NC State football 2021 schedule countdown: No. 11, South Florida
Introducing part one of a 12-part series in which we rank NC State’s 2021 strength of schedule from the easiest opponent (No. 12) to the most challenging (No. 1).
Checking in at No. 11 is South Florida, the Wolfpack’s first opponent this fall.
The Pack is scheduled to host the Bulls in Carter-Finley Stadium on Thursday, Sept. 2 at a time to be announced. The game will kick off the 2021 ACC football schedule.
Head Coach: Jeff Scott (2nd season) — 1-8 (.111)
2020 Record: 1-8
The Citadel — W, 27-6
at Notre Dame — L, 52-0
at Florida Atlantic — Canceled
at Cincinnati — L, 28-7
East Carolina — L, 44-24
at Temple — L, 39-37
Tulsa — L, 42-13
at Memphis — L, 34-33
at Houston — L, 56-21
Navy — Canceled
UCF — L, 58-46
2020 Season Review
After defeating FCS opponent The Citadel at home to open the season, South Florida lost eight straight.
Good teams don't lose that many contests in a row, but the Bulls' overall record may be a bit deceiving.
USF played an incredibly challenging non-conference schedule, which became even tougher when its game with Florida Atlantic was canceled.
The Bulls faced two teams on the road that were ranked at the time they played them: No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 15 Cincinnati. The Irish ended up in the College Football Playoff and the ACC Championship Game. The Bearcats finished the season 9-1 overall after nearly defeating Georgia in the Peach Bowl in a 24-21 defeat.
USF ranked 105th of 128 FBS programs that competed in 2020 according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). The Bulls received equal contribution from their offense and defense, ranking 107th and 92nd among FBS team, respectively, according to PFF.
Did You Know?
•NC State head coach Dave Doeren's first road win with the Wolfpack was in 2014 against South Florida. The Pack defeated the Bulls 49-17 in Tampa on Sept. 13, 2014. NC State finished 8-5 overall that year, marking Doeren's first winning season in Raleigh.
•NC State is 2-1-0 in the all-time series against USF. The Wolfpack will look to claim its first win over the Bulls in Carter-Finley Stadium this fall. South Florida has visited Raleigh just once prior to this year, which resulted in a 41-10 win over the Pack in 2008, the program's lone win over NC State.
•Doeren will become the first coach at NC State to see a second meeting against the Bulls. The Pack defeated USF 14-0 in the first meeting between the schools in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl under former head coach Chuck Amato. Former Wolfpack head coach Tom O'Brien was in charge when the nationally-ranked South Florida team defeated the Pack in Raleigh in 2008. Doeren was in his second season with the program in the third and most recent meeting between the schools.
It's hard to imagine South Florida being much worse than it was in 2020, but the same could be said about the program's chances of returning to a winning record in Scott's second season in Tampa.
The Bulls experienced a fair amount of roster turnover after a 1-8 campaign last fall.
USF ranks No. 101 of 127 FBS programs with 59 percent overall returning production in 2021 according to ESPN's Bill Connelley's SP+ metrics. The Bulls ranks 109th in returning offensive production and 75th in returning defensive production.
Scott was able to make some needed strides on the recruiting trail with a strong 2021 class considering the recent record, but it will take time for the young talent to translate into results on the field. South Florida's 2021 class, which features 21 signees including 11 three-stars, ranks No. 55 nationally according to Rivals.
The Bulls lost their starting quarterback, Jordan McCloud, who transferred to Arizona in the offseason. But USF will return its 2020 leaders in rushing yards (junior running back Kelley Joiner), receiving yards (senior wide receiver Bryce Miller) and tackles (senior linebacker Antonio Grier).
Joiner rushed for 348 yards, averaging 5.0 per carry, and one touchdown. He also reeled in three receptions for 78 yards and one touchdown. The Bulls had three running backs in 2020 that gained at least 285 yards and averaged at least 5.0 yards per carry.
Miller caught 33 balls for 327 yards and three scores. Grier produced 59 tackles, including 5.5 for loss, 3.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and one quarterback hurry.
Why No. 11 In The Countdown?
Only one FBS program on NC State's schedule has a worse record than South Florida in 2020: Syracuse. The Orange won't be too much higher on this list, but they get more benefit of the doubt competing in the tougher ACC.
It's hard to imagine the Wolfpack dropping this one, particularly considering it will be played in Carter-Finley Stadium on a Thursday night, presumably before 56,000+ eager Pack fans craving live football, to open up the 2021 season.
If there is one argument for South Florida, the Bulls may give State their best punch with the freshness of a new season. But the same could be said about the Pack, which has superior returning production and overall talent.
This isn't the same South Florida team that defeated NC State the last time it played in Raleigh in 2008.