FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: NC State
Ontaria Wilson (Photo: Jeremy Esbrandt)

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: NC State

The Seminoles return home to defend Doak against the Wolfpack.

With the season fast approaching, and College Football rolling full-steam ahead with current scheduling and formatting, fans are eager to hit the stands and cheer on their favorite team. 2021 is a year of much anticipation after the Coronavirus pandemic crippled schedules and limited capacity in stadiums. The Florida State Seminoles were one such program affected by the 2020 season. Several games were cancelled, rivalries were sidelined, and a new coaching staff was stalled in their ability to effectively recruit and implement their scheme.

Drama ensued, injuries took course, and opt-outs effectively hindered what amounts to a legitimate Year 0 in the Norvell era. Think of 2020 as a glorified practice run. Going 3-6 (out of 11 games), the year showed the mountain set before this staff and program in their CLIMB back to the top. Still, there were highlights and gradual improvement over the course of the season, and legitimate offseason hype as the ‘Noles are seemingly back-on-track.

The offseason is still in-effect across College Football, but with the recruiting dead period now over, a season in 2020 to evaluate personnel and conditions within the program, and a vision now to sell to the team, the fans, and recruits, it is fair to say that 2021 is Mike Norvell’s Year 1.

The training wheels are off, and for the Seminole faithful, it’s now time to preview our upcoming season’s opponents.

Game Nine: NC State

Head Coach: Dave Doeren (Head Coach record of 78-50 in Collegiate Football)

Mascot: Mr. & Mrs. Wuf

Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference

2020 Record: 8-4

History vs Florida State: The Wolfpack of NC State always hover as a team with enough talent on their roster to upset the best teams in their division, without having enough depth to actually contend for their conference. In their entire program history, the Wolfpack boast 11 conference championships. Four of those championships were from the 1900s-1910s in the South Atlantic Intercollegiate Athletic Association. One is from the Southern Conference in 1927. The remaining seven all hail from the Atlantic Coast Conference from 1957 – 1979. Approaching a forty-three year drought, and with divisional powers Clemson and Florida State surpassing their ACC championship count, it stands to reason there might never again be a dominant NC State team capable of winning the conference in Football.

And yet, NC State remains one of the few programs that have proven to be a thorn in the Seminole’s side for decades. Boasting a 26-14 all time lead over the Wolfpack, it’s easy to figure where NC State has proven to be this hindrance to the ‘Noles. We can look in the pre-ACC years for the Seminoles, back when they faced NC State semi-regularly from 1952 (a loss at Raleigh, NC by 13-7) through 1969 (a win in Tallahassee, FL by 33-22). The series record then was 8-4 Seminoles. Several years of dominance upon joining the ACC ensued, but the 1998 season was nearly derailed by the Wolfpack, who stunned the ‘Noles 24-7 in their only regular season loss. What followed after the 2000 season was a series split, 4-4 (not including the vacated win the ‘Noles had in 2007). After Bobby Bowden departed, NC State welcomed Jimbo Fisher as head coach at FSU to a 28-24 loss in Raleigh. A couple years later, the Wolfpack threw the ‘Noles 2012 national championship aspirations out the window in a stunning 17-16 loss in Raleigh. A tradition was born: NC State beating new FSU head coaches in game 1 in Raleigh, NC. Jimbo Fisher, Willie Taggart, and Mike Norvell all have endured the horror show.

Of NC State’s 14 wins against the ‘Noles all-time, 9 of those wins took place in the house of horrors (Carter-Finley Stadium) up in Raleigh, NC.

Wolfpack Storylines to Follow:

Familiar Faces

When the Florida State Seminoles take the field against NC State this Fall, they will be facing former teammates in Cyrus Fagan (safety) and Cory Durden (DT). Both former ‘Noles entered the transfer portal mid-season last year, with Cory Durden entering the transfer portal on December 3rd, 2020 (after opting-out on the season November 19th, 2020), and Cyrus Fagan entering the transfer portal October 5th, 2020. Both former players committed to the Pack on December 14th, 2020.

The expectation is that both will provide, at the bare minimum, depth to the respective positions. Cory Durden will be competing against returning starters Savion Jackson (DE) and Daniel Joseph (DE) to snag a spot in the starting lineup. If he performs to the level of talent he displayed in 2019, the job should be his to lose. Meanwhile, Cyrus Fagan will be competing for safety against starter Jakeen Harris. Regardless of whether he actually earns the starting position, Fagan will be experienced depth at the position.

Now, or Never

The quarterback position at NC State this season will be fascinating to monitor. Undoubtedly, the staple of this Wolfpack identity will be on defense. But on offense, there are skill position players returning this season that SHOULD translate to one of the most experienced in the Atlantic. Running back Zonovan Knight should keep opposing defenses on their toes, while dynamic wide receivers in Emeka Emezie, Thayer Thomas, and Devin Carter make this offense a deep ball threat.

All that said, the quarterback room faces a bit of a dilemma. The presumed starter is Devin Leary, especially with the departure of Bailey Hockman to Middle Tennessee and freshman Ben Finley not ready to assume the mantle. Devin Leary is entering his fourth season at NC State as a redshirt sophomore. He was making a name for himself in the ACC, completing 60% of his passes for eight touchdowns and two interceptions in four games. Then, in the fifth game against Duke, Devin was dealt a season ending injury (broken leg).

Devin Leary is, undoubtedly, a leader in the locker room. He is capable of running the offense, and has the keys to make a splash in the Atlantic this season. But health is a concern, especially coming off an injury, and it’s still TBD on whether this injury will impact his performance and trajectory as a signal caller that demands him to step-up in a critical season for the Wolfpack.

Chemistry is Key Along the Line

Speaking of critical components of the offense, the key to Devin Leary’s success as the primary signal caller will be dependent on identifying the makeup along the offensive line. While returning starters in LT Ikem Ekwonu, C Grant Gibson, and LG Dylan McMahon are expected to hold their own against some of the better defenses in the ACC, there remain questions along the right side of the line. There is one transfer (DII Chandler Zavala) as well as a ton of depth pieces who could potentially fill the voids in starting at RG and RT, however none have yet separated themselves at this time to fill those positions as definitive starters. Therefore, fall camp will be critical in rotating along the line to identify the ideal makeup that affords Devin Leary enough pass protection to maximize the offensive weapons he has at his disposal.

The issues will mount if the starting rotation begins sustaining injuries. There’s already a glaring concern at right side, and Devin Leary is coming off a leg injury that may (or may not) affect his potential trajectory as signal caller this fall. The offense is contingent on the primary signal caller avoiding further injury, and will need enough time to avoid making sloppy mistakes (NC State was a turnover machine in 2020). Keep an eye along the offensive line this season, as total offensive output from this team will be directly linked to their sustained health and cohesion.

Gameday Details

The Seminoles return to Doak Campbell and will play the Wolfpack in Tallahassee, FL on November 6th, 2021. Game time and television broadcast still TBD.

Also check out our other previews for:

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Notre Dame

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Jacksonville State

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Wake Forest

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Louisville

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Syracuse

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: North Carolina

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: UMass

FSU Football 2021 Opponent Preview: Clemson

Keep up with the latest from Double Fries No Slaw by catching our latest episodes here.

-Ed Kennedy