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2017 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Justin Fuente had a great debut going 10-4 in his first season. This included wins over Coastal division rivals Miami, Pitt and UNC. He also brought back order to the ECU series with a resounding victory. Then he took the Hokies back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. There they took the eventual National Champions to the final possession. Pretty good first season all things considered.

For all that Fuente did well in 2016, it will be challenging to repeat or exceed the same level of success in 2017. The Hokies will have a new quarterback and have to replace three of their top four receiving targets from 2016.  This will be a season where the Hokies will have to lean on the defensive side of the ball to have success. We’ve seen this story before.

Offense

Joshua Jackson should be a solid QB for the Hokies. He was close to playing himself into the starting job as a true freshman last year. Justin Fuente likes him because he makes good decisions. He is the type of quarterback who will make the correct read on each play and not turn the ball over. That is very important to Fuente’s offense. Joshua Jackson is the type of quarterback that Fuente has liked in the past. If he had the same supporting cast as Jerod Evans had, I could see him putting up similar numbers. Unfortunately, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges and Sam Rogers are no longer around.

Healthy bodies at the running back position will also help Joshua Jackson. Last season, the Hokies had to rely on Travon McMillian, Sam Rogers and Steven Peoples. The other running backs on the roster were nursing injuries or off-the-field issues. This year McMillian returns along with Deshawn McClease, Peoples and newcomer Jalen Holston. It’s good to have healthy and capable options to choose from in the running game. You should see rushing yards from scrimmage improve from that position group. A lot of that will come from read-option plays like we saw last year.

Look for Cam Phillips to have a huge year as the Hokies’ primary pass catcher. I’m expecting him to be first or second team All-ACC this year. He should see around the same amount of targets as Isaiah Ford did last year. Phillip Patterson and Eric Kumah should fill that 2nd receiver role on the outside. They lack experience but will get better as the year goes on. There are a variety of options in the slot like CJ Carroll, Henri Murphy, Hezekiah Grimsley and Sean Savoy. This inexperienced group will need to step up for the Hokies to have an effective offense.

Defense

On defense, the Hokies should be stout. This is a defense that could be better than last year’s group which finished 18th in total defense. The Hokies have a talented secondary. They also boast one of the most experienced group of linebackers in the country. The biggest question mark is on the defensive line where there is not much experience or depth. The Hokies will need some young players step up.

The defensive line returns four players with starting experience. The starting line features Vinny Mihota, Trevon Hill, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker. While all have enough talent to be front line starters, the depth behind them is full of unknowns. The good news is that the Hokies have a lot young players to choose from. In previous seasons, the Hokies have been able to work with lineups like this. A mix of experienced starters and inexperienced backups. They need to make sure to avoid the injury bug. That would cause major issues for this position group.

For the first time in a long time, the Hokies linebackers are a major strength. They are one of the most talented and experienced groups in the ACC. Andrew Motuapuaka was third team All-ACC and a statistical leader in the conference. Tremaine Edmunds was second team All-ACC and could choose to leave early for the NFL at season’s end. That leaves Mook Reynolds, who was one of the best hybrid linebackers in the conference in 2016. And came on strong at the end of last season. This is an elite group and one of the best in the ACC.

No surprise the secondary is full of talent. This is DBU after all. The corner position will cycle between Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander. Terrell Edmunds and Reggie Floyd will split duties at the safety positions. Add in all-everything true freshman Devon Hunter who can step in and provide support. This is a talented unit.

Special Teams

Special teams went back to being special under James Shibest. #Shibestball became a thing in 2016. I look forward to more special teams plays like the fake punt he drew up against Clemson last season. Joey Slye is back to boom the ball on kickoffs and be very accurate inside 50 yards on field goals. He has one last chance to prove he can make those 50 yarders. New Aussie punter Oscar Bradburn has a canon for a leg but he will need to adjust to American football. I wouldn’t expect a huge drop-off in the punting game. I think the Hokies should be able to win the field position battle in most games. I would also expect big things from Greg Stroman in the return game. He already has 2 career punt return touchdowns. It would be surprising if he didn’t add to that this year.

2017 Outlook

The good news for the Hokies is that the Coastal division is full of teams with question marks. Only UVA and Duke return their quarterbacks from last year. The team that is able to re-load the best on offense is the team that will win the division.

One of the Hokies biggest challenges this year, is to win all the games they should win. Last year, the Hokies should have beaten Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. At the end of the season, the Hokies were statistically better than those three teams but they stumbled when they played them. The Hokies will look for more consistency this season. But it will be difficult with so many new faces on offense.

