Tom O'Brien feels that NC State is good enough to play with anyone in the country if they stay healthy. He believes they have the depth and experience to do so. Now, the next step is doing it.
"This is by far the most experienced and deepest team we've had," O'Brien said. "Now it's a question of can we take that next step and get to that next level and get to Charlotte, where we want to go.
"I think we're going to be very competitive, and we'll be able to play against everybody in the country."
The Pack is emphasizing starting better in 2012 after slow starts have plagued the program in previous O'Brien years. State opens with Tennessee in Atlanta Aug. 31 and at Connecticut eight days later.
Leading the way will be fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Glennon, who O'Brien noted has benefited greatly from going to the Manning Camp and Elite 11 camp over the summer. Glennon's starting point this season will be much further along than it was last year at this time.
"We expect him to be better," O'Brien said. "He's got a year under his belt now. I think he saw progress as the year went on last year. Certainly he played better at the end of the year."
The Pack is still toying around with the offensive line. They have moved fifth-year senior R.J. Mattes to left guard after he started the last two seasons at tackle. His classmate, Andrew Wallace will get a look at right tackle.
Junior Rob Crisp, whom O'Brien noted played well in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, will get first crack at left tackle, and redshirt sophomore Tyson Chandler, a talented player according to O'Brien, will also be in the mix at tackle.
The running backs could get a "big help" if redshirt sophomore Mustafa Greene continues to maintain his current status with the team.
O'Brien's biggest concern on offense is at receiver, noting that even the top returning receivers, fifth year senior Tobais Palmer and redshirt sophomore Bryan Underwood, have only played one year, and one of the top reserves is Rashard Smith, a redshirt junior and former cornerback.
"They are good players," O'Brien said. "The two freshmen have potential for whatever that word is worth, Morgan and Flowers. Those kids are going to have to step up. I don't think he has a go-to guy, but that's something that is going to have to be established in preseason camp."
Defensively there's no secret that the linebackers, which lost all three starters and the one reserve who played frequently, is the top question mark for the entire team.
O'Brien is putting the pressure on the defensive line to help them out, noting they can assist the linebackers more than the vaunted secondary.
"The guys up front have to be better," O'Brien noted. "There's experience there, and I think there's enough depth there that we can get through and help out a lot, especially in the passing game getting after the quarterback without blitzing linebackers.
"Certainly there are some kids that have to step up and make plays, but that's what happens in college football."
Come Aug. 31, everyone is going to have to be ready however.
"It's a great opportunity for our football team," O'Brien said. "I think it'll give us a good measuring stick of where we are, where we're headed. So it'll be a good challenge, but I think our kids are looking forward to the challenge."
Other tidbits from O'Brien at ACC Kickoff
- Three freshmen recruits did not qualify academically. Defensive end Tyler Knox is headed to a junior college while defensive end Desmond Owino and receiver Xavier Griffin are going to prep.
- O'Brien stated what many would consider to be the obvious, and that is the 2012 season will likely be junior cornerback David Amerson's last at NC State. Amerson is expected to be a top 2013 draft prospect with another good season.
O'Brien has been preaching to Amerson that his opportunities this fall probably will not be as plentiful as they were when he picked off an ACC record 13 passes in 2011.
"He might not get three chances this year," O'Brien said. "He might have a better year, but nobody might throw the ball out there for him to do that.
"He's worked extremely hard in the offseason. One of the things that I think he has done that's different is he has gotten into the film room."
- O'Brien was asked about the Penn State situation, and he spoke eloquently about former coach Joe Paterno.
"My thoughts are this," O'Brien began. "I believe that he's already been judged by somebody that I believe will do the judgment for all of us.
"It's such a tragic situation that no words could ever express."
O'Brien also readily admitted that if a current Penn State player wanted to transfer and would be a good fit for NC State and help the Pack in an area of need, NC State would pursue the option.
"We just won't take somebody that won't help us," O'Brien said.
Penn State players can transfer without penalty. The stiff penalties handed down by the NCAA signaled a "new era" according to O'Brien.
"One of the things that the NCAA did when they came to our meeting was they showed what penalties in the past were and what penalties were going to be in the future," O'Brien said. "The penalties in the future were multiple times what the penalties in the past were."
- In perhaps a good omen for the upcoming season, O'Brien golf group won the ACC Kickoff Classic golf outing with a low score of 61. That was one shot ahead of Glennon's group which also included UNC redshirt junior quarterback Bryn Renner.
- O'Brien and his fellow ACC coaches wouldn't mind seeing two changes with college football. He'd rather their be eight teams instead of four in the college football playoffs, and he would also like to tweak the nine-game ACC conference schedule.
"What we suggested at the spring was you take the ninth game, you play your rivals, you play it the Thursday, Saturday and Monday of Labor Day weekend, and don't count it in the standings," O'Brien said. "Stay at eight instead of a nine-game schedule, but then you got the whole summer to play your rival.
"Scheduling four and five games, which we did in the Big East, that's hard. They say they are going to make it equitable, but we'll see."
- Fans of the red helmet will be happy to know that the Pack will probably wear them against Tennessee.