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August 30, 2013
Welcome to opening week of the college football season. Amidst all the anxious players and coaches, will be very large hostile crowds and screaming fans rooting for their respective teams.
New Conference USA member, Louisiana Tech, will have its first shot representing the league against ACC member North Carolina State. The Bulldogs will travel to Carter-Finley Stadium this Saturday in hopes of starting this season off mirroring last year's start. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 5-0 record while beating two AQ conference opponents (Illinois & Virginia) along the way. N.C. State is coming off a very lack luster season which saw a real big win over eventual ACC champion Florida State, and some very lop sided losses. The Wolfpack did manage to finish above .500 at (7-6), but aside from the win against the Seminoles, no other victory came against a team with a winning record. The Bulldogs will be facing a tough task replacing all-conference standouts, Quinton Patton and Colby Cameron, but will need to establish an identity early if they expect to win.
Know the Opponent
The Wolfpack are coached by first year head coach Dave Doeren. Doeren is former Illinois Huskies head coach. He led his Huskies to back to back MAC titles and an Orange Bowl appearance last season. After enduring much success, he landed the job with the Wolfpack in hopes of turning around the program. Although he has only been a head coach for two years prior, he carries a stunning 23-4 record as the head man in charge. He hopes to gain win 24 against the Bulldogs on Saturday.
The Wolfpack have a very unique situation at quarterback between Brandon Mitchell and Pete Thomas. So unique that they have no idea exactly who will be the starter; however, they seem very comfortable that both will give them the greatest chance at winning.
"We have talked with all our quarterbacks about where they stand and what they need to work on", said Doeren. "I have told them, they need to be ready to be our guy when their name is called and that happens. I think they know in a 12-game season that it is a good possibility."
Mitchell is a former player from the University of Arkansas who spent time as a back-up receiver and quarterback last fall. He has since graduated and decided to give his quarterback aspirations one more shot in Raleigh. Thomas is entering his second year in the Raleigh after transferring from Colorado State. Thomas has a big arm and passed for 4,269 yards and 18 touchdowns prior to transferring. No matter who Doeren decides to go with, it is a good chance that both see time come Saturday. Fortunately for whoever lines up under center, they will be playing behind four linemen with a combined 41 career starts.
Last year, the Wolfpack were average at best running the ball. If they want to improve on mediocrity, they must get more from Tony Creecy and company out of the back field. Quintin Payton and Bryan Underwood both return as 600 plus yard receivers. This will give the Wolfpack a formidable outside threat, but the contribution from one of the true freshman wide-outs may put this group over the top.
The defense will be solid again this year, but just how solid depends on their ability to produce turnovers. Seniors D.J. Green and Zach Gentry return in the linebacking corps and from all accounts during the spring, they are fully healthy. The secondary is really young and the odds of playing at least 3-5 freshmen defensive backs are really high. Senior Dontae Johnson returns at corner and the coaches really hope he can take the next step. Last year Johnson recorded 8 pass-breakups and added 61 tackles. If he can play up to his potential, he may become a special talent in the secondary.
The Holtz Era Begins
The Bulldogs are hoping to build upon last year's success on the field. They are led this year by new head coach Skip Holtz. Holtz spent the last three seasons as head coach at South Florida. He also happens to be the son of former football head coach and current ESPN commentator Lou Holtz. Holtz has the task of improving a program that made great strides under former LA Tech head coach Sonny Dykes. Holtz will have to replace some components on offense from last year, but will field a very battle tested defense.
Offensively, the Bulldogs are also starting a new quarterback in Scotty Young. Young has a live arm and will have an experienced group of pass catchers to work with.
"On the offensive side of the ball, I think Scotty Young has really done a nice job," said Holtz. "I think he is kind of getting comfortable in that starting role that he has been playing for us right now and I think he is doing a better and better job every week of getting more vocal and starting to be a vocal leader."
The strength of this offense will fall on the shoulders and legs of sophomore running back Kenneth Dixon. Dixon pounded defenses for 1,210 yards and a whopping 6 yards per carry average. The good gets better with the return of former starting tailback Tevin King. The buzz in Ruston was huge regarding King, prior to suffering a season ending injury. The offense is joined by a defense that has a lot to prove. Senior defensive lineman, IK Enemkpali, is back to lead a deep defense line. He will have 9 other players with in-game experience to help shoulder the load. The road is uncertain for Holtz, but no one will doubt the cupboard is not bare.
I'm a little split on my predictions to open the season. N.C State does not possess the strongest team, but does have the advantage of playing at home. That atmosphere is rowdy and gives all visiting teams fits. The Bulldogs have been on the road against ACC opponents (see Virginia game 2012) and have come away victorious. Both teams are inheriting new systems, because of first year head coaches. That usually translates into shaky starts, but both teams have promise. I think the Bulldogs will put up a good game on the road, but the home crowd and lack of offensive experience will be too much to overcome. Wolfpack will win a tight one at home to begin their 2013 campaign.
Bulldogs 27 - Wolfpack 31
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