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College Football Picks: North Carolina St. Poised to Surprise in ACC Atlantic Division

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North Carolina State is one of the most experienced teams in the nation with seventeen returning starters are is a legitimate contender in the ACC Atlantic Division in 2017.  Following back-to-back 7-6 finishes, the Wolfpack are hungry for a conference title and have the requisite talent to pull off several upsets during the regular season.

The Wolfpack possess an experienced offense with nine returning starters, including quarterback Ryan Finley.  Finley threw for 3,059 yards (60.4%) with 18 touchdowns last year and lines up behind an excellent offensive line.  The Wolfpack welcome back 89 career starts from last year’s unit that allowed just seventeen sacks.

North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren enters his fifth season in Raleigh with the most experienced wide receiving corp. of his tenure. Senior Jaylen Samuels returns after leading the team in receptions last season (55; 525 yards; 12.2 yards per reception). Senior wide receiver JuMichael Ramos returns after suffering a season-ending injury prior to the start of the 2016 campaign.

The Wolfpacks’ backfield sustains a major loss in running back Matthew Dayes, who was selected by the Cleveland Browns in this year’s NFL Draft. Offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz has moved Nyheim Hines to the backfield (played receiver in 2016) which gives North Carolina State additional speed behind the line of scrimmage.

Defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable did an outstanding job last season as the Wolfpack allowed just 22.8 points per game (25.8 points per game in 2015).  With eight returning starters, including one of the best defensive lines in college football, I expect Huxtable’s unit to once again improve in 2017.

Last year’s defensive line allowed a mere 3.3 yards per rush attempt and returns seven of the top 8 in 2017.  Defensive ends Bradley Chubb and Kentavius Street are both legitimate NFL prospects who combined for sixteen sacks last season.

North Carolina State’s secondary loses safety Josh Jones, who was drafted by the Green Bay Packers. With two returning starters, including senior Shawn Boone, the Wolfpack’s pass defense will remain solid.

North Carolina State has not won eight regular season games since 2010, but coach Doeren continues to do a good job in Raleigh.  Doeren has led the Wolfpack to three bowl games in his first four seasons, and this year looks to be his best team yet.

In fact, my models project 8+ wins for North Carolina State, making the Wolfpack a legitimate contender in the ACC Atlantic Division.

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