Game time: 7:30 p.m. ET; Sept. 2, 2021
Venue: Carter-Finley Stadium, Raleigh, NC
Where to watch: ACC Network
Opening Odds at USA Sportsbooks
DraftKings: NC State -18; ML: NC State -1000, USF +650
BetMGM: NC State -18; ML: NC State -1100, USF +650
FanDuel: NC State -18.5; ML: NC State -1000, USF +610
2020 season record
USF: 1-8 (0-7)
NC State: 8-4 (7-3); lost Gator Bowl to Kentucky
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USF - NC State preview and analysis
One wonders how good the NC State Wolfpack would’ve been last season had Devin Leary not broken his leg.
If his comeback is anything like he looked last season, it might be a year for the books for NC State.
The redshirt sophomore returns under center, this time as the full-time signal-caller for the Wolfpack, and he’ll be under center on Thursday when they open the new season against the USF Bulls at Carter-Finley Stadium.
The Wolfpack were riding high in coach Dave Doeren’s eighth season. They won 45-42 in the season opener against Wake Forest, and then made a quarterback change from Bailey Hockman to Leary, just ahead of a three-game road trip. Leary had a rough go losing to No. 20 Virginia Tech, but answered with wins at Pittsburgh and Virginia put NC State at 3-1.
Leary ultimately led NC State to a 31-20 comeback win against Duke, but left in the third quarter with that broken leg. The Wolfpack lost at the No. 14-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 11 Miami, but finished strong with four straight wins with Hockman under center.
Now, Leary returns with a strong supporting cast around him. Wide receiver Emeka Emezie returns after a strong year as NC State’s leading receiver, and Zonovan Knights returns as the Pack’s leader in the rush game. If that offensive line holds up, NC State has the ability to be one of the top units in the ACC.
The same can’t be said for South Florida, which has experienced such a fall in the past five years. From Willie Taggart to Charlie Strong, and now Jeff Scott, the Bulls have gone from being an 11-win team to a one-win group with the only victory coming against The Citadel.
Now, The Citadel is no slouch. They’ve beaten some notable teams in the past like Georgia Tech and South Carolina. But when your offense averages a shade under 200 yards per game, it’s not something to be proud of.
The Bulls have not been good in years, and it’s a sad state of affairs. The Bulls are hoping junior quarterback Cade Fortin will stabilize the offense and get some production during North Carolina State week.
USF: The Bulls are moving forward with Joiner as their quarterback after last year’s leading passer Jordan McCloud transferred to Arizona. South Florida’s offenses averaged only 23.1 points per game last season (103rd best in the nation).
NC State: The Wolfpack had a consistent balance between the run and pass, and the run will get a long look this year with Zonovan Knights. NC State scored 30.2 points per game while averaging 262.8 yards in the air and 123.3 on the ground.
USF: South Florida’s ground attack was … bad. Not only did they give up 212.3 yards per game, but also allowed five touchdowns per game on the ground. Considering their offense averaged two touchdowns less than what they gave up, it was just that bad.
NC State: The Wolfpack defense was a middle-of-the-pack group a season ago, but struggled heavily at containing the run, allowing 174.6 yards on the ground. That doesn’t come as a shock seeing how good the ACC is at rushing attacks, but it’s something they need to be better at this season.
This would be one hell of an upset if USF pulled it off, but given the talent on NC State, it just doesn’t make sense to think the underdog will do well, spread or not. NC State wins 54-20.
USF is 4-13 on Thursday games in its last 17 contests.
The under is 8-0 in NC State’s last eight as a home favorite. Straight up, the Wolfpack are 82-26 in their last 108 as home favorites.
Players to watch
USF: Kelley Joiner returns as the lead tailback for the Bulls; he only ran for 368 yards and one touchdown last season, but should see more carries from last season.
NC State: Should the Wolfpack have a dominant season, it could be because of that veteran defense led by linebacker Payton Wilson. He eclipsed the century mark last season and could be a Butkus Award contender as the year goes on.
Statistical leaders from 2020
Passing: Jordan McCloud -- 1,341 yards, 9 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Kelly Joiner -- 368 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: Bryce Miller -- 327 yards, 3 TD
Defense: Antonio Grier -- 56 tackles, 3 sacks
Passing: Bailey Hockman -- 2,088 yards, 13 TD, 11 INT
Rushing: Zonovan Knights -- 788 yards, 10 TD
Receiving: Emeka Emezie -- 738 yards, 5 TD
Defense: Daniel Joseph -- 6.5 sacks; Payton Wilson -- 108 tackles
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