The last time USF played NC State in 2008 was also the same day as my Mom's funeral in Philadelphia (and the day the Phillies clinched the NL East on their way to winning the World Series... thanks Mom). I was in South Philadelphia with some USF friends that joined me for the service and went to find a bar to watch the game, but by the time we found one with the right ESPN package (remember, Philly doesn't know or care about college football in the slightest), it was basically over.
The 41-10 beatdown by the #13 Bulls of the Wolfpack was one of the more impressive victories during the glory days of USF Football. Matt Grothe was 20-29 for 259 yards and a TD and added 68 yards rushing. The Bulls ran for 245 yards total, and the defense (maybe the best of any USF season) held NC State QB Harrison Beck to 9-32 & three interceptions with 239 mostly garbage time yards. USF defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said "that's the first time we've had a complete game." It made USF 5-0 on the season, with nowhere to go but to the top.
Then five days later on a Thursday night (because OF COURSE), LeSean McCoy went ham and the Bulls lost 26-21 to a less-talented Pitt squad. After recovering the following week over a terrible Syracuse team, USF dropped three straight conference games just as they had the season before. It made people question if Jim Leavitt pushed the team too hard in practice. If he wore them down as the season went on, making it impossible to sustain that intensity come conference play.
What we'd give to have those problems since.
The Bulls and the Wolfpack enter 2014 in basically the same spot: SBNation's Bill Connelly says both teams are coming off what he terms a "Year Zero" in which a new coach (Willie Taggart, Dave Doeren) is asked to use talent he didn't recruit while transitioning to his system. The results are often disastrous in the short term (USF 2-10, NC State 3-9), requiring patience from fans and administration. The upside is there's no real reason not to play your young players and get them playing experience early... experience that should pay benefits down the road, but might not translate to victories right away.
For NC State it was a bit unusual to go 3-1 early and lose their last eight in a row, but their three wins came against FCS Richmond, Central Michigan (111th in F/+), and Skip Holtz's Louisiana Tech (112th in F/+, 82346234th in coaching ability). They didn't face a team in the triple digits in F/+ the rest of the way, and their results showed it.
NC State has named Jacoby Brissett their starting quarterback, which is a good sign since he couldn't beat out the notoriously awful Jeff Driskel at Florida and transferred to Raleigh. Brissett did get some playing time
last year at UF in 2012, ending up 23-35 for 249 yards and a TD in limited action. The junior is most likely capable, but not a world beater either.
The offensive line returns four-fifths of their starters, which are the majority of the seven offensive starting returnees. Running back Shadrach Thornton averaged 4.7 yards per carry on his 768 yards last year, and senior Bryan Underwood leads the returnees with 32 catches for 382 yards in 2013.
On defense there are also seven returning starters, but none overwhelm with their talent (unlike Mario Williams vs. USF in the 2005 Meineke Car Care Bowl, who shut the Bulls out almost singlehandedly). The Wolfpack struggled defensively, allowing an average of 4.7 points per drive that crossed their 40-yard line, and were 95th in Power Success Rate (which looks at short-yardage situations).
It doesn't seem reinforcements have come either, with no major transfers or additions that might be able to help early in 2014. But the secondary might be able to make an impact, finishing the year 35th in Passing S&P (as opposed to 99th in Rushing S&P), while returning many talented young players alongside senior safety Jarvis Byrd who missed half of 2013 with injury.
This should be a good test for the Bulls early, as it pits two teams at a similar point in their rebuilding process. NC State finished nine spots ahead of USF in the 2014 recruiting rankings, but the overwhelming majority of those players won't see the field in this game. And those are the players that will most likely determine the success or failure of their teams and coaches in the long run.