N.C. State Wolfpack: A look ahead

The season ahead

2013: 3-9, 0-8 ACC

Coach: Dave Doeren, 2nd season (26-13 overall, 3-9 at N.C. State)

Offensive coordinator: Matt Canada (2nd season)

Defensive coordinator: Dave Huxtable (2nd season)

Returning starters: Offense 5, Defense 5, Specialists 2

Key returnees: RB Shad Thornton (768 rushing yards), WR Bryan Underwood (32 catches), CB Jack Tocho (2 INTs)

Key losses: DB Dontae Johnson (82 tackles), LB Robert Caldwell (105 tackles), WR Rashard Smith (49 catches)

Key number:

54 The Wolfpack has a total of 54 true and redshirt freshmen, which equates to 49.5 percent of the roster.

Best-case scenario: Junior quarterback Jacoby Brissett hits the ground running and the Wolfpack offense, designed to get multiple players involved, takes off with receivers Bryan Underwood and Bo Hines and running backs Shad Thornton and Tony Creecy all putting up big numbers.

A young defense finds its footing after a manageable nonconference slate and the Wolfpack gets nine wins and Doeren is the ACC coach of the year.

Worst-case scenario: Unfazed by Carter-Finley Stadium, after a win at Florida in 2013, Georgia Southern extends the Wolfpack's losing streak to nine games in the opener. The injury trends from recent seasons continue, the young players are overwhelmed by every team but Presbyterian and Wake Forest and 2-10 is the final disappointing ledger.

Bottom line: Brissett will be an upgrade at quarterback. The offensive line, if it can stay healthy, has the potential for significant improvement by virtue of continuity. There's young talent on defense, and it will probably take some lumps during the FSU-Clemson-Louisville stretch, but the schedule is set up to get to a bowl game. Three wins in five games against Boston College, Syracuse, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, UNC would leave the Pack at 7-5 and a tangible sign of progress for Doeren in his second year.