NC State

How these 16 players could make or break NC State’s football season

N.C. State’s Nyheim Hines, right, beats Syracuse’s Antwan Cordy in November 2015.
N.C. State’s Nyheim Hines, right, beats Syracuse’s Antwan Cordy in November 2015.

The luxury of having so many players back from last year’s team is there are fewer unknowns for N.C. State heading into this college football season.

The Wolfpack has 16 starters, eight on each side of the ball, returning from a team that went 7-6 in 2016. That means when practice starts on July 29, the veteran group should be off and running.

And that’s a good thing since for the first time in Doeren’s five-year tenure, the Wolfpack will open the season with a Power 5 opponent.

Three storylines to watch as N.C. State prepares for its Sept. 2 opener against South Carolina in Charlotte:

1) Replacing Matt Dayes

Matt Dayes had the ball for 49.4 percent of N.C. State’s running plays last season. Dayes, a seventh-round pick of the Cleveland Browns, became the Wolfpack’s first 1,000-yard rusher in 14 years.

He ran for 1,166 yards on 249 carries, which was a great accomplishment for him, and the offensive line, but it didn’t leave many opportunities for others to develop.

Junior Reggie Gallaspy had the second-most carries by a running back last season with 49 — 200 fewer than Dayes. The workload will likely be more distributed this season among Gallaspy, junior Nyheim Hines and senior Jaylen Samuels.

Gallaspy finished the season with 234 yards on 49 carries. Hines, who spent most of his first two seasons as a slot receiver, had only 13 carries for 44 yards last season. Samuels ran for six touchdowns but only had 33 carries for 189 yards.

Backup quarterback Jalan McClendon has also shown to be an effective short-yardage runner.

2) Filling out the secondary

The three starters who need to be replaced on defense are all from the secondary, including safety Josh Jones (team-best 109 tackles).

Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable also needs to find a new nickel back (Dravious Wright) and cornerback (Jack Tocho).

Sophomore Nick McCloud got some valuable reps at the end of last season and enters camp as Tocho’s replacement at corner. Junior nickel Freddie Phillips and junior safety Dexter Wright came out of spring as the expected starters.

N.C. State’s pass defense was shaky at points last season, notably in an early loss to East Carolina. The Wolfpack ranked No. 82 in pass defense, giving up 244.2 yards per game, compared to No. 8 in rush defense (108.6 yards per game).

3) Getting ready from the jump

Doeren’s first three N.C. State teams opened with a Group of 5 opponent (Louisiana Tech, Georgia Southern, Troy) and last year’s team smashed an FCS team (William & Mary) in the opener.

The Wolfpack jumps into the deep end this season with a neutral-site opener against South Carolina, an SEC opponent. The Gamecocks were only 6-7 a year ago, in coach Will Muschamp’s first season, but they have won nine straight games against FBS teams from North Carolina, including a pair of season-opening wins over the Wolfpack (2008 and ’09) and a pair of neutral-site wins in Charlotte (UNC in ’15, ECU in ’11).

N.C. State has played a Power 5 opponent four times in the opener since 2002 and has lost all four.

Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio