Thursday College Football Odds & Betting Picks for NC State Wolfpack vs. USF Bulls (Sept. 2)
William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: NC State standout Zonovan Knight.
NC State vs. USF Odds
Gun-shy quarterbacks won’t be the only ones seeing ghosts this fall. Casual bettors, consulting stats from last season, are sure to zero in on misleading information generated during the COVID-impacted 2020 season.
Personnel issues and scheduling quirks were mixed with motivational distractions and non-existent home-field advantages. In a word, it was a mess.
As a result, I view nearly every piece of betting intel as potentially tainted. You need to dig down a few layers to really extract the value of the information you’re examining.
For example, NC State finished 47th in scoring offense (30.2 ppg); 71st in total offense (385.3 ypg); and 62nd, in the SP+ offensive rankings in 2020. However, when you dig deeper and pull out the three games sophomore quarterback Devin Leary started for the Wolfpack, you’ll find they scored more points (+3 ppg), connected on more deep attempts (3 20+ yard touchdowns) and posted a 3-0 record both straight up and against the spread.
Now, had Leary started the entire year as was the plan before contract tracing derailed his fall camp, perception of this offense and NC State as a whole would be different entering the 2021 campaign.
Can the mismatched expectations present an opportunity to grab a superior team at a discounted price now that Leary is back healthy and ready to roll? Let’s find out.
The Bulls were a respectable 5-4 at the betting window last fall, but on the field, things were ugly.
List a South Florida offensive stat and you’re likely to see a national ranking in the triple digits attached to it. The Bulls could barely run the ball last season, finishing 100th in yards per attempt (3.5) and, as a result, were graded out as the 120th best run-blocking team in the country by PFF.
They did a far better job in pass protection (51st by PFF), but that extra time didn’t translate to big plays through the air. In nine games, the Bulls generated just six pass plays of 30 yards or more, and half of those came in a single game against the lowly East Carolina pass defense.
Three different quarterbacks started games for the Bulls during their 1-8 campaign, but only Katravis Marsh stuck around this offseason. The sophomore passer couldn’t win the starting job, instead joining Miami transfer Jarren WIlliams on the bench behind Cade Fortin.
The pro-style Fortin won’t give the Bulls much from an improvisational standpoint, but if he’s able to spread the ball around to a promising receiving corps (namely Bryce Miller) they could see a slight uptick on their second to last finish in the AAC in terms of EPA.
Even with the strong-armed Fortin at the helm, the question remain as to how much of an uptick can we expect? The Bulls were not competitive against Notre Dame, Tulsa and Houston last fall, but were able to muck things up against Cincinnati and lost in a shootout with UCF to end the season.
Could they pull off either feat and stay within three touchdowns against the Wolfpack in Thursday’s opener?
Defensively, it’s hard to imagine that. On that side of the football, USF was bowled over seven times last season, surrendering 34 points or more to Notre Dame, ECU, Temple, Tulsa, Memphis, Houston and UCF.
The key issue was that they couldn’t stop the run at all (106th, 212.3 ypg) and generated very few havoc plays (123rd). With a slew of transfer portal stop gaps and no disruptive players on the edge to rely upon, I find it hard to believe this defense has the potential to force NC State away from its bread and butter game plan.
Leary’s presence last season gave us a taste of what the NC State team could be with steady quarterback play.
Adding to the reasons for optimism is their offensive line. Sports Illustrated recently rated NC State as the ACC’s best offensive line, and both Grant Gibson and Ikem Ekwonu have NFL futures.
Yet, the real reason to expect a big showing in the opener is the Wolfpack’s skill position players. Zonovan “Bam” Knight currently touts the top yards per carry average in Wolfpack career history at 5.49 yards per attempt. He also averages nearly 27 yards per kick return, which is why he’s on the preseason Paul Hornung Watch List.
— NC State Football (@PackFootball) July 21, 2021
At receiver, NC State returns four of its top five pass catchers, including a pair of big-bodied receivers on the perimeter in Devin Carter and Emeka Emezie.
South Florida’s 3-3-5 defense is set to replace three starters in the secondary and it struggled with big receivers last year, most notably UCF’s Jacob Harris (5-110-3 TDs) and ECU’s C.J. Johnson (3-99-2 TDs).
Defensively, this team has lockdown potential. Nearly everyone returns in the two-deep (90% production; sixth), including linebacker Payton Wilson who has All-America potential. The Wolfpack defense’s 2020 performance against an electric Liberty offense (15-14 victory) showcased how it can crank up the havoc (8 TFLs | 3 INTs | Blocked FG).
NC State blocked the potential game-winning FG to hand No. 21 Liberty its first loss of the season 😮 pic.twitter.com/PjFjTXb22p
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 22, 2020
On a Zoom call with the media two weeks ago, defensive coordinator Tony Gibson made note that when Tanner Ingle (safety) played last season that NC State was undefeated. The team captain returns after battling hamstring injuries last season, giving a veteran unit even more confidence against a work-in-progress offense from South Florida.
USF vs. NC State Matchup Analysis
Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how USF and NC State match up statistically:
USF Offense vs. NC State Defense
NC State Offense vs. USF Defense
Pace of Play / Other
The sea of Wolfpack red in the “Edge” category reflects exactly how I see this matchup playing out. NC State will dominate the line of scrimmage, giving the playmakers at the skill positions ample time to work their magic.
USF vs. NC State Betting Pick
My power rankings called for NC State at -24.5 on the spread line, so I was thrilled to see this game open south of three touchdowns.
I’ll be playing the Wolfpack ATS, plus moving this spread all the way up to 27.5 on the alternate line at attractive +280 odds.