Sports

Another ‘easy’ schedule for NC State? Depends how you look at it.

ESPN’s Football Power Index has N.C. State’s schedule ranked as the second easiest among Power 5 teams.

ESPN’s computer formula, which uses data from the 2018 season to predict future performance, is down on the ACC in general.

Six ACC teams rank among the “easiest” schedules (compared to the teams in the SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12), including Virginia Tech at No. 1 and national champion Clemson at No. 9.

N.C. State coach Dave Doeren, heading into his seventh season, said there’s a lack of respect for some of the teams in the ACC.

“In the last three years, every team in the ACC has been in a bowl game,” Doeren said. “We have more bowl victories than any conference over the last three years.

“I think it’s a very underrated conference. I don’t know if it matters what I think, when it comes to that, but I’ll tell you we’re playing some teams that are a lot better than people think.”

There aren’t any SEC teams on the FPI list, which is generated by a mathematical formula, not personal opinion.

Louisville, expected to be the worst team in the ACC, has the toughest schedule among ACC teams, according to the FPI. The Cardinals face Notre Dame and Kentucky outside of the league and crossover with Miami and Virginia, the expected top two teams in the Coastal Division.

N.C. State’s schedule has been a regular point of criticism of Doeren. Early in his tenure, former athletic director Debbie Yow lined up more manageable opponents outside of the ACC to help Doeren get the program on track.

Since 2016, N.C. State’s schedule has been more difficult. The Wolfpack has been scheduled to play at least one Power 5 opponent in its four-game nonconference set (the West Virginia game was canceled due to weather last year) in each of the past three years and two in 2017.

N.C. State is scheduled to go to West Virginia this season with home dates against East Carolina, Ball State and Western Carolina outside of league play.

WVU went 8-4 last season but has a new coach and lost star quarterback Will Grier to the NFL. ECU went 3-9 last year and also has a new coach. Ball State, of the Mid-American Conference, finished 4-8 last year.

Inside the ACC, the Wolfpack gets its division opponents and crossover games with UNC and Georgia Tech.

The Tar Heels went 2-9 last year and Georgia Tech is expected to take a step back from its 7-6 finish in coach Paul Johnson’s final season.

There’s a nuance to N.C. State’s schedule that might be lost on a computer (or anyone who doesn’t follow the ACC).

ECU has won three of the four games with the Wolfpack this decade and usually plays its best against N.C. State and UNC.

In odd-numbered years, N.C. State has to travel to Wake Forest and Boston College. The Deacs have won seven of their past eight home games with the Wolfpack. The Eagles have 5-2 home record against the Wolfpack since joining the ACC in 2005.

CLEAN BILL OF HEALTH: N.C. State limped to the finish line of spring practice with minor, nagging injuries keeping several starters out of the spring game. The entire expected starting offensive line didn’t play in the spring game.

“Spring was bad, yeah” Doeren said. “The O-line is healthy, which is great.”

Running back Ricky Person and linebacker Payton Wilson were described as “all good” by Doeren.

Person, who ran for 471 yards as a freshman, missed all of spring while recovering from a variety of injuries. He is expected to be one of the featured backs, along with freshman Bam Knight, this season.

Wilson, the top recruit from the 2018 class, missed last season with a knee injury. He went through drills during spring but was limited in contact.

“He’s fully cleared (and) probably more excited to play in training camp than anybody on our football team,” Doeren said of the 6-foot-4, 235-pound linebacker from Hillsborough. “He’s in the office all the time watching tape on his own. I see him every day. He’s really, really looking forward to this fall.”

For the most part, Doeren said, on Wednesday at the ACC kickoff that the roster is healthy and ready for the start of practice on Aug. 2.

“We have a few guys with some muscle strains from running this summer that we’ll have to deal with but nothing that will limit them too much,” Doeren said. “I think we’re in a pretty good place right now.”

A FAMILIAR NAME TAKES OVER AT MIAMI: Manny Diaz made his name in coaching in six years N.C. State as a defensive assistant to Chuck Amato, and even as the new head coach at Miami, his time with the Wolfpack is never far from his mind. Not only did the success of Amato’s defense launch Diaz’s career, he’d still like to dip into that recruiting pool.

“We built the number one defense in the country,” Diaz said. “That was really primarily fueled by North Carolina recruits. Half North Carolina, half south Florida was kind of our recipe. But the defensive linemen in particular that come out of the state tend to really, really be disruptive-type players. Mario Williams, first pick overall. Manny Lawson, first-round draft choice.”

Joe Giglio has worked at The N&O since 1995 and has regularly reported on the ACC since 2005. He grew up in Ringwood, N.J. and graduated from N.C. State.
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