* Key games for the Hokies: Clemson, at Miami, at Georgia Tech

Date Opponent Prediction
Sun, Sep 3 West Virginia W
Sat, Sep 9 Delaware W
Sat, Sep 16 @ East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 23 Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 Clemson* L
Sat, Oct 7 @ Boston College W
Sat, Oct 21 UNC W
Sat, Oct 28 Duke W
Sat, Nov 4 @ Miami FL* L
Sat, Nov 11 @ Georgia Tech* L
Sat, Nov 18 Pittsburgh W
Fri, Nov 24 @ Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 9-3 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: 19th
Predicted Bowl Game: TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, FL

TaxSlayer_Bowl_Logo_2014-Closed-PNG

ACC Championship Game Preview and Prediction

Hokies took care of business in a big way against UVA. There were some who had serious discussions last year about which school had the better hire. I think the early returns are pretty lopsided. At this point it seems like both programs are going in very different directions.

The Hokies are back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. That’s a big deal in Justin Fuente’s first season as head coach. The Hokies are “ahead of schedule” as the experts like to say. I expected a 6-6 season this year because it’s difficult to go through a coaching change. I guess when it’s as smooth as Virginia Tech’s was, it’s not so difficult after all.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 27th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 58th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 16th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 50th

Clemson

Overall S&P+ ranking: 4th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 8th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 77th

Clemson is a beast. They deserve their #3 College Football Playoff ranking. This team is loaded on both sides of the ball. They don’t have many weaknesses. The Hokies are good but the Tigers are great. It’ll take the Hokies A+ game to knock off the Tigers.

Clemson has NFL talent all over the field. Everyone on the offensive side of the ball stands a good chance of being drafted in the next couple of years. Same with the defense except for maybe one or two players. Remember a lot of the names from the Clemson roster, because you’ll be hearing those names in the NFL in the coming years.

Are you tired of me fawning over Clemson yet? Me too. Where are Clemson’s weaknesses? Their turnover margin is not particularly good. When Deshaun Watson does throw the ball, he’s been known to throw interceptions. He has 14 on the year. Bud Foster is a master at forcing quarterbacks into mistakes. If the Hokies can make the Tigers one-dimensional by slowing down the run, they may be able to force some mistakes. Remember that Deshaun Watson is a dual-threat quarterback. He could give the Hokies a lot of trouble on the ground, if they call designed runs for him. In a championship game, I’d expect Clemson to take more chances with Watson on the ground.

Clemson’s special teams are only so-so. The Hokies would be wise to make some plays on special teams in this game. Either in the return game or on a blocked kick. This is an area that the Hokies can look to exploit and possibly change the trajectory of the game.

The reality here is that Clemson is just a better team. Maybe after a few good years under Fuente and some good recruiting classes, the Hokies can be on that level. But they just aren’t right now. There is a big-time talent and depth advantage for Clemson. Can the Hokies win? Sure. Pitt beat Clemson this year. But it’ll take a great effort from the Hokies and some fortunate plays/bounces/calls. I think this game will be like the 2011 ACC Championship game. Close in the first half but Clemson runs away with it in the 2nd half.

Prediction: Clemson 34, Virginia Tech 20

East Carolina Preview and Prediction

The game against Boston College was one of the most complete performances in years. It was close to a perfect performance on both sides of the ball. That won’t happen every week. So what is this team? The one that fumbled nine times in two games or the one that played near flawless football against BC?

Next up is East Carolina. A thorn in the side of the Hokies for years. Here are the last seven meetings between the two schools:

Sat., Sep 26, 2015, Greenville, N.C , L, 28-35
Sat., Sep 13, 2014, Blacksburg, Va., L, 21-28
Sat., Sep 14, 2013, Greenville, N.C., W, 15-10
Sat., Sep 10, 2011, Greenville, N.C., W, 17-10
Sat., Sep 18, 2010, Blacksburg, Va., W, 49-27
Thu., Nov 5, 2009, Greenville, N.C., W, 16-3
Sat., Aug 30, 2008, Charlotte, N.C., L, 22-27

Not exactly dominating, huh? The Hokie are 4-3 against ECU over this period. To ECU’s credit, they are 6-0 against the ACC in the last four years. These guys LOVE beating ACC teams and they’re good at it.

09/10/2016 East Carolina 33 – North Carolina St 30 W
09/26/2015 East Carolina 35 – Virginia Tech 28 W
09/20/2014 East Carolina 70 – North Carolina 41 W
09/13/2014 East Carolina 28 – Virginia Tech 21 W
11/23/2013 East Carolina 42 – North Carolina St 28 W
09/28/2013 East Carolina 55 – North Carolina 31 W

Everyone is feeling good after the shutout against BC. Keep in mind the last two times the Hokies played ECU, they were coming off big wins. In 2014, they had just beat Ohio State 35-21 at the Horseshoe. And last year, they had just plastered Purdue on the road 52-24. The Hokies lost both games against ECU coming off those big wins.

