Cade Fortin, South Florida open campaign at NC State

NCAA Football

The last time Cade Fortin started a game was in 2018 against the North Carolina State Wolfpack. Fortin was playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels at the time, and he lost 34-28 in overtime.

On Thursday night, Fortin will once again face the Wolfpack, but this time it will be as the starting quarterback for the visiting South Florida Bulls in the 2021 opener for both squads in Raleigh, N.C.

“I try not to think of the pressure of being a starter,” Fortin said. “Preparation weeds out nervousness. Getting in the film room, learning our opponent, breeds confidence.”

Fortin has probably learned — or already knew — that the Wolfpack finished 8-4 last season, including 7-3 in the ACC.

The Wolfpack, who lost to Kentucky 23-21 in last year’s Gator Bowl, are 18-point favorites over the Bulls, who went 1-8 last season.

N.C. State is led by fourth-year sophomore quarterback Devin Leary, who started just three games last year due to a broken left foot suffered on Oct. 17 against Duke.

Leary, who also missed 20 days of 2020 fall camp due to COVID-19, had won three straight games prior to the injury. In his four games last season, he passed for 890 yards, eight TDs and just two interceptions.

“(It’s been) the toughest mental challenge of my life,” Leary said of his injury rehab. “It’s something I’ve learned to conquer.”

USF’s only 2020 win was over an FCS team, beating The Citadel, 27-6. After that, the Bulls finished the season on an eight-game losing streak, although two of those losses were by fewer than three points.

This will be Fortin’s fourth college season and just his third start. He has thrown a total of just eight passes the past two years.

The only time Fortin has ever had extended action was in that game against N.C. State in 2018, when he completed 19 of 40 passes for 276 yards with one touchdown, one sack and one interception.

The USF offensive line allowed 30 sacks last season, and that should provide opportunities for a Wolfpack defense led by All-ACC linebacker Payton Wilson.

Another Wolfpack linebacker to watch is Isaiah Moore, who finished 10th in the ACC last season with 7.8 tackles per game. Wilson led the conference with 10.8 tackles per game.

Offensively, Leary’s weapons include running back Zonovan Knight and wide receiver Emeka Emezie.

Knight, a first-team All-ACC selection in the preseason, has some impressive career numbers: 5.5 yards per rush, 2,043 all-purpose yards, 1,533 rushing yards and 26.6 yards on kickoff returns.

Emezie, one of the nation’s most physical receivers at 6-3 and 220 pounds, ranks fifth in Wolfpack history with169 catches. He has had at least one reception in 32 straight games.

–Field Level Media

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