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Since the Atlantic Coast Conference went to two divisions in 2005, North Carolina State has never finished higher than third in the league’s Atlantic Division. The Wolfpack usually haven’t been bad, they’ve simply been mediocre more often than not, finishing in the middle of a division that Florida State and Clemson have owned ever since 2008.
But in 2017, N.C. State has a chance to finally break into the Atlantic’s upper echelon. The Wolfpack are off to a 6-1 start and Florida State and Louisville are already in their rear view mirror, making them a real contender for the Atlantic Division’s title.
One reason for their success is quarterback Ryan Finley, who is now in his second full year of running the Wolfpack offense and has proven himself to be one of the top quarterbacks in the ACC. In seven games, Finley has yet to throw an interception and has completed 69.4 percent of his passes. Finley has thrown 11 touchdown passes, and the Wolfpack are averaging 35.4 points per game.
Here are five things you need to know about Finley.
1. He’s a Graduate Transfer From Boise State
When Finley came out of high school in 2013, he appeared to be ready to become the next strong quarterback to lead Boise State through its dominance of the Mountain West Conference. However, when he arrived in Boise, he needed surgery on his shoulder and didn’t take a snap until 2014 following a redshirt season.
Two years later, Finley was the starter, and through three games, he seemed to be in command of the offense until breaking a bone in his right ankle against Idaho State. It proved to be the last time he’d ever play on the blue turf in Boise. Brett Rypien installed himself as the starter, leaving Finley in a tight spot as he tried to get back to game speed. However, thanks to the NCAA’s graduate transfer rule, Finley chose to hit the books and completed his degree in three years, allowing him to play immediately at another school.
Because the Broncos applied for a medical redshirt hardship, Finley will have another year of eligibility if he wants it.
2. He Owns the Wolfpack Record for Pass Attempts Without an Interception
The first few games of a season aren’t always the most challenging, but Finley and the Wolfpack played a fairly tough slate when they started the 2016 season. Still, despite meeting East Carolina, Wake Forest and Notre Dame, Finley didn’t throw an interception until a visit to Clemson, which finished the year as the national champion.
His streak lasted 139 pass attempts, setting a record for the longest without an interception to start a Wolfpack career. At N.C. State, that isn’t exactly a small feat, given that the school might be the most underrated in the country at producing NFL quarterbacks. In 2017, former Wolfpack starters to start in the NFL included Philip Rivers (Los Angeles Chargers), Russell Wilson (Seattle Seahawks), Mike Glennon (Chicago Bears) and Jacoby Brissett (Indianapolis Colts).
Finley might be the next name to join that list, as he’s played his way into being a potential NFL prospect. With several quarterback-hungry teams picking high next year, Finley could be in line to have his name called early if he keeps up his play.
3. His Move to Raleigh Reunited Him With His Offensive Coordinator
On the surface, moving from Boise to Raleigh, N.C. might seem strange for a quarterback from Phoenix. However, Finley’s move actually made a lot of sense considering the coaching situation at N.C. State.
While Finley was recovering from his broken ankle, Drinkwitz was brought in to take the Wolfpack offense to a higher level after it lost Brissett to the NFL. Prior to coming to Raleigh, Drinkwitz had directed a pair of top 15 offenses for the Broncos as well as a top-25 offense in one year at Arkansas State.
Drinkwitz’s presence made the move easy for Finley, as the two had become close during their time in Idaho. After visiting North Texas and N.C. State, Finley was sold on joining Drinkwitz in North Carolina.
4. He’s One of His Toughest Critics
To hear those who follow the N.C. State program tell it, Finley is among the sharpest quarterbacks in the country, especially compared to his performance in the 2016 season. However, Finley isn’t among those who’s believing the hype around him.
When the Wolfpack eased to a win over Marshall, for example, Finley threw just seven incomplete passes in the entire contest. However, Finley’s concern was the fact that three of those incompletions came on his first four throws of the game.
Despite the strong numbers to this point of his season, Finley openly admits to being hard on himself, believing that’s how he’s going to improve. Drinkwitz has also admitted to being tough on the fifth-year junior, even to the point of tempering expectations following the strong start because the Wolfpack started fast in 2016 as well.
However, despite both men’s downplaying of expectations, the fact remains that Finley had a higher completion percentage in his first year than three of the former Wolfpack players who are now in the NFL, and unlike their second seasons in the offense, Finley has overseen a continuation of his team’s solid performances from the previous year. All of the four Wolfpack signal callers saw their team lose six or more games in their second year in the offense, a feat that Finley is one win from making impossible.
5. He’s a Solid Golfer
Over the summer, Drinkwitz had the quarterbacks on the N.C. State roster compete in an alternate ball challenge in Apex, N.C., and Finley proved that he’s at least fairly decent on the greens.
While playing in a pairing with freshman Matt McKay, Finley sank a putt in sudden death to win the championship of the event. Golf wasn’t among Finley’s sports in high school, but his talents weren’t limited to the gridiron. While at Paradise Valley High School in Phoenix, Finley was the point guard for a team that would win the state championship.
Despite his performance on the greens with McKay, golf wasn’t even Finley’s third choice as an option for a career in sports. According to him, choice no. 3 was an attempt to win an Olympic medal in table tennis.