New coaching staff. New era. The Hokies rebounded well from a tough loss against Tennessee. Now how will they handle success? Can they string together two good performances in a row?

They key to Bud Fosters defense is keeping teams one dimensional. In 2014, ECU was able to throw it all over the field on the Hokies. In 2015, the Hokies could not stop the ECU ground game. This year, if the Hokies can stop the ECU ground game, the Hokies should be able to slow down their offense.

The ECU defense can be best described as middle of the road. They are a bend but don’t break defense. They’ve been good this year at keeping teams out of the endzone when they get to the redzone. The key to beating ECU is getting their offense off the field. Then when you have the ball, get it into the endzone. Finish your drives.

ECU’s offensive stats have been excellent this year. They rank 9th in the country in total offense. The Hokies will have their hands full trying to keep up with ECU’s receivers. Particularly Zay Jones who almost set an NCAA records for receptions last week.

This is a difficult game to pick. We have yet to see a passing offense this good this year. The Hokies lead the nation in passing yards allowed. They’ll get a big test on Saturday. As long as the Hokies can hang on the football, I feel good about their chances. ECU might be a bit surprised by the offensive firepower that the Hokies bring to the table these days. I think the Hokies defense will be able to stop the run and hang tough against the ECU offense. And the Hokies offense will have another good day against the ECU defense. Particularly in the run game.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 35, ECU 21

Boston College Preview and Prediction

Stop. Fumbling. The. Football. If the Hokies had been able to hold on to the football on Saturday, they likely would’ve won. Or at least would’ve had a good chance to win.

Oh well. On to the next one. Up next is Boston College. Here are their last 9 ACC games:

Florida State Seminoles Lost 14-0
at Duke Blue Devils Lost 9-7
Wake Forest Demon Deacons Lost 3-0
at Clemson Tigers Lost 34-17
at Louisville Cardinals Lost 17-14
Virginia Tech Hokies Lost 26-10
NC State Wolfpack Lost 24-8
at Syracuse Orange Lost 20-17
vs Georgia Tech Lost 17 – 14

0-9 in their last ACC games? Easy sledding, right? Not so much. Boston College had the #1 defense in the nation last year. This year, they have the #3 defense in the nation. And it’s not smoke and mirrors. They’re really good.

This might be the toughest defense that the Hokies play all season. They allow 48 rushing yards per game. And they’ve already played Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech only managed 2.7 yards per carry against them. This is a team that you cannot run on. If you want to beat BC, you have to beat them thru the air.

You know what else makes this an intriguing matchup? Scot Loeffler. He’s the Eagle’s new offensive coordinator. You can bet he knows our personnel pretty well and he know Bud Foster’s defense. If there is anyone who knows how to exploit our personnel on defense, it’s him. It should not surprise you if BC has a couple of tricks up their sleeve against our defense.

The Hokies are 2-9 in their last 11 home games vs the Power 5. It’s time for that to change. Boston College have lost their last 9 ACC games. You would think this should be an easy game. Not likely. BC is the type of team that can beat you with defense alone. Especially if you’re prone to making mistakes and turning the ball over. I still expect the Hokies to win but the offense is going to need to make some plays thru the air. This one won’t be easy.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 17, Boston College 13

Battle at Bristol Preview and Prediction

College football’s biggest game ever! When fans look up the most attended college football game of all time this will be at the top of the list and by a wide margin. My guess is that it will stay there for a while. I haven’t heard of any other race tracks hosting any college football games anytime soon. Or any other venues anywhere near as big for that matter.

This game is a novelty with the added bonus of a compelling match up. Tennessee wants to show that they are deserving of their preseason top 10 ranking. The Hokies want to show that they’re back under new coach Justin Fuente. For one team this game will be a springboard for the rest of their season.

I would throw out the results from week 1 for both teams. It was clear that both teams made an effort not to show much in their first game. I don’t think either team’s first game was any sign of what we’re going to see in this game. On Saturday you’ll see two teams who will come focused and prepared to play. Neither coach will hold anything back. You’ll see both teams’ full arsenal on display.

This matchup is not as lopsided as most would have you believe. Tennessee has a slight talent advantage and the more experienced quarterback. On a big stage like this that could make a huge difference. But week 1 did show us that first year starters can win big games (Florida State, Texas and Alabama). The experience factor does matter though. Those lights are going to be awfully bright on Saturday.

Tennessee has a talented and experienced defense. They have a disruptive defensive line that has racked up a lot of sacks. Their linebackers are tackling machines and do not allow many yards on the ground. If the Hokies are going to have success on Saturday, it will likely come through the air. They will need to target the defensive secondary and throw away from Cameron Sutton.

