Entering last season North Carolina State looked average at best coming off a 4-8 season. And head coach Dave Doeren was on the hot seat in Raleigh.
But the Wolfpack turned things around and finished the season 8-4 with a Gator Bowl trip where they fell 23-21 to Kentucky. Now NC State looks to build on a successful campaign and get its first bowl win since 2017.
The Tigers look to win their ninth straight against the Wolfpack, but some think the trip to Raleigh on Sept. 25th could be primed as an early season trap game in the renewal of the Textile Bowl rivalry and its first true road game.
Last meeting: Clemson’s last game against the Wolfpack was in 2019 when it rolled to a 55-10 win in Raleigh, N.C. the largest margin of victory in series history. The Tigers have held onto the Textile Bowl trophy for 15 of the last 16 matchups and has won eight straight since the Wolfpack won in 2011.
Last season: NC State finished last season 8-4 overall and 7-3 in the ACC and turned a lot of heads after a difficult 4-8 season in 2019.
Coaching staff: Doeren enters his ninth season as the head coach of the Wolfpack and has some continuity in his staff. Tony Gibson is now in his third season as the defensive coordinator and Tim Beck returns for his second season as the offensive coordinator.
Returners: The Wolfpack faced injury issues and virus problems on offense last season but saw flashes of greatness from quarterback Davin Leary in just three starts before a season ending leg injury against Duke on Oct. 7.
Leary looks to lead a much-improved offense after completing 60-percent of his passes for 890 yards and eight touchdowns with a pair of interceptions last season.
His primary weapon last season was Emeka Emezie who caught 47 passes for 728 yards and is returning for a fifth year at wide receiver. Thayer Thomas added eight more touchdown receptions for the Wolfpack.
At running back Bam Knight and Ricky Person Jr. proved a steady duo with 1,431 yards between the two. Leary also returns some experience on the offensive line which should help move the ball down field.
On defense NC State needs more consistency across the board. Payton Wilson is poised to lead the unit at linebacker, he recorded 108 total tackles last season with 3.5 sacks and a pair of interceptions. The Wolfpack return nine starters off a salty unit and was stingy in pass defense but struggled against the run.
Additions: NC State picked up a few solid transfers and recruited well to add some much-needed depth to its roster. On offense the biggest addition is four-star quarterback Aaron McLaughlin who looks to assert himself as the backup quarterback.
Defensively the Wolfpack added two transfers from Florida State in defensive tackle Cory Durden and safety Cyrus Fagan. NC State also picked up cornerback Derrek Pitts from Marshall to fill holes in the secondary.
Subtractions: The biggest loss for the Wolfpack is nose tackle Alim McNeill who took up significant space in the middle of the field in the last few seasons. NC State also lost backup quarterback Bailey Hockman who transferred to Middle Tennessee State after filling in for the injured Leary last season.
Key Matchups: The biggest matchup for the Tigers against NC State on the field will be in the middle of the field against a veteran stall of linebackers.
But as long as Clemson focuses on the task at hand and playing its game there should be no problems because of the talent gap between the two programs.