Middle Tennessee Preview and Prediction

A top ten win is what this program needed. Since the end of the 2019 season there has been a going-thru-the-motions feel to this program. Friday night seemed like a boost at the right time. What has been missing in past years is making a big win like this count by continuing the momentum. Andy Bitter did a great job of cataloging the games after a big win in his article in The Athletic this week:

2016: Beat No. 17 North Carolina 34-3, lost to Syracuse 31-17
2018: Beat No. 19 Florida State 24-3, lost to Old Dominion 49-35 in next FBS game
2018: Beat No. 22 Duke 31-14, lost to No. 6 Notre Dame 45-23

And that’s just in the Fuente era. VT has not been great about dealing with success when it comes. This week, the team needs to take on Justin Fuente’s 1-0 mentality and be ready to play.

SP+ Rankings

Middle Tennessee

Overall: 94th
Offense: 93rd
Defense: 92nd
Special Teams: 79th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 24th
Offense: 23rd
Defense: 40th
Special Teams: 91st

Former NC State quarterback Bailey Hockman is the quarterback for MTSU. Hockman had trouble last time he came to Blacksburg. I’m sure it was a particularly bad performance for him. But I also don’t think he’s looking forward to his return to Blacksburg.

Middle Tennessee appears over-matched size-wise. The Hokies should be able to win the battle in the trenches against an undersized opponent. I will say VT has lost matchups against undersized opponents before, but this time feels different. I’m taking the Vice Squad and this upgraded D-line over the guys at Middle Tennessee.

Focus. Focus. Focus. Can’t sleepwalk through this game. After the win against UNC, I saw casual college football fans on Twitter saying “let’s see them lose to MTSU next week.” This is what fans expect from this program now. A big win followed by a heartbreaking loss the next week. This program needs to end that narrative and take care of business. On paper, this looks like a game that should be over by halftime.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Middle Tennessee 13

North Carolina Preview and Prediction

It’s been awhile since the Hokies had a big win at home. This squad needs some momentum going into the 2021 season after a losing campaign last year. Nothing would jump start the season like a top ten win at home over a division rival.

SP+ Rankings

North Carolina

Overall: 11th
Offense: 4th
Defense: 49th

Virginia Tech

Overall: 33rd
Offense: 26th
Defense: 51st

Justin Fuente usually does his best work early in the season. In 2017, his team beat WVU at FedEx Field in a big season opener on Labor Day weekend. In 2018, his team beat FSU in Tallahassee in another big-time showcase game on Labor Day. Even last year, his team took a pretty good NC State team to the woodshed in the first game of the season. All this to say, Justin Fuente usually has his guys ready to go early in the season.

Sam Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. He may even be a top-ten pick in next year’s NFL draft. He’s that good. Looking at the matchups, Sam Howell has a solid advantage both in the QB matchup and also against VT’s secondary. He should have room to work across the middle with VT’s new linebackers and safeties. Watch early in the game how VT’s defense defends the middle of the field.

UNC has a talented and experienced defense, which should give the Hokies offense some trouble. This is a better group than the one the Hokies put up 45 points against last season. While the Hokies should be able to move the ball against this defense, they will get their share of stops throughout the game. North Carolina has a talented group on that side of the ball.

If the Hokies hope to have success, they need to stop the run. If the Hokies let the Heels get going on the ground, it’s going to be a long night. If they can stop the run and force Howell into 3rd and long, they should have some success keeping UNC from running up a lot of points.

The Hokies have a real shot in this game. They are catching UNC at the right time and Lane Stadium should be rockin’. But as we’ve all learned when the Hokies play against ranked opponents, it usually comes down to who has the better talent on the field. The Hokies will hold their own and keep the game close going into the 4th quarter. But Sam Howell and the UNC offense will prove too much and take the game with a late touchdown in the 4th quarter.

Prediction: North Carolina 35, Virginia Tech 28

2021 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Last season didn’t exactly go as expected. A losing season, the end of the bowl streak, cancelled Spring practices, and Fall practices reduced due to contact tracing. Not exactly what anyone had expected going into last season. None of those things were ideal for a team in transition.

This season the Hokies hope to get back on track with a return to a blue-collar style defense we’re all accustomed to. Having practices in the Spring and Fall will help with that. So will having a year under their belt in Justin Hamilton’s scheme. Justin Hamilton having a year of experience running the defense doesn’t hurt either.

