Inside Knights College Football Preseason Poll Countdown: North Carolina State No.20
It’s not quite the time for college football season, but it’s close enough for a preseason poll. Teams that lost a great quarterback are looking for a replacement, teams that saw a number of young players play major roles for their teams last fall while looking for their pieces in search of a better 2021, and then there’s these traditional shows that seem to find a way to stay in the mix for the top 20 every year. It’s all part of the annual evolution of college football.
There are sure to be several twists and turns for this coming season, and that list could change before August (say hello to the transfer portal to find out why). Here is the first take on college football polls, as they will be updated throughout the year, starting with # 20 as we move up to # 1.
North Carolina State Wolfpack # 20
With Bailey Hockman leaving the Wolfpack to join another program, and despite a strong 2020 season that saw the Wolfpack go 8-4, some people were concerned about North Carolina State’s quarterback position. These people should be reminded that Devin Leary returns after an injury last season. The junior signalman will be one of the most talented and precise passers in the ACC, and he plays within an attacking who enjoys a controlled passing game, which Leary excels at.
Prior to the injury, Leary’s accuracy was the reason the North Carolina State offensive clicked at the start of the 2020 season. His accuracy aside, he also possesses the arm to hit wide receivers on field. The combination of his skills with the skill of the running back and wide catcher will be a good mix for the Wolfpack.
Return Knight Zonovan “Bam” is one of college football’s most likely running backs for 2021 and his role could increase despite sharing races last season. He ran for 745 yards and five touchdowns in 2019, then 788 yards and 10 touchdowns in the 2020 season. The 5’11 “, 210-pound running back division carries with 6’1”, 215 pounds Ricky Nobody, Jr. last fall. Knight will be a junior and Person will be a senior.
Knight might gain a little more of the charge, but Person rushed for 643 yards and four touchdowns last season. The average per carry is where it is most interesting. Knight averaged 5.51 yards per carry versus Person’s 4.37 yards per tote. Knight has a little more “juice” in his legs to hit the big game. Moving on to the wide receiver, the Wolfpack received some great news about a senior.
Wide receiver Emeka Emezie grabbed 47 passes for 738 yards and five touchdowns last year, and he’s decided to return for one final season in Raleigh, NC. He’ll be one of the top All-ACC contenders by 2021. Let’s see how he bonds with Leary to take advantage of his 6’3 “, 220-pound Frame. If they actually freeze, watch out.
The addition to the weapons at the wide receiver would be senior Thayer Thomas, another senior this fall. The 6’0 ”, 195-pounder makes some tough catches and finds the end zone, which he did six times to go along with his 42 receptions and 529 yards last fall. The Wolfpack will need larger receivers to step up, and another candidate will be junior Devin Carter. He’s a big wide receiver who caught 29 passes for 477 yards and two touchdowns last fall. If it takes their game up a notch, North Carolina State could be a truly formidable attacking team.
Along the trenches it’s a solid unit anchored by a junior offensive tackle Iken Ekwonu. To reach the plateau, the Wolfpack must even consider challenging the conference titan Clemson, it is the unit that needs to step up the most. There is talent, starting with Ekwonu, and now that unity must come together and be a force.
Defensively, it’s not so much about players as it is about pattern and health. Best linebacker Payton Wilson the ability to stay on the field will be one of the main reasons North Carolina State wins or loses games this fall. He’s an NFL talent who seems to find his way into football regardless of the blocking pattern.
During the 2020 season, Wilson recorded 108 tackles, 11.5 tackles for a loss and three and a half sacks. It’s a great season, and he was assaulted in the 2020 season. Now imagine if the rising junior remains healthy throughout the 2021 season. Wilson could compete for All-American honors. He’s surrounded by some talent in the trenches, but it was inconsistent.
Stopping the race is a theme for all defense, and the Wolfpack was bad last year. The North Carolina state defense allowed 173.92 rushing yards per game. Considering Wilson will be back, that should get better, but that’s just a terrible number. It’s also confusing because the state of North Carolina recorded 32 sacks last fall, and the sacks count towards the rush totals for college football.
Second year Terrell Dawkins added four and a half sacks, and he’ll be surrounded by some experience as well as Florida State’s defensive tackle transfer Cory durden, a player who crashed last fall but recorded five sacks in the 2019 season.
High school was pretty good considering how young he was last fall, and his best days should be this season and next. second year students Aydan White and Joshua Pierre-Louis back after gaining experience last season, as well as junior Cecil Powell being a key player at the cornerback position. Pay attention to the transfer from the State of Florida Cyrus Fégan, who plays it safe.
The Wolfpack should be a contender for at least an 8-4 season, and going 10-2 or better is not out of the question. The offense will be powerful and could give adjustments to opposing defenses if the offensive line really meets.
Defensively, the secondary needs to grow quickly. There is now some experience and a key transfer, and the core linebacker will be led by one of the best in the country at Wilson. There is hope, but more work to be done.