Oh, that N.C. State Wolfpack.
It's been a struggle to get back to some semblance of relevance over the past few years (remember that 9-4 season in 2010? Tom O'Brien isn't walking through that door), and they nearly suffered what would have been a bad loss at the hands of FBS upstart Georgia Southern last Saturday (the same Eagles squad that upset Florida a year ago as an FCS program).
So should the Wolfpack be on upset alert when the Old Dominion Monarchs come to town? Sure, the Wolfpack are 17-point favorites to win, but let's remember that this is the same group that just struggled to take down Georgia Southern. If they're having that much trouble with them, what happens when defending champion Florida State comes to town three weeks from Saturday? What about when they travel down to Clemson on October 4?
That's why I'm not so sure that -17 line accurately represents what kind of game we'll see on Saturday. Here's a few things, among others, to be keeping an eye on:
N.C. State's run defense. The Monarchs are facing a team that gave up 246 yards on the ground to GSU. That's a lot, especially when the Pack ran for 173. I'm interested in seeing what kind of game sophomore Gerard Johnson has against this group after his 22-carry, 137-yard rushing day against Hampton. Granted, it was against Hampton, but that still isn't a bad number.
How Taylor Heinicke can respond. Heinicke was OK (29-40, 281 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INT) last week, but we know that he's capable of much more. The Wolfpack pass rush did well against good QBs last season (they held Florida State's Jameis Winston to 16-26 and 291 and Clemson's Tajh Boyd to a sub-250 yard day) but were left holding the bag because the offense just couldn't score a lick. Does that change with a new face at QB? We'll see. Which brings us to...
Jacoby Brissett and Shadrach Thornton. Brissett was pretty good in his first start against GSU, so we'll have to see how he does in week two. Thornton, despite just 73 yards against GSU, can turn it on, and we saw evidence of that last year at times (going for 173 against the Seminoles, for example). One caveat of this Old Dominion team: as much yardage as they put up, they give up a lot as well, so if Brissett gets into a groove and Thornton can find holes to work with, it could be a long day for the Monarchs' defense.