On offense, it will be difficult to replace two NFL draft picks in Christian Darrisaw and Khalil Herbert. This squad has solid contributors and guys who have been around the program for a while. But not as much star power as last year.

This is a make-or-break year for Justin Fuente. This program needs to show improvement over the past couple of seasons. Another year of .500 football isn’t going to cut it. Even 7 wins doesn’t necessarily mean he will be back.

Why will the Hokies be good?

Braxton Burmeister closed the season looking like a star. In the last two games of the season, he completed 73.5% of his passes and averaged 9.97 yards/attempt against Clemson and Virginia. After struggling with his completion percentage, he came on strong late in the season. If Burmeister can maintain that level of play and can stay healthy, it bodes well for the Hokies this season.

The Hokies have a veteran group of pass catchers in James Mitchell, Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson. Braxton Burmeister will have a reliable group of receivers to target along with guys who can stretch the field. This is a situation where the top guys must stay healthy otherwise the Hokies must rely on young and inexperienced players.

The Vice Squad returns. They lose the star power they had with Christian Darrisaw. But they still have a solid group headlined by Luke Tenuta, Brock Hoffman and Silas Dzansi. This group should have no trouble protecting Braxton Burmeister or opening holes in the run game. Vice seems to turn out a good group every year.

The Hokies will have one of the best cornerback tandems in the ACC. Jermaine Waller was one of the best cover corners in the nation in 2019. And Dorian Strong was one of the best freshmen corners in the nation last year. Waller and Strong look to lock down both sides of the field and make life easier on the defense.

Why will the Hokies be not-so-good?

In a word: depth. This is not a deep team at most position groups. There are a lot of position groups where if the starters get injured, there are no proven options. That looks a lot like last year’s team where a key injury or two puts some less-than-ideal options on the field.

Look no further than the quarterback position, if the Hokies lose Braxton Burmeister they are in trouble. That’s not to say they can’t win games with one of the backups. But the season outlook looks a lot more dicey with one of the other options behind center.

Last year, the defense didn’t have a feel for the new defensive scheme. Will that look better after a Spring and Fall practice? Will they have a better grasp of Justin Hamilton’s scheme in Year 2? Will they develop a defensive identity that was missing in Year 1? Can this group get back to playing the aggressive-style defense we’re used to? These are all question marks going into Justin Hamilton’s second season.

Tough games (<40% chance to win)

North Carolina, Notre Dame and Miami. The Hokies can win all these games. But these are games that will be tough sledding for a Hokies team short on depth. Wins against any of these teams should be seen as bonus wins at the end of the season.

Toss-up games (50-50 games)

West Virginia. Pitt. Georgia Tech. Boston College. Virginia. These are the games that will define the season. These games are the difference between 9-3 and 4-8. The Hokies need to win the majority of these games to have a good season.

Should win games (>70% to win)

Syracuse and Duke. This isn’t the season for this coaching staff to stub their toe on games like these. These are games where the Hokies have a clear talent advantage and they need to take care of business.

Must win games (>90% to win)

Middle Tennessee and Richmond. The Hokies don’t need to add to a list that includes James Madison, Old Dominion and Liberty.

Key games for the Hokies: North Carolina, at West Virginia, at Miami

Upset Alert: at Boston College

Game by Game Predictions

North Carolinahttps://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d7/North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg/300px-North_Carolina_Tar_Heels_logo.svg.png
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at West VirginiaWest Virginia Mountaineers - Wikipedia
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Notre DameNotre Dame Fighting Irish - Wikipedia
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at Georgia TechThis image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is logo-white.svg
at Boston CollegeBoston College Eagles - Wikipedia
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at MiamiMiami Hurricanes - Wikipedia
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Game-by-game predictions

Final Regular Season Record: 7-5 (5-3 in the ACC)
Expected finish: Tied for 3rd in the ACC Coastal

2019 Virginia Tech Season Preview

The Hokies are coming off their first losing season since 1992. Last season was a bad combinations of injuries, attrition and youth. The good news is that a lot of young players got the chance to play which should make the 2019, 2020 and 2021 squads better because of it.

Why will 2019 be better? Because the Hokies return 7 starters on offense and 9 starters on defense. This will not be the same extremely young and inexperienced team from 2018. They also have an very manageable schedule. It is one of the easier schedules in the Power 5. Both of these factors should lead to a significant improvement in their win-loss record.

