While rumors of the ACC moving to a conference-only football schedule this fall begin to seem increasingly credible, Liberty is still scheduled to play NC State in game 11.
NC State finished last season 4-8, good for 12th in the ACC. Wins against East Carolina, Western Carolina, Ball State and Syracuse put the Wolfpack at 4-2 at last season’s halfway point, but a six game losing streak to finish the year secured NC State’s place in the ACC cellar. The team’s lone conference win came against Syracuse, who defeated Liberty in week one but finished the season 5-7.
Quarterback was a huge question mark for the Wolfpack throughout 2019 and could remain a question mark throughout 2020. Several quarterbacks started for the team last season, including returners Devin Leary and Bailey Hockman. For now, Leary is the team’s projected starter in week one. As a redshirt freshman last year, Leary completed 101 of 210 passes in 2019 for eight touchdowns and five interceptions. Depending on Leary’s play throughout the season, however, the Flames could face a different quarterback when they travel to Raleigh in November.
TE Cary Angeline caught five of the team’s 14 passing touchdowns last year and will remain the team’s top target in 2020. The Wolfpack’s young receiving corps shows promise, but their success largely depends on the strength of the team’s quarterback play. Zonovan Knight will lead a deep running back room after rushing for 745 yards as a true freshman in 2019.
An injury-plagued defensive unit surrendered an average of 30 points per game in 2019. Linebacker Payton Wilson led the team in tackles last year with 69 despite serving in a reserve role. Given Wilson’s play and the transfer of 2019 starter Brock Miller to Boise State, Wilson will start for the Wolfpack. The team also welcomes back linebacker Louis Acceus, who missed much of last year due to injury. NC State also hired a new defensive coordinator in Tony Gibson, who will likely introduce a scheme different than the team’s previous 3-3-5 defense.
The special teams play should be strong in 2020. NC State returns starting kicker Christopher Dunn as well as punter Trenton Gill, who led the ACC with an average of 47.6 yards per punt.
I view NC State as a similar opponent to the 2019 Rutgers team Liberty lost to. The Flames could win this game, but obvious recruiting advantages that power-five teams enjoy over most independents will give the Wolfpack the upper hand in this one. Liberty will make the game exciting, but the Wolfpack will ultimately prevail.
PROJECTED LIBERTY RECORD: 7-4