Coach Tom O’Brien said he had never experienced a more difficult season. It started with star linebacker Nate Irving’s scary car crash this past summer, which sidelined him for the entire season, and ended with the news that offensive coordinator Dana Bible had been diagnosed with leukemia prior to the Virginia Tech game.
A total of 12 players were lost to season-ending injuries, and the Pack (2-6, 5-7 ACC) suffered a 1-6 stretch that eliminated them from postseason play for the second time in O’Brien’s three seasons. The root of the problems were with the defense, where NC State ranked 99th in the country in scoring defense, allowing 31.17 points per game. The Pack were 106th in pass efficiency defense, and injuries forced the staff to use a different starting lineup in the secondary for at least three quarters of the season.
The two positive headlines for NC State this year came when tailback Toney Baker was granted a sixth year of eligibility, and when the season ended on a triumphant note with a win over rival North Carolina. NC State also earned a marquee nonconference win against Pittsburgh, which wound up playing for the Big East title.
Offensive MVP: Quarterback Russell Wilson – He completed 59.3 percent of his passes for 3,027 yards and 31 touchdowns. He threw just 11 interceptions.
Defensive MVP: Alan Michael Cash – He blocked one kick, forced a fumble and finished with 55 tackles, including 3.5 for loss and two sacks.
Turning point: In late June, Irving -- arguably the team’s top defensive player -- suffered a broken leg and a collapsed lung in a one-car crash. It was an emotional incident and a loss that set the tone for the entire defense, which struggled all season without their top player and leader.
What’s next: The coaching staff needs to continue to recruit and build depth so it's not in this position again, with virtually no upperclassmen to depend upon and too many young, inexperienced players forced into important roles. The staff also needs to find out whether Wilson plans on focusing on football or baseball, and whether Baker will enter the NFL draft.