Offense

Ryan Willis returns after a strong 2018 campaign. The Hokies struggles were not because of the offense last season. Ryan Willis threw for 24 touchdown passes in 10 games and he should be able to improve upon those numbers in 2019. He’s a good fit for this offense and should get some help from a strong core of receivers.

This is one of the better receiving corps in the ACC. The Hokies return Tre Turner, Damon Hazelton, Dalton Keene and Hezekiah Grimsley. They also bring on new receiving threats James Mitchell and Tayvion Robinson. This is a deep and talented group that should put up some good numbers in this offense.

The Hokies are still trying to find a go-to running back. It looks like 2019 will be another year where it will be running back by committee. The Hokies will get a lot of carries out of DeShawn McClease and Jalen Holston and will try to mix in some carries for speedy newcomer Keshawn King. There has been a lot of buzz this preseason around King’s speed and elusiveness.

The offensive line is another deep and talented group but they might need a couple of games to come together. They should be able to open up some holes for the running game. This is going to be a special group over the course of the next couple of seasons but   need a little more experience before they can reach their full potential.

Even with a lot of youth and first-time starters this was a top 50 offense last season. This season with more depth and returning 7 starters, this offense should produce even better results. Justin Fuente is hoping to get a full season from his returning starting quarterback. That is something that has eluded him in his first three years in Blacksburg.

Defense

The defense SHOULD be better than last year. At least you would hope so. This is a  defense that struggled with a lot youth and attrition last season. They return 9 starters and were able to bring in some depth players at positions of need. This defense was BAD at times last season. This season they should see a significant improvement.

The defensive line is still an area of concern. The defensive ends should be fine as they return Emmanuel Belmar and Tyjuan Garbutt with some youth behind them. The bigger area of concern is at defensive tackle. The Hokies are hoping to find success with returning starter Jerod Hewitt and JUCO newcomer Deshawn Crawford. Behind those starters, the coaches are hoping to find serviceable depth with a group of true freshman. The play of the defensive line will go a long way toward determining how successful this defense can be.

The linebacker group should be an area of strength for the Hokies. Dax Hollifield, Rayshard Ashby and Alan Tisdale should rotate in at the mike and backer positions. Bud Foster will have a couple options to work with in this group. They should play a bit faster this year after another year of experience in this defense.

The secondary has more options than they did last year. Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo bring some experience at the safety positions. There is more depth and more options at the cornerback position. Caleb Farley should lock down one of those positions. Jermaine Waller is likely to start opposite Farley but Jovonn Quillen or Armani Chatman could also make a move for playing time. Jeremy Webb is another option as the year progresses and he recovers from two torn achilles tendons.

The defense will certainly be better than last year but don’t expect a vintage Bud Foster defense. The improvement in depth and experience will lead to better results but this is still a young group. If the Hokies hope to make it to Charlotte this season, this defense will have to produce a top 40 defensive ranking — which is possible, but not a certainty.

Special Teams

The Hokies need to find a reliable field goal kicker from beyond 40 yards. Brian Johnson will get another shot at it after going 12 for 18 last season. He was automatic inside of 40 years but struggled with longer kicks. Oscar Bradburn returns as a very reliable 2-year starter at punter. Hezekiah Grimsley and Tayvion Robinson will get the first opportunities at punt returner. The kick returners are anybody’s guess. There are a number of speedy options to choose from.

2019 Outlook

The Hokies need to get back to their winning ways. This team looks setup nicely for 2020 and 2021, but 2019 looks like a season where they are building toward better days ahead. That doesn’t mean another 6-6 season, but it probably means an 8-4 or 9-3 season. The offense is likely to be in the top 40. The hope is the defense can also produce a top 40 unit but it will need some young guys to step up, particularly on the defensive line.

Tough games (<40% chance to win)

Notre Dame and Miami. Both of these games present a major challenge. The Hokies will need to bring their A-game to have a shot at winning on the road against either of these two teams.

Toss-up games (50% chance to win)

Boston College, Pitt and Virginia. I see all three of these games as coin-flip games that could go either way. These games are the difference between 7-5 and 10-2. The Hokies need to take care of business against these three opponents.

