Game preview: NC State offers stiff test in USC opener
SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic is out on this limb.
Plenty of college football folks have made plenty of College Football Playoff predictions. He might be the only one who has the N.C. State Wolfpack, South Carolina’s opening day opponent, in that group.
So what’s got him out there?
Balance and matchups.
“I just kind of go down the list,” Cubelic said. “I think playing in that division, which I believe going into the season is the most difficult division in college football, N.C. State will be afforded a mistake, maybe two. Probably not two.
“But if they drop a game, let’s say they drop Week 3 to Florida State on the road and have wins against an SEC team in South Carolina, which I think is going to be improved. You throw into that mix wins against Notre Dame, wins against Clemson, wins against Louisville.”
He ran down the list, pointing to an Achilles heel for each:
Clemson - Great lines but turning over the skill talent.
Florida State - Had issues protecting quarterback Deondre Francois.
Louisville - Highly inconsistent on the offensive front.
Notre Dame - A lot to prove defensively.
Then combine those factors with the well-rounded nature of the Wolfpack’s preseason profile.
“I think they’re deep up front on the D-line,” Cubelic said. “I think they have an active group of linebackers. I think their offensive line has a chance to be good.
“Throw in Jaylen Samuels, who could line up as a traditional tight end, he can split out wide, he can take handoffs in the backfield. You’ve got a real matchup guy on your hands.”
They’ve also got a seasoned quarterback in Ryan Finley, who threw for 3,000 yards and was good at managing things in Year 1.
Schematically, Cubelic pointed out the Wolfpack’s zone perimeter run game and quick-distribution passing game were good to counter the top flight defensive lines they’ll face (Miami, Clemson and FSU all have fearsome groups). But he also liked something more basic about N.C. State’s roster.
He likened the 2016 Wolfpack to the Auburn team he played on as a junior. Both squads probably played better than their record, coming up short in several close games. Both teams returned a lot, and his older, more seasoned and experienced Tigers turned around to go 9-4 and play for an SEC title.
Things start with South Carolina, a matchup Cubelic said could come down to if South Carolina’s inexperienced tackles, Malik Young and former guard Zack Bailey, can hold things down on the outside.
But USC’s first opponent could be poised for big things.
“Call me crazy, but I’m still a big fan of a team and kids who play team ball. You have a lot of guys on that team who have played a lot of football together,” Cubelic said.
Who: USC vs. N.C. State
When: 3 p.m. Saturday
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
TV: ESPN Line: N.C. State by 4 1/2