1. What is the one thing all the experts have wrong about this year's NC State team?
Section Six: I can't reiterate this enough: Chuck Amato is noton the hot seat. Every article written about poor Chuck has the same message: Amato needs to put together a good season or he may lose his job. Yes, there were times last season when fans booed. No, this does not automatically mean the coach is on the hot seat. There can't be too many coaches coming off of a bowl bid who have to deal with this from the media.
There are concerns, there are frustrations--no one is happy about two consecutive losses to North Carolina. But I've really seen nothing to suggest that Amato has fallen out of favor with a significant chunk of Wolfpack fans. The mood around the football program is nothing like the mood had been around Herb Sendek's basketball program.
That is not to say this season isn't important for Amato. If NC State stumbles to 4-8 or something like that, he will be on the hot seat in 2007--and rightfully so.
2. Everyone says that Amato has underachieved since Rivers left or that Rivers covered up Amato's weakness. Either way, there is more to it, right? For example how can an All-Star defense get pushed around like they did at times last year? What is your take on the post-Rivers era?
Section Six: We have gotten such terrible production from the quarterback spot since Rivers left that it is difficult for me to place too much blame on Amato's coaching. In addition, NC State has had all sorts of problems with its offensive line. Injuries destroyed the line in 2004, and for whatever reason the line never gelled in 2005 (NC State's now-departed OL coach deserves a lot of the blame, I think). Those issues have made for some laughably bad offense over the last two seasons. It's not playcalling, it's not scheme, it's not a lack of motivation.
We haven't found the right guy to replace Rivers, and that has done far more damage to our prospects than Chuck Amato ever could.
As you mention, though, there are some things that make everyone wonder whether or not Amato has managed his post-Rivers teams effectively. That the defensive line could be so mediocre in the first half of 2005 and so dominant in the second half is telling, and not in a good way. This is one problem that can safely be blamed on coaching. The lightbulb didn't just turn on halfway through the year; the players didn't just magically unlock some hidden ability. Amato has been accused of coddling his star players too much, of perhaps not fostering the most disciplined environment. Maybe he could have done more over the last two years to tighten the screws.
Still, I'm giving Amato the benefit of the doubt. Despite his shortcomings, he isn't a bad coach, no matter what Stewart Mandel says. His only losing team (2004) was much better than its record suggested, and its underachievement had a lot more to do with bad luck (like the bizarre ending to the UNC game) than bad coaching.
3. Of the first rounders, who will be the hardest to replace?
Section Six: Mario Williams. NC State is left with young and unproven talent at defensive end, and while I'm optimistic about how the new guys are going to play, it's completely unrealistic to expect anything close to what we got from Williams last season. I've seen a few red flags this summer (red flags in the offseason, yellow flags in the regular season...) which have me concerned about the defensive ends, as well as the line in general.
In the first scrimmage of the year, Toney Baker and Andre Brown combined to run for 269 yards on 19 carries. Chuck Amato has talked about playing DeMario Pressley, who is one of the team's starting defensive tackles, at defensive end. It's obvious the coaches aren't comfortable with what they've seen in practice to this point.
Manny Lawson is easier to replace simply because he wasn't as good as Williams. John McCargo was a great defensive tackle, but NC State has a couple of guys at that position who will minimize the loss.
4. I know it is early, but how do you see BC's first trip to NC State as a member of the ACC?
Section Six: I see it as a successful one. I expect a closer game than last year, but I like the Eagles because Matt Ryan is just way better than Marcus Stone. Plus, the last time we had a green defensive line(2003), our defense was made into swiss cheese by just about everybody; Ryan and BC's running back tandem are more than capable of doing the same.
Thanks to Steven and be sure to check out Section Six throughout the season.