Should win games (>70% to win)

Duke, North Carolina, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech. Even with the Hokies struggles last year, this is still a strong program that recruits well and regularly puts a good product on the field. These are the types of games the Hokies should win as long as they don’t overlook their opponents. These games have sleepy, trap game written all over them.

Major upset games (>90% to win)

ODU, Furman and Rhode Island. Yes, the Hokies lost to ODU last year. It was a major upset. Major upsets happen sometimes. But they are extremely unlikely. It takes a pretty strange set of circumstances to occur. These are games the Hokies should win way more often than not.

Key games for the Hokies: at Boston College, Pitt, at Virginia
Upset Alert: Pitt

Game-by-Game Predictions

Game Prediction
at Boston College vt-logo
Old Dominion vt-logo
Furman vt-logo
Duke vt-logo
at Miami

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Rhode Island vt-logo
North Carolina vt-logo
at Notre Dame nd-logo
Wake Forest vt-logo
at Georgia Tech vt-logo
Pittsburgh pitt-logo
at Virginia vt-logo

Final Regular Season Record: 9-3 (6-2 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: 22nd
Predicted Bowl Game: Camping World Bowl in Orlando

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Georgia Tech Preview and Prediction

If the Hokies hope to win the division, they need to win their home games down the stretch. They’re off to a great start in conference after picking up three straight road wins. Now they need to take care of business at home. Next up, they have Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets are in last place in the Coastal but this will be a formidable team for the Hokies. Georgia Tech is 2-0 against Justin Fuente’s Hokies.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 51st
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 39th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 67th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 10th

Georgia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 64th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 21st
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 104th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 105th

Georgia Tech is one of the best offensive teams the Hokies will see all year. This team can put up points in a hurry. If the Hokies defense is not disciplined and don’t finish tackles, the Jackets will be off to the races. Just ask Louisville. They gave up 66 points to the Jackets in their own house. Georgia Tech’s most dangerous player is their quarterback TaQuon Marshall. He has rushed for 647 yards and 9 touchdowns this season. He is very good at running Paul Johnson’s spread option attack. He also has 8 fumbles on the season. If the Hokies hope to keep the Jackets out of the end zone, it would help to force a turnover or two.

If the Hokies hope to have success in this game, they will need their offense to outscore Georgia Tech’s offense. The Hokies have had a lot of trouble keeping up with the Jackets offensively in recent years. The Hokies have only been able to put up 20 and 22 points respectively in two games against Georgia Tech under Justin Fuente. This is a game where Georgia Tech is likely to score into the 30s, so the Hokies will need to keep possession and put the ball in the end zone. The Jackets are a bad defensive team but they are good at not giving up the big play. They are the opposite of the Hokies in that regard. This is a game where the Hokies need to get something out of the ground game to make life easier on Ryan Willis. This was a struggle for the Hokies against North Carolina.

If there is an area where the Hokies might find an advantage in this game, it’s on special teams. Georgia Tech is vulnerable in this area. The Hokies need to take advantage of kickoff returns and converting points off field goals. These are areas where the Jackets have struggled this year and where the Hokies have been very strong. The Hokies need to take advantage of special teams play on Thursday night. This game could use a little Beamerball.

The Hokies are 7-0 in weeknight games against Georgia Tech. Paul Johnson is 2-0 against Justin Fuente. Something’s gotta give. On paper, this might look like an easy win for the Hokies. They are in first place in the division. The Jackets are in last place. The Hokies are playing at home on a Thursday night — a time slot where they have thrived in the past. As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. Georgia Tech’s strength goes right up against Virginia Tech’s weakness. Georgia Tech’s outside running game is going against a secondary who is struggling to make tackles right now. Not to mention a secondary who has had trouble covering one-on-one downfield — for the couple of times that Georgia Tech goes downfield per game. That’s a bad combination. This looks like a nightmare matchup for the 2018 Hokies.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 34, Virginia Tech 24

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

Notre Dame is coming to Blacksburg! For many older Virginia Tech fans, they never thought they’d see the day that the Fighting Irish would come to play a road game in Blacksburg. This game has a big game feel. Notre Dame is in the top 10 and has earned their ranking. The Hokies are coming off a big conference road win against a top 25 opponent. The stage is set for some fireworks in Lane Stadium on Saturday night.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 35th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 30th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 57th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 2nd

Notre Dame

Overall S&P+ Rank: 9th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 37th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 5th
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 53rd

This may be Notre Dame’s most difficult remaining game. After this game, Notre Dame has smooth sailing all the way until their season finale with Southern Cal. You know this game has the Irish’s full attention.

