With NC State taking the week off for the first of its two open dates, now is the perfect time to look back and assess first five weeks of the 2019 football season.
Over the next few days, we'll review the top three surprises, disappointments and areas for improvement, along with the three most important players to the team's success looking ahead to the second half of the schedule.
Today, we check out the three most important players to the Wolfpack's success for the remainder of the season:
This one goes without saying. The Wolfpack must get better and more consistent production from its quarterback to have any chance of finishing the season strong and earning a top tier bowl bid.
With all due respect to former starter Matthew McKay, who has already had his shot, and Devin Leary, who may or may not get a shot, all indications are that coach Dave Doeren ready to hitch his wagon to Hockman -- the crown jewel of his most recent recruiting class.
The redshirt sophomore, who started his college career at Florida State, saw his first extended action on Saturday in Tallahassee, completing 21 of 40 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown in relief of McKay in the 31-13 loss.
Though he showed his inexperience on several throws -- avoiding interceptions only because of drops by Seminole defenders -- he had far more positives. The most significant of those was his ability to throw the ball downfield with accuracy, an element that has been missing from State's offense through the early part of the season. Hockman also showed plenty of toughness by hanging in and making his throws despite a physical pounding.
"He went in there and did some good things," Doeren said Wednesday on his weekly radio show. "I thought he competed really well. He took some tough hits and showed a lot of guys in that game, I thought. He put some balls into tight windows and gave some guys a chance. I told him he showed a lot of heart in that football game.”
The Wolfpack's linebacking corps is solid across the board, going two deep at all three positions with players -- all underclassmen, by the way -- capable of getting the job done. But of that group, Wilson stands out as a potential star.
Wilson was one of the highest-ranked prospects in North Carolina before tearing the ACL in his right knee in October 2017 during his senior season at Orange High School. A reaggravation of the injury set him back another full season once he arrived at State. But now fully healthy, the 6-foot-4, 235-pound redshirt freshman is rapidly regaining his old form.
His role has increased steadliy since the start of the season, leading up a season-high totals of 42 snaps and seven tackles in last week's loss at Florida State. He's also shown his versatility by ranking third on the team in tackles with 24 while breaking up two passes and a blocked extra point (even though it was nullified by penalty). He's even displayed some ability running the ball on a successful fake punt.
With his toughness and a Luke Kuechly-like instinct that always seems to put him around the ball, Wilson has the potential to be the anchor of an already improved defense as he continues to gain in confidence and playing time -- as Doeren noted on Wednesday.
"Early on he was still thinking about his knee probably and he's nervous about playing college football," the coach said. "Now he's played enough where he's just playing. He's aggressive, he's having fun, his conditioning is where it needs to be. It's fun watching him play.
Houston is the most versatile member of the Wolfpack's talented stable of young running backs. Like Wilson, his role has continued to grow as Doeren and co-offensive coordinators Des Kitchings and George McDonald continue to find ways to best use his diverse skill set.
Though 40 pounds lighter than Jaylen Samuels, Houston has the potential to play a similar role to that of the former State star who now plays for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound freshman combines quickness an elusiveness that has helped him avoid defenders in the open field.
He has already shown his value in the running game while averaging 7.1 yards per carry while ranking behind only fellow rookie Zonovan Knight in rushing with 226 yards on just 32 carries. He's also caught six passes for 28 yards, but he can still become much more involved in the passing game -- especially, like Samuels, around the end zone and in short yardage situations that have been State's Achilles heel through the first five games.
Houston was a surprise starter at Florida State and with Ricky Person's status uncertain after suffering what appeared to be a serious injury in the game, his contribution to the offense only figures to become more significant.