RALEIGH, N.C. — At least North Carolina State knows when one of its top cornerbacks may return as the Wolfpack try to bounce back from their season-opening loss and reverse a bothersome trend.
Coach Tom O'Brien said Monday the NCAA has suspended cornerback C.J. Wilson for four games because of an academic issue.
Wilson sat out the loss to Tennessee and will sit for three more games — this week at Connecticut, plus home games against South Alabama and The Citadel. He can return Sept. 29 when N.C. State visits Miami.
O'Brien said Wilson graduated in January but didn't pass the required six credit hours during the spring semester while dealing with unspecified family issues.
"He thought he could juggle a lot of different balls," O'Brien said, "and he was wrong."
The coach said Wilson passed 12 credit hours this summer "and demonstrated to them that he would be serious going forward." The NCAA informed him of its decision Friday, he said.
O'Brien said Wilson's absence had no effect on the 35-21 loss to Tennessee because he prepared throughout preseason camp to be without Wilson.
His situation didn't become public knowledge until last week, when the projected third-year starter — who works on the opposite side of All-American David Amerson — was left off the depth chart while the school waited for clearance.
Junior Dontae Johnson, a converted safety, started in his place and was in on eight tackles against the Volunteers.
Now it's up to the Wolfpack (0-1) to find a way to get back on track.
Under O'Brien, N.C. State has never gone on to finish with a winning record after losing its opener. The bounce-back process starts this week at Connecticut (1-0).
"We're just trying to get on a winning streak," defensive end Darryl Cato-Bishop said. "Get one win, take one win at a time, and after we win one game, we can work on winning another game. ... Winning is contagious."
The Wolfpack fell to 0-4 under O'Brien when opening against teams from the Bowl Subdivision. They lost their openers every year from 2007-09, and during that span they twice wound up 5-7. Their best finish was a 6-7 record in 2008 that ended with a loss to Rutgers in the Papajohns.com Bowl.
Their prime-time opener last week against Tennessee qualified as a disaster.
Amerson — whom UConn coach Paul Pasqualoni said has "maybe the best plant-and-drive I've seen in quite a while" — was torched for two long touchdown passes.
Usually steady quarterback Mike Glennon threw four interceptions. N.C. State gave up 16 points — two touchdowns and a safety — in a brutal 38-second, four-play span of the first quarter.
"You can't play a team like Tennessee and make that many mistakes and expect to win a football game," O'Brien said.
Maybe a trip to UConn is just what the Wolfpack need. Since 2003, N.C. State's only wins against teams from BCS conferences have come against schools from the Big East and, of course, the ACC.
The Huskies, the Big East's BCS representative two years ago, looked impressive against lesser competition, handing Massachusetts a 37-0 loss in the Minutemen's first game as a member of the FBS.
Pasqualoni and O'Brien go way back. They coached against each other for eight straight seasons from 1997-2004 when Pasqualoni was at Syracuse and O'Brien was at Boston College.
"You turn a staff over, you have turmoil in a year after you (won) a BCS conference," O'Brien said. "The guys that are up there coaching are really good coaches. This is as sound as an offense and a defense as we'll play this year in terms of technique and guys being lined up and being in right spots and knowing their jobs."