The college football season began for some teams during Week 0. However, most of the college football landscape will start its season during Week 1. That includes South Florida and NC State in the two team's opener in Raleigh on Thursday night.
NC State is coming off an 8-4 2020 season which included a loss to Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. On the other side, USF finished 1-8 in Jeff Scott's first season as Bulls' head coach. Scott and USF are hoping for a better 2021 season as the Bulls will have 15 starters returning on both sides of the ball.
Thursday will be the fourth time USF and NC State have met on the gridiron and the first time since 2014. The Wolfpack hold a slight 2-1 edge, including a 49-17 road victory in 2014.
USF at NC State
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: NC State -18
When USF Has the Ball
USF quarterback Cade Fortin will see a familiar opponent on Thursday when he lines up opposite the NC State defense. Fortin's last start actually came against the Wolfpack when he was playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels as his team came up short in overtime in 2018.
Obviously, this is a much different NC State team than the one Fortin played against three years ago. What could help Fortin is an experienced group of receivers in Omarion Dollison and Latrell Williams. Bryce Miller also is back after leading the Bulls in receiving last year with 33 catches for 327 yards and three touchdowns. Xavier Weaver returns as the home-run threat Fortin should be able to rely on this season.
Kelley Joiner, who rushed for 368 yards and a touchdown last year, is back as the Bulls' speed threat out of the backfield. He will share carries with Brian Battie, who averaged seven yards per rushing attempt last season.
If USF is going to pull off the upset, the Bulls will need to find a way to protect Fortin. The Bulls' offensive line surrendered 30 sacks in nine games last year, more than three per contest.
When NC State Has the Ball
The Wolfpack are led by fourth-year sophomore Devin Leary, who started in three games in 2020 before suffering a broken left foot against Duke last October. In four games, Leary threw for 890 yards, eight touchdowns, and two interceptions.
NC State has a number of players returning from its eight-win team a season ago. Among them are running back Zonovan "Bam" Knight and wide receiver Emeka Emezie.
Knight was a first-team preseason All-ACC selection after recording 788 yards and 10 touchdowns. Emezie, the 6-foot-3 receiver, registered 47 receptions for 738 yards and five touchdowns. He also ranks fifth in NC State history with 169 catches.
USF's defense allowed nearly 40 points per game last season. So, needless to say, the Bulls will have their hands full trying to slow down NC State's weapons.
USF should be better in Scott's second season. The Bulls' only victory in 2020 was against The Citadel, an FCS program. However, they're facing an uphill battle against a Wolfpack team that could potentially win nine or 10 games. NC State appears to be the better team in all three phases of the game.
Defensively, NC State linebacker Isaiah Moore could have a huge day against the Bulls. NC State should have little trouble cruising to a season-opening victory at home.
Prediction: NC State 48, USF 13
Podcast: Week 0 Recap
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.