NC State has to rebuild some bodies on the offense line and replace a good quarterback, but has the pieces surrounding those questions to keep scoring a lot of points.
Starters Returning: 7/11
Key Losses: QB Jacoby Brissett, TE David Grinnage, TE Benson Browne, LT Joe Thuney, LG Alex Barr, C Quinton Schooley
Key Returnees: RB Matthew Dayes, WR Jumichael Ramos, Bra'Lon Cherry, WR Nyheim Hines, HB Jaylen Samuels, TE Cole Cook, RG Tony Adams, RT Will Richardson
FEI Offense Rank: 18
S&P Offense Rank: 32
S&P Rush Rank: 6
S&P Pass Rank: 63
Turnovers: 13 (6 INT)
Drinkwitz for Canada
This will be the 4th Notre Dame opponent early in the schedule to feature a new offensive coordinator as Matt Canada left Raleigh for Pittsburgh this off-season. In his place steps Eli Drinkwitz from Boise State.
Drinkwitz filled in the OC position for the Broncos which was vacated by our own Mike Sanford when the latter young coach came to Notre Dame last year.
As a 2004 graduate of Arkansas Tech, Drinkwitz is still very young and without a ton of experience. However, in his short time his resume is awfully impressive. He started out as a coach at Springdale High School in Arkansas from 2006 to 2009 and was the OC for the final 3 seasons.
For 2010-11 he became a grad assistant under the Gus Malzahn offense at Auburn and witnessed a National Championship. From there he was tied closely with Bryan Harsin first working as a running backs coach at Arkansas State for 2 years (added the co-OC tag in the latter year) and then moving with Harsin to Boise State for 2014-15. Before becoming the Broncos OC he was the tight ends coach in 2014.
There were some folks (like me) who thought Jacoby Brissett would be a quality darkhorse Heisman candidate last year. That didn't happen.
Still, NC State has to love what they got out of Brissett for 2 years especially coming out of the black hole that is the Florida Gators quarterback development program. Brissett leaves behind 458 completions, 60% accuracy, 5,268 passing yards, 899 rushing yards, and 52 total touchdowns over the last two seasons.
He never developed into a great passer but Brissett was the focal point of some really quality NC State offenses and only threw 11 interceptions on 765 pass attempts. Perhaps smelling there is some more potential the New England Patriots went ahead and took Brissett in the 3rd round with the 91st overall pick. He was the 5th quarterback off the board in this year's NFL Draft.
NC State only had 2 players picked in the NFL Draft and the other was also selected in the 3rd round. Left tackle Joe Thuney will join Brissett on the Patriots and was picked 78th overall.
The Wolfpack do have to replace 2 other starters on the offensive line which is a concern. This may be mitigated a bit as grad transfer Joseph Scelfo is coming over from South Alabama following a 1st-team All-Sun Belt season in 2015. Scelfo could add a starting veteran presence at center.
Finding a quarterback is obviously the main task for the off-season. Redshirt sophomore Jalen McClendon has always had the inside track but it appears redshirt freshman Jakobi Meyers has made it an intriguing battle following spring practice. McClendon is much bigger at 6'5" 212 pounds while the younger Meyers is thinner at 6'2" 188 pounds.
It's really difficult to replace offensive linemen and a good quarterback in the same off-season so it remains to be seen how NC State overcomes these obstacles. Elsewhere on the roster they are poised to be really productive.
Three out of their four top running backs return, including Matthew Dayes who had elite production totaling 865 yards at 6.46 per carry with 12 touchdowns. The Wolfpack will also be adding high 4-star redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier--a former Notre Dame recruiting target--to the mix this season, as well.
All of the team's receivers are back and most importantly junior Jaylen Samuels returns as the X-factor of the NC State offense. Listed as a tight end, Samuels is more of a tight end/running back/receiver/fullback hybrid player that almost literally does it all for the Wolfpack.
At 5'11" 225 he's the size of a big running back and still led all tight ends nationally with 65 receptions last year. Samuels also chipped in 368 rushing yards at an impressive 6.57 yards per carry average. He finished 3rd in the ACC with 16 total touchdowns and was named to the first-team All-ACC squad.
At any rate, a decline in offensive production seems likely without Brissett. Although, there is room for improvement in the passing game and a competent quarterback could allow the running game to flourish with a player like Samuels doing a ton of damage to opponents.