The NSJ sports staff is again taking some wild guesses — some seemingly possible, others highly unlikely — at what might happen in 2019. Sports editor Cory Lavalette and staff writers Brett Friedlander and Shawn Krest did not get much right last year — while ECU hired a familiar face as its basketball coach, it wasn’t Wes Miller, and Jeff Skinner was traded from the Hurricanes, but not to San Jose — what’s the harm in trying to predict what 2019 will bring?
Dabo joins the Pack
No, not NC State. Swinney falls short of winning his second college football title at Clemson and decides to head off to greener pastures: Green Bay pastures. The Alabama native has coached in the South his whole career, but he can’t turn down the chance to team up with Aaron Rodgers to try and bring a Super Bowl title back to Wisconsin. Swinney wheels and deals with the Packers’ two first round picks at the NFL Draft to land Tigers defensive end Clelin Ferrell and Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown, filling two needs and setting up a successful 2019 season. Brent Venables, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator, takes over at Clemson but can’t replicate Swinney’s success, and NC State wins the Atlantic Division.
Dougie’s stay in Raleigh brief
The Hurricanes made defenseman Dougie Hamilton the key piece in a trade with the Calgary Flames last summer, but he’s the first of the three players acquired gone after a disappointing 2018-19 season. Hamilton is traded to the Maple Leafs — who stumbled in the playoffs despite Stanley Cup aspirations — in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen and a draft pick. Kapanen returns to Raleigh where his father, Sami, starred for the Hurricanes from 1997-2003. The other two players the Hurricanes received in the Flames trade are in Carolina to stay. Micheal Ferland signs a five-year, $25 million contract, while college defenseman Adam Fox jumps right to the NHL in the fall.
Roush is back
Ryan Newman joins Roush Fenway Racing to pilot the famed No. 6 — and the team’s recent struggles are turned around by the driver who himself had fallen on hard times in recent years. A win at the season-opening Daytona 500 punches Newman’s ticket to the NASCAR Cup Playoffs, and the team and driver advance to the Round of 8 before bowing out of the postseason. It’s still a step forward for Roush Racing — which last finished in the top eight back in 2012 when Matt Kenseth ended the season seventh. The 41-year-old Newman wins three races in all, the most since he won a career-best eight back in 2003.
Yow delays retirement
NC State’s athletic program has improved dramatically since Debbie Yow was hired in 2010. Her goal of having the Wolfpack become a national top 25 program is well on the way toward fruition, with a school-record 12 programs finishing their seasons ranked in 2017-18 and 21 of State’s 23 teams advancing to postseason play. With the football and men’s basketball programs both on the upswing, facilities having been upgraded and a much more solvent financial situation, she can legitimately declare victory as she approaches her scheduled retirement next June. Only, she’s not going to walk away as planned. At some point between now and the end of the academic year, Yow will announce that she still has more to accomplish and delay her retirement for at least another year.
The road to Omaha goes through ECU
A valid argument can be made that North Carolina is the No. 1 state in the nation when it comes to college baseball. No fewer than seven of our teams — UNC, NC State, Duke, East Carolina, UNC Wilmington, Campbell and NC A&T — qualified for the NCAA tournament last spring with the Tar Heels advancing all the way to the College World Series. Next year, the team to beat will the Pirates of coach Cliff Godwin. ECU is coming of a 44-18 season in which it won the American Athletic Conference and hosted an NCAA regional. With most of its best players back — led by national Player of the Year candidate Bryant Packard — the Pirates will take things one step further by making their first trip to Omaha and college baseball’s premier event.
Danny’s last dance
For one brief shining moment in 2017, it appeared as though Danny Manning was on his way to turning Wake Forest’s basketball program around. His Deacons won 19 games and earned a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years. But then star John Collins left for the NBA draft, a rash of transfers followed, and Wake is once again struggling to stay out of the conference cellar, and even an influx of talented newcomers this season hasn’t reversed the negative trend. Manning’s 60-75 overall record (20-52 ACC) is only slightly better than the 51-76 mark compiled by his loathed predecessor Jeff Bzdelik (17-51). Even though Manning signed a contract extension last season, athletic director Ron Wellman will let him go after a fourth losing season in five years. Wellman’s search for a replacement won’t take long or far away, as he will hire UNC Greensboro’s Wes Miller as Manning’s replacement.
Panthers’ overhaul includes trading Cam
After firing head coach Ron Rivera and cutting ties with veteran offensive players Ryan Kalil and Greg Olsen, the Panthers embrace a full overhaul, trading quarterback Cam Newton to the Giants for a package of picks in the 2019 draft. Newton replaces the retiring Eli Manning, whom the Panthers try unsuccessfully to lure into playing a couple more years. The Panthers pass on local QBs Ryan Finley and Daniel Jones to draft Will Grier, who will be brought along slowly, behind free agent pickup Colin Kaepernick.
N.C. falls short of landing MLB team
Expansion and franchise movement will become a top story in the state in 2019. With the Panthers bottoming out and rebuilding under a new owner, and with no progress made on a long-term stadium solution, rumors will swirl that the team may be a prime candidate for relocation, either to London or Mexico. Jacksonville will likely be the team to move outside of U.S. borders, but it will be tense times in Charlotte for much of the year. Meanwhile, MLB expansion plans will pick up steam, and Charlotte and the Triangle will both be on the list of candidates, only to lose out to Montreal and Portland.
Duke nearly makes run to football playoff
Duke shocks the known universe by taking Alabama to overtime in the season-opening kickoff game in Atlanta. Quentin Harris has a breakout game as the senior replaces the departed Daniel Jones as Duke’s starting quarterback. The Blue Devils upset Notre Dame at Wallace Wade in November and sweep their regular-season conference schedule. The run is nearly derailed by Mack Brown’s Tar Heels, who drop a low-scoring late-season rivalry game. The Blue Devils fall short of meeting Alabama in a playoff rematch, however, losing to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game.