeren.

Even Doeren’s disastrous first season started with a 3-1 record. Doeren’s six teams have combined to go 21-4 in August and September.

The schedule sets up again this season for the Wolfpack to potentially get off to another fast start.

A game-by-game breakdown of the first half of the schedule:

East Carolina

Date: Aug. 31

Time: noon. TV: ACC Network

Series: N.C. State leads 17-13 (last meeting: 58-3 win, 2018, Raleigh)

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N.C. State wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (11) scores on a 24-yard reception as East Carolina defensive back Warren Saba (17) defends during the first half of N.C. State’s game against East Carolina University at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

The 2018 regular season ended with a 58-3 Wolfpack rout of the Pirates at Carter-Finley Stadium. That was an ECU team with an interim coach, without a quarterback and decimated by injuries.

In short, don’t expect the Pirates to look anything like that version on Aug. 31. ECU made a great hire in new coach Mike Houston, who won a national championship at James Madison in 2016. Houston led the Dukes into Carter-Finley in last season’s opener and nearly knocked off a veteran N.C. State team.

A healthy Holton Ahlers at quarterback will exponentially boost the Pirates’ offense, which ranked No. 112 in rushing offense last season. Ahlers had back-to-back 400-yard passing games in ECU’s most difficult conference matchups last season as a freshman before he got injured in a loss to Cincinnati and missed the N.C. State game.

Doeren has lost two games in September in the past four years. One was at ECU in 2016 (the other was in the 2017 opener against South Carolina). The Pirates had won four of six in the series before last year’s blowout.

Western Carolina

Date: Sept. 7

Time: 12:30 p.m. TV: Fox Sports Carolinas

Series: N.C. State leads 6-0 (last meeting: 48-7 win, 2010, Raleigh)

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Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir reacts during the first half of an NCAA college football game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome) Gerry Broome AP

N.C. State faced one of the top teams from the Football Championship Subdivision last year in James Madison. Western Carolina, coming off of a 4-8 season, does not fit into that category. The Catamounts went 1-7 in the Southern Conference a year ago and provided UNC with half of its win total.

One thing WCU has going for it, coach Mark Speir is not in his first season. Five of the Wolfpack’s opponents are breaking in a different coach than from 2018.

Going back to 1987, N.C. State has won 31 straight over Division I-AA (or FCS) opponents. The Catamounts have never beaten a Division I-A opponent (0-55).

At West Virginia

Date: Sept. 14

Time: noon. TV: FS1

Series: tied at 5-5 (last meeting: 23-7 win, 2010, Orlando, Fla.)

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West Virginia quarterback Will Grier (7) hands the ball off to running back Kennedy McKoy (6) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against TCU, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018, in Morgantown, W.Va. Ray Thompson AP

These two teams were supposed to meet in Raleigh last year. The game was canceled because of Hurricane Florence.

That was too bad. We were deprived of a matchup between two high-powered offenses, with NFL quality quarterbacks, and matching vulnerable defenses.

It would have been the personification of the pointing Spider-Man meme. This year’s version has the same potential in the sense that both programs in a similar space.

The Mountaineers, coming off of an 8-4 season, are in a “reset” phase, albeit with a new coach. Dana Holgorsen decided after eight years with the Mountaineers to jump to Houston, instead of potentially heading down a doomed path at WVU.

Neal Brown, who won 31 games at Troy the past three years, takes over without quarterback Will Grier or six other starters on offense.

Doesn’t matter who the coach is, though, the Mountaineers have always been tough at home. They haven’t lost a non-conference home game since 2011, when they were beat by then No. 2 LSU.

Ball State

Date: Sept. 21

Time: TBA TV: TBA

Series: First meeting.

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Ball State wide receiver Riley Miller (86) catches the ball against Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love during the first half of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. Nam Y. Huh AP

Doeren’s N.C. State teams are 20-2 against teams outside the “Power 5” conferences and both of those losses were to ECU (in 2013 and ‘16).

Doeren, who was the coach at Northern Illinois before he was hired by N.C. State in 2012, also happens to have an outstanding record against Mid-American Conference opponents (18-1).

Ball State, led by former Carolina Cobras (of the old Arena Football League) coach Mike Neu, went 4-8 last year and finished 3-5 in the MAC.

The Cardinals put up a fight at Notre Dame last year (a 24-16 loss) but ranked No. 120 in rush defense last year. This could be a good chance for sophomore Ricky Person and N.C. State’s young running backs to get some confidence.

At Florida State

Date: Sept. 28

Time: TBA. TV: TBA

Series: FSU leads 26-13 (last meeting: 47-28 win, 2018, Raleigh)

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In this Nov. 3, 2018, file photo. Florida State’s James Blackman (1) looks to pass during the first half of the team’s NCAA college football game against North Carolina State in Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer file photo

N.C. State has won the past two matchups with the Seminoles. Doeren also has a 2-0 record against FSU coach Willie Taggart (State beat Taggart at South Florida in 2014).

The Seminoles were a mess last year offensively with one of the worst lines among Power 5 teams. Assistant coach Kendal Briles was brought in to fix the offense.

The Noles, coming off of their first losing season since 1976, will be tested early in September. They open with Boise State and go to Coastal Division favorite Virginia on Sept. 14.

Quarterback James Blackman threw for 421 yards against N.C. State’s defense last year. It was one of the few brights spots for FSU in Taggart’s first season.

Syracuse

Date: Oct. 10

Time: 8 p.m. TV: ESPN

Series: N.C. State leads 10-2 (last meeting: 51-41 loss, 2018, Syracuse, N.Y.)

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Syracuse quarterback Eric Dungey (2) passes during the first half of N.C. State’s game against Syracuse at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

N.C. State could not stop Syracuse’s offense last year. Then senior Eric Dungey threw for 411 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran for a score.

Dungey is gone but the Orange, ranked No. 22 in the preseason coaches’ poll, are hoping redshirt sophomore Tommy DeVito can keep the offense rolling.

Dino Babers’ club ranked No. 11 in the the country in scoring (40.2 points per game) last year. You add in the defensive improvement and voila! you have the program’s first 10-win season since 2001.

The offense will have to adjust without Dungey’s running ability (he ran for 15 TDs last year) but the defensive line is the best in the ACC this side of Clemson.

It should help the Wolfpack that this one is scheduled for a Thursday night kick.

As one ACC coach told Athlon: “That place is hell when you’re coming in on a Thursday night. It’s one of the loudest stadiums in our league.”

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