A Bright Future Wolfpack football ends 2016 on high note

To say the NC State football squad ended the 2016 season with great momentum would be a bit of an understatement. Dave Doeren’s Wolfpack won three of its last four games convincingly, earned a bowl victory against an SEC opponent and loses just a handful of starters from a team that only lost two games by more than a touchdown.

The Wolfpack won three of its last four games: at Syracuse, at UNC and vs. Vanderbilt in the Camping World Independence Bowl.

The Wolfpack jumped out to big leads in its last two outings - 21-0 at UNC and 28-3 vs. Vanderbilt in the Camping World Independence Bowl - and turned the ball over just one time in each of its last two games. The offense was 6-9 in the red zone in the last two games, while the defense tallied 13 tackles for loss over that time frame.

NC State posted it’s fourth-best total offense mark (5,417 yards) in school history and the top mark in Doeren’s tenure. Defensively, the Pack finished the season ranked eighth nationally in rushing defense (108.6 ypg).

Senior running back Matt Dayes turned in one of the best rushing campaigns in school history. After suffering a season-ending injury in 2015, Dayes rushed for 1,166 yards - the sixth-best single-season mark in school history. Dayes finished his career with 2,856 rushing yards to rank fourth in school history. His 34 career rushing touchdowns is the third-best mark in school history and the most in almost 40 years.

Junior defensive end Bradley Chubb was a disruptive force in the opponent’s backfield all season, tallying 22 tackles for loss. That mark is the second-best for a single season in school history. Only Mario Williams, the No. 1 pick in the 2006 NFL draft, had more (27.5) for the Pack and Chubb’s mark ranked third nationally in 2016. His 10.5 sacks is tied for third in the NC State single-season record books.

Quarterback Ryan Finley quietly turned in one of the best season in NC State history as well. The graduate sophomore threw for 3,059 yards in his first year in Raleigh - the sixth-best mark in school history. After leading the nation for part of the season in completion percentage, his final .604 mark ended up being the ninth-best in school history.

The Wolfpack’s “utility knife” - tight end/fullback Jaylen Samuels - battled an ankle injury for much of the season, but was back in full form in the win over Vanderbilt in the Camping World Independence Bowl. “JaySam” posted his second 100-yard receiving game of the year with six grabs for 104 yards and three touchdowns to earn offensive MVP honors.

His 13 touchdowns for the season tied as the seventh-best mark in school history and he will enter his senior campaign with 31 career TDs - the seventh-best career mark ever by a Wolfpack player. The most versatile scorer in school history, Samuels is the only player among the top 25 Wolfpack scorers to have his touchdowns so equally divided between rushing (16) and receiving (15).

Samuels has led the Wolfpack in receiving and touchdown receptions each of the past two seasons.

Five different Wolfpack players turned in eight 100-yard receiving games in 2016. No other school nationally had more individuals with 100-yard games. The Wolfpack loses only one of those players - senior Bra’Lon Cherry who had one 100-yard game, while Stephen Louis (3), Jaylen Samuels (2), Kelvin Harmon (1), and Nyheim Hines (1) are all expected to return in 2017. Add veteran Ramos to the mix and the wide receiving corps is stacked.

Steph Louis, Nyheim Hines and Kelvin Harmon each had 100-yard receiving games in 2016.

As of now, NC State will lose only six starters from 2015, returning the entire staring defensive line and all but one starter on the offensive line. With 19 scholarship seniors, it would mark the most experienced team by far in Dave Doeren’s five seasons as head coach. A trio of veteran players will return in 2017 after sitting out this season. Wide receiver Jumichael Ramos, cornerback Johnathan Alston and linebacker Germaine Pratt.

Justin Jones, Bradley Chubb, B.J. Hill & Kentavius Street

Under head coach Dave Doeren, the Wolfpack has made three consecutive bowl trips and has posted some of the top single-season team marks in school history.

Once again in 2017, the Wolfpack will face an exciting slate of opponents. NC State will open the season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte against SEC opponent South Carolina and will travel to Notre Dame for the first time in school history later in the season.

In addition to its perpetually tough ACC Atlantic Division schedule (Clemson, Louisville and Syracuse will visit Carter-Finley, while the Wolfpack will face Florida State, Boston College and Wake Forest on the road), the Wolfpack will travel to Pitt and play UNC at home.

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