July 28, 2003 RALEIGH It was hard for Chuck Amato to hide the tinge of disappointment he felt. The coach went to the ACC Football Kickoff down in Georgia armed and ready to take aim at one of his favorite targets, the bad ol' media.
Several times before the league's preseason poll was revealed, it was suggested that the Wolfpack might be installed as the preseason favorite to win the league. All along, Amato incredulously told anyone who would listen that the Wolfpack should certainly not be billed as the team to beat.
It's just my opinion, but I still think the team is Florida State, said Amato, a long-time assistant under FSU coach Bobby Bowden. For three years, we've never finished higher than fourth. I don't know what makes you think we are going to be first all of a sudden.
The coach obviously didn't want to hear that the Wolfpack might be the preseason favorite. Maybe it's one thing to believe you can knock off the powerful Seminole dynasty, and it's another to be expected to do it. Then the media did a crazy thing: They listened to Amato and picked Florida State to win the league.
Granted, the final tally was the closest it's ever been since Florida State joined the league in 1992, with the Seminoles getting 672 points to the Wolfpack's 664. FSU got 35 first-place votes from the 84 voters, while the Wolfpack got 26.
It's the second year in a row Amato's team has been picked to finish second behind the Seminoles. But in last year's voting, the Wolfpack finished nearly 200 points behind Bowden's squad. FSU won the league despite losing to NCSU for the second year in a row, while the Pack also finished behind Virginia and Maryland in the league standings.
The next benchmark for the Wolfpack is where it will be picked in the national polls. The Associated Press releases its preseason poll on Aug. 16, and the coaches will release theirs around the same date.
The preseason magazines don't seem to be convinced that the Wolfpack is a real top-10 contender. Athlon's had the highest preseason ranking for the Pack, at No. 11. At the same time, every major publication included the Pack somewhere in the top 25.
Of course, just getting into the preseason poll is an accomplishment for N.C. State, which has made the AP's preseason poll only four times since the news organization began doing preseason rankings in 1950. (From 1936-49, the first AP poll came out in mid-October.) In two of those four years (1975, 1993), the Pack was not included in the final poll at season's end.
The highest the Wolfpack has ever been ranked in the preseason is No. 13, in 1975. That was Lou Holtz's final season as State's coach, and it was his least successful in Raleigh. The Pack finished 7-4-1 and outside the top 20 in the final AP poll.
Five Returnees Will Help Depth
Amato has been away for much of the summer. When in Raleigh, he's been busy moving his coaches and such to the Wolfpack's beautiful new home at Carter-Finley Stadium.
So no one had much of a chance to ask him about the status of several players who were suspended from the team or academically ineligible. News coming out of the ACC Football Kickoff suggested that Amato had made some decisions, especially on the three guys who were arrested in January for using another student's campus debit card.
Apparently, defensive back Marcus Hudson and linebackers Corrie Dawson and Travis Singletary are back in good standing after pleading guilty to several charges and being sentenced to fines and community service.
Hudson and Dawson pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges in March, while Singletary pleaded guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges in May. All three were charged after being arrested for buying $330 in snacks from a campus vending machine with another student's card. All three were suspended from the team during spring practice.
But now they all have gone before the school's judicial board and are included in the school's just-published media guide, indicating they will play this fall. Hudson, a part-time starter at cornerback in 2002, again will challenge for a starting position in the secondary. Dawson and Singletary are likely second-team linebackers and special-teams players. Although they're back, Amato said that doesn't mean the three will go unpunished.
They're going to face discipline, Amato said. Suspension isn't always the ultimate discipline. They embarrassed my university, and they embarrassed me. Now I'm going to get them. How I do it is my business.
The coach also indicated that two players who were not academically eligible last year running back Cotra Jackson and defensive end Terrance Chapman are likely to be back on the team this year, as long as they satisfactorily complete their summer school classes. Jackson's return, probably at fullback, will help in the backfield, where Amato lost two of his best recruits. Chapman should challenge for a starting position on a defensive line that will be breaking in four new starters.
While Hodge Misses, Atsur Scores
It was practically ignored by the local media, but first-team All-ACC pick Julius Hodge was a finalist for the United States team that will play in the Pan Am Games in August. He looked like a cinch to make the 12-player USA Junior team, coached by Michigan State's Tom Izzo, until the 17 finalists began working out in Orlando in late July.
Hodge was one of the four players cut from the team, which now heads to the Dominican Republic for the annual Pan Am Games.
Meanwhile, one of Hodge's teammates is playing for his national junior team this summer, and he's performing quite well at the European Junior Championships in Thessaloniki, Greece.
Engin Atsur, an incoming freshman guard, was Turkey's leading scorer through the team's first six games at the tournament. He had a 41-point performance against Croatia and a 37-point game against Australia. The least-known of the incoming ACC basketball signees, Atsur lived up to his reputation as an outstanding perimeter shooter.