Five NC State storylines to watch for at ACC Football Kickoff
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Five NC State storylines to watch for at ACC Football Kickoff

The 2021 ACC Football Kickoff began Wednesday, but players and coaches from the Atlantic Division, including NC State, will fulfill their media obligations on Thursday.

Along with head coach Dave Doeren, redshirt sophomore quarterback Devin Leary, redshirt sophomore linebacker Payton Wilson and redshirt junior center Grant Gibson will be in attendance to represent the Wolfpack.

Here's a look ahead to five storylines to watch for from the ACC Football Kickoff in Charlotte:

NC State Wolfpack football Dave Doeren
NC State head coach Dave Doeren enters his ninth year with the Wolfpack in 2021. (Matt Carter/The Wolfpacker)

1. Vaccination Rate

Following NC State' baseball's gut-wrenching exit from Omaha due to a wave of COVID-19 positives amidst the College World Series, Wolfpack fans know all too well that the virus can still wreak havoc on a team's plans to compete, even in 2021.

With the new Delta variant of the virus (the same one that spread its way through the baseball team's locker room) causing an uptick in cases nationwide, most head coaches, athletic directors and league commissioners in college sports are trying to proactively prepare for the upcoming season with a push to get a majority of the team vaccinated.

The vaccination rate goal for teams in the ACC, according to new commissioner Jim Phillips, is 85 percent, a mark that apparently six teams in the league and Notre Dame have already reached. Is NC State one of those teams, and if not how close is it to reaching that goal?

While it has nothing to do with football, it will be among the most important topics Thursday.

2. Name, Image and Likeness 

Following the NCAA's decision to lift the organization's prohibition on athletes from compensating from their own name, image and likeness, a wave of trendy new endorsement deals have been announced across the country.

Along with vaccination rates, NIL will be another popular national topic that comes up at the ACC Football Kickoff.

What are Doeren's thoughts on NIL, and how does he feel the program is positioned to handle the ongoing changes in the sport? Have any Wolfpack players earned an endorsement deal? Questions that should be answered Thursday.

3. How is the team handling expectations?

Coming off of an 8-4 campaign in 2020 that included a program-record seven ACC wins, NC State returns 19 starters in 2021 and will be among the most experienced teams in the league.

Following last year's success, expectations are high for the Wolfpack, which seems to be the popular pick to finish second in the Atlantic Division standings in Charlotte this week.

But last offseason, there was no shortage of motivation with low preseason expectations following a disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2019.

Is the team embracing the challenge of being among the best in the ACC or is it approaching the season differently?

4. Impact of an offseason 

Almost no team in the country got any time to practice in the spring or summer of 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made fall camps a rushed experience in preparation for last season.

For NC State, what made that even more challenging is the fact that the team had two first-year coordinators in offensive coordinator Tim Beck and defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.

How has the Wolfpack been able to grow this offseason, considering the team has been able to consistently gather in-person entering Beck and Gibson's second years with the program?

5. Division realignment

Part of the success of the 2020 season in the ACC was that the league went one year without divisions, which created the opportunity for fresh matchups which aren't typically played due to schedule restrictions.

For instance, NC State and Duke, two traditional rivals separated by less than 30 miles, were able to meet on the football field for the first time since 2013.

Now the league will be returning to its normal format in 2021, but the momentum to end divisions has picked up following the success of last season. Not to mention, the College Football Playoff will soon be expanding to 12 teams, and the objective of every conference will be to get in as many teams as possible.

Would a division-less ACC yield more teams into the national Top 12 at the end of the season? How close are we getting to the league making a decision on divisions? Questions that could be answered Thursday.

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