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2021 NC State football preview: Can the Pack break double-digit wins for the first time since 2002?

After an 8-4 campaign through the COVID-19 ravaged 2020 season, the Pack are looking to take a step up the ACC ladder this fall.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Following a disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2019, the NC State Wolfpack flipped their record in 2020 and came away from the bizarre, pandemic affected season with a glimmer of hope for bigger and better things moving forward.

Posting an 8-4 record last season, the Wolfpack mostly handled themselves well in tight situations, going 6-2 in games decided by two scores or less. They mostly cruised through their ACC slate but were notably clipped by superior opponents in North Carolina (21-48), Miami (41-44), and Kentucky in a two-point loss in the Gator Bowl.

With head coach Dave Doeren returning to the sidelines with a newly signed two-year contract extension in hand, he and the Wolfpack will tackle a 2021 schedule that includes Clemson, North Carolina, and Miami with the hopes that this will be the year that the program breaks through to the upper echelon of the conference.

2020 Season Review

  • 8-4, 7-3 ACC, 5th in ACC, Lost 23-21 to Kentucky in Gator Bowl
  • NC State’s 8-4 record matched their record against the spread throughout the 2020 season.

2021 Talent

2021 247Sports Composite Ranking: 35
ESPN Returning Production: 76% overall (44th): 63% offense (83rd), 90% defense (6th)
Returning Talent Index: Neutral, 6th in ACC
Returning starters: 8/11 offense, 9/11 defense
* All rankings out of 130 FBS schools

Key Player

Quarterback: Devin Leary (Sophomore)

Leary returns as the Wolfpack’s starting QB after his 2020 season came to an abrupt end when suffering a broken leg midseason against Duke. In the four games he did play last fall, he was efficient, completing 60 percent of his passes for 890 yards, eight touchdowns, and just two interceptions.

Leary, the all-time passing leader in the New Jersey high school football record books, will assume the role of undisputed starter after backup Bailey Hockman transferred to Middle Tennessee State.

Offense (non-QB): WR Emeka Emezie (Senior)

NC State benefitted tremendously from the NCAA granting players a free year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic when veteran receiver Emeka Emezie announced his plans to return to Raleigh for one more season this past January. The playmaker posted the best numbers of his career with the Pack last year, hauling in 47 catches for 738 yards and five touchdowns with Leary, Hockman, and Ben Finley throwing to him.

Defense: LB Payton Wilson (Senior)

Another impact veteran returning to the fold is Wilson, who led the ACC tackles with 108 in 2020 while also snaring two interceptions. He’ll be flanked in defensive coordinator Tony Gibson’s 3-3-5 scheme by fellow returning starters Isaiah Moore and Drake Thomas.

Team Stats Projections

2020 SP+ final: 54th overall: 62nd offense, 51st defense, 12th special teams
2021 SP+ projection: 45th overall: 68th offense, 37th defense

Odds from DraftKings Sportsbook

To win national title: +5000
To win ACC: +700
Win total: 6 (Over -152, Under +120)

2020 Against The Spread: 8-4
2020 Point Total: Over 7-5

NC State Football Schedule

Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV
Date Opponent Time (ET)/TV
Thursday, Sep. 2 vs. USF 7:30 p.m./ACCN
Saturday, Sep. 11 at Mississippi State 7:00 p.m./ESPN2 or U
Saturday, Sep. 18 vs. Furman 7:30 p.m./ESPN3
Saturday, Sep. 25 vs. Clemson TBA
Saturday, Oct. 2 vs. LA Tech TBA
Saturday, Oct. 9 Open TBA
Saturday, Oct. 16 at Boston College TBA
Saturday, Oct. 23 at Miami TBA
Saturday, Oct. 30 vs. Louisville TBA
Saturday, Nov. 6 at Florida State TBA
Saturday, Nov. 13 at Wake Forest TBA
Saturday, Nov. 20 vs. Syracuse TBA
Friday, Nov. 26 vs. North Carolina 3:30 or 7:30/ABC-ESPN

* No game lines available from DraftKings Sportsbook