Virginia Tech’s defense matches up well against the Tennessee offense. The one area of concern is that Joshua Dobbs is a mobile quarterback. Bud Foster will load up to stop the run and make Dobbs beat the Hokies through the air. The stats suggest that Dobbs struggles at times as a passer, particularly with the deep ball. If the Hokies use this strategy, expect it to be successful to limiting the Vols offense. This also requires keeping talented running backs Jalen Hurd and Alvin Kamara in check.

One area of concern in this game is special teams. Tennessee has a talent and depth advantage. That can cause some concerns on kick and punt returns. Joey Slye will need to boot every kick through the end zone to keep the Vols from returning kicks. The punting game will also be important for field position. Mitchell Ludwig will need to perform better than he did against Liberty. The Hokies also need to make sure that Evan Berry doesn’t break a big return in the punt game.

This will be a close game. Both teams are well matched. Tennessee has a slight talent advantage but not enough to say this will be easy sledding for them. Bud Foster will come up with an excellent scheme to keep Tennessee’s offense in check. The Hokies will struggle when they have the ball. Tennessee has an excellent defense and talent all over the field. Watch out early on, there is the potential for big shifts in the first five minutes of the game. Both teams will have some early jitters because of the big game environment and crowd noise. Also, look out for big special teams plays to impact the outcome. Plays like big kick/punt returns and missed fields goals. I like the Hokies chances but I think Tennessee’s talent and experience win out.

Prediction: Tennessee 30, Virginia Tech 17

2016 Virginia Tech Season Preview

It’s a new day. The Justin Fuente era. Virginia Tech found an elite offensive mind to pair with Bud Foster. On paper it looks like a match made in heaven but what will it look like when the pads go on?

The hire was well received by the college football world. Most said it was one off the best hires of the offseason, if not the best.

But what does Fuente inherit? Is the cupboard full? Half-full? Empty? Does he have what he needs to win in year 1? Let’s take a look EA Sports NCAA Football-style.

Coach:

justin-fuente

Offensive Coordinator:

brad-cornelsen

Defensive Coordinator:

bud-foster

Quarterback:

jerod-evans

Running Backs:

running-backs

Wide Receivers:

wide-receivers

Tight Ends:

tight-ends

Offensive Line:

offensive-line

Defensive Line:

defensive-line

Linebackers:

linebackers

Defensive Backs:

defensive-backs

Specialists:

specialists

Prediction:

prediction

Independence Bowl Preview and Prediction

Frank’s last game. Frank Beamer is an institution at Virginia Tech. I think sometimes it’s easy to overlook Frank’s longevity and consistency at Virginia Tech. It’s remarkable, especially in this era of college football. 29 years. 23 straight bowl games. 7 conference championship. 5 division titles. That’s a hall of fame resume and Frank did it with as much class as anyone who has ever coached. He will be missed and today should be a celebration of what Frank has accomplished.

Now on to the game, Tulsa is one of the weakest teams to qualify for a bowl this year. The stats bear this out. Their defense is ranked 125th in the country. For your reference, there are only 128 teams in FBS. They have the 120th ranked rushing defense and 110th ranked passing defense. They allow 38.6 points per game this year. The teams that Tulsa beat on their way to 6 wins won a combined 17 games this year.

So you might be asking, any reason to be concerned going into this game? Well, Tulsa is ranked 14th in the nation in total offense and 11th in the nation in passing offense. Most of this was compiled against a very weak schedule but this team can move the ball nonetheless. Watch out for Keyarris Garrett who is Tulsa’s big playmaker at the wide receiver position. If the Hokies can’t cover him, he could have a big day.

One thing that Tulsa does well on defense is get into the backfield. They are ranked 41st in the nation in tackles for loss. The Hokies needs to stay ahead of the chains and not let themselves get into 3rd and long. That’s where Tulsa thrives on defense.

Keys to the Game for the Hokies:

  1. Stop the Run
  2. Cover Kayarris Garrett
  3. Protect Michael Brewer

Vegas says that the Hokies are the biggest favorite of the college bowl season with most outlets showing the Hokies as a 13.5 point favorite. On paper, it seems fair based on what both teams have accomplished this season.  The most comparable team to Tulsa that the Hokies have played this year is Purdue. The Hokies beat Purdue 51-24. I think the Hokies should have a big day as long as they show up ready to play. If they don’t, Tulsa’s offense is potent enough to make them pay early. Since this is Frank Beamer’s last game, I see the Hokies show up with a fire and put a 1993 Independence Bowl-style beating on the Golden Hurricane.  The Hokies should send Frank Beamer out a winner and we all get to see him on his player’s shoulders one last time.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Tulsa 24