ATLANTA (AP) — North Carolina State is looking to move to the top of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
For Tennessee, the first goal for 2012 is to move out of the basement in the Southeastern Conference.
Each team hopes to use tonight’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff at the Georgia Dome to set a winning pace for 2012. Still, N.C. State coach Tom O’Brien said while the nationally televised game is special, it won’t define the season.
“Well, the first game definitely isn’t the end-all game that you’re going to play, but there are definitely special games and this is definitely one of them,” O’Brien said. “It’s a great opportunity for us and we are looking at it that way.”
N.C. State has 17 wins the last two seasons. The Wolfpack was 8-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC’s Atlantic Division last season for a fourth-place finish behind Clemson, Wake Forest and Florida State.
“I feel like winning this game will finally put us on the map and finally put us where we’re supposed to be,” said N.C. State senior safety Earl Wolff. “The past couple of years, we’ve had an eight-win season, a nine-win season, and I feel like this year can be that 10-win season, but we have to start off by beating Tennessee.”
Senior quarterback Mike Glennon’s 31 touchdown passes last year were the second-most in N.C. State history. Philip Rivers threw 34 scoring passes in 2003.
The Wolfpack also boasts a returning star on defense. Junior cornerback David Amerson led the nation and set an ACC record with 13 interceptions in 2011.
N.C. State apparently will be without another top starter in the secondary. O’Brien said this week cornerback C.J. Wilson isn’t available because of an unspecified eligibility issue.
O’Brien said he’s waiting for Wilson to be cleared by the NCAA.
Wilson has returned each of his three career interceptions for touchdowns.
Tennessee finished 5-7 overall and was last in the SEC’s Eastern Division at 1-7 in 2011.
The Vols lost top receiver Da’Rick Rogers, who transferred to Tennessee Tech. He says failed drug tests led to his suspension from Tennessee.
Rogers’ exit leaves more pressure on junior quarterback Tyler Bray.
Tennessee coach Derek Dooley said Wolff, Amerson and Wilson give N.C. State “probably one of the best secondaries in college football.”
“You have a first-rounder and probably three or four NFL draft guys back there,” Dooley said. “They make you pay for an inaccurate throw. They make you pay for a mistake. And they set you up. They can recover and make a play on a ball that most people can’t. It is going to require some patience from (Bray).”
Bray said N.C. State’s defense has size and speed.
“I wouldn’t say they’re LSU or Alabama, but they can compare to some of the teams in the SEC,” Bray said.
Tennessee defensive end Darrington Sentimore gave a lukewarm review of N.C. State.
“They’re a great team, but we’re a great team also,” Sentimore said.
“They have a great offensive line, they’ve got a good offensive line. That’s pretty much it. The quarterback, average. The receivers, average. But the offensive line is pretty good.”
Dooley played wide receiver at Virginia from 1987-90, when O’Brien was the Cavaliers’ offensive line coach.
O’Brien said Dooley, who earned a scholarship after beginning his playing career as a walk-on, carried himself like a young coach.
“He was probably the smartest guy on offense when he played and he did a great job telling everybody else where to go,” O’Brien said.