“Russell has unbelievable talent,” Spencer said at ACC Media Day. “I don’t think we’ll miss a beat. We just gotta dust it off and get the wheel turning and grease it up so it’s real smooth when he comes back.”
The Wolfpack is losing all four defensive line starters, three of its offensive line starters and starting running back Toney Baker from the 2009 team.
But they are getting back their top defensive player, linebacker Nate Irving, who missed all of last season after suffering a broken leg and collapsed lung in a car crash last summer.
Spencer said Irving’s return has boosted the entire team’s morale.
“You’d expect him to be a little down about things, but since day one after the injury, he was still his normal self. I remember going into the hospital, he was making jokes. Having him back is exciting and real big for us.”
N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien, who is entering his fourth year with the team, said the pressure to win is starting to build.
“You have to win,” O’Brien said. “That shows progress and that’s what we haven’t been able to do. If you don’t feel pressure as a coach to have a winning football team and get to bowl games, then you’re not leading.”
The Wolfpack is just 16-21 since O’Brien took over. They played in a bowl game just once out of his three seasons as head coach — a 29-23 loss to Rutgers in the 2008 PapaJohns.com Bowl.
O’Brien’s biggest success with N.C. State has come against rival North Carolina. With O’Brien as coach, the Wolfpack is 3-0 against UNC, including a 28-27 victory last season that knocked the then-No. 23 Tar Heels out of the national rankings.
“I love playing (UNC),” Spencer said. “This rivalry is the best rivalry in college football. You want to hold that ring as far as being state champions and beating your rival school.”
With the Tar Heels No. 18 in the AP preseason national rankings poll, N.C. State could have a hard time continuing the winning streak. The Wolfpack also face difficult matchups against preseason No. 10 Virginia Tech, No. 16 Georgia Tech and No. 20 Florida State.
To get through them, they’ll put the ball in the hands of a baseball player.