Since Ian Book has come in at quarterback, Notre Dame has been lighting up the scoreboard. He is completing 74.3% of his passes and has thrown seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. He is the straw that stirs the drink for Notre Dame’s offense and has been the spark plug they needed. Notre Dame has talented running backs and wide receivers. They just needed someone at the QB position to distribute the ball to them. They got that in Ian Book.

Notre Dame has a very good all-around defense. The strength of their defense is the linebacker group but they are solid in all areas. They are one of the top teams in the country at passing efficiency defense. No team has scored more than 27 points against this defense this year. Watch out for Jerry Tillery on Notre Dame’s defensive line. He can cause some havoc in the backfield. This is a game where the Hokies could have trouble moving the ball downfield on offense.

If the Hokies have an area they can take advantage of it’s on special teams. That is an area of the game where Notre Dame might be susceptible and the Hokies may be able to find an advantage. Particularly in the return game. The Hokies will need to bring their Beamerball mentality to this game.

It’s likely that Notre Dame is the best team left on the Hokies schedule. They have talent on both sides of the ball and their offense is humming right now with Ian Book behind center. The Hokies will have their hands full. If the Hokies hope to win this game, they will need limit Notre Dame’s big plays on offense. Let Notre Dame nickle and dime you but don’t give up the big play. On offense, Ryan Willis will need to put in his playmakers in a position to make plays. Just put the ball in your playmaker’s hands. Justin Fuente may have a trick play or two dialed up for this game. While I’m excited about the atmosphere on Saturday night, I feel like we’re catching Notre Dame when everything is clicking and they will be tough to beat.

Prediction: Notre Dame 34, Virginia Tech 23  

Duke Preview and Prediction

That was a stinker in the 757 last week. Plain and simple. When you show up to a road game with no focus or motivation, that’s what’ll happen to you. It’s surprising that it happened considering Justin Fuente’s constantly preaches the 1-0 mentality. I saw a 0-1 mentality last weekend. Turn the page and move on to the next week.

The Hokies face their biggest test so far this season with Duke. Duke is a surprising 4-0 this season. Maybe we all shouldn’t be too surprised considering Duke has had a solid football program for a number of years. This is a well-coached team that will not beat themselves. They play disciplined football and take care of the ball. The Hokies will have their hands full this week.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ Rank: 53rd
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 38th
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 72nd
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 4th

Duke

Overall S&P+ Rank: 27th
Offensive S&P+ Rank: 42nd
Defensive S&P+ Rank: 31st
Special Teams S&P+ Rank: 11th

That Hokies defensive rank. Ouch. Not very Bud Foster-y. The Hokies are going to need to step up in a big way to stop Duke’s potent offense. They will likely be going up against Quentin Harris. Which is a good thing because injured starting QB Daniel Jones was completing passes at a 74.4% completion percentage before he got injured. That would be bad consider what we saw from Virginia Tech’s secondary last week. Guys to look out for on Duke’s offense is Quentin Harris rushing from the quarterback position, Brittain Brown at running back and TJ Rahming at wide receiver. The Hokies need to also be aware of Johnathan Lloyd as a deep threat against the Hokies young secondary.

If the Hokies want to be successful against Duke’s defense, they are going to need to get their rushing game going. If there is a vulnerability on Duke’s defense it’s stopping the run. This is a game where the Hokies run game will need to open up the downfield passing game.  The Hokies need to try to establish the run early and often. Something they were not able to do last week against ODU. Ryan Willis will need to use his arm and his legs this week to give Duke’s defense trouble. He also need to take care of the ball. If the Hokies turn the ball over, Duke’s offense will make them pay for it.

After three games watching Virginia Tech, I still have no idea about this team. They’ve played three objectively bad teams. Two good results and one really bad one. What we do know is that this defense has issues. They are young and they are going to make mistakes. How quickly they are able to remedy those errors week-to-week will define how successful this season can be. How this team bounces back against Duke will be telling for how the season will play out. Going by the numbers, Duke looks like the better team even if they do field their backup QB. They are like the Hokies but with a better defense (by the numbers). This is a game that could easily go either way but since there are so many unknowns in this game, you go with what the numbers tell you. Duke by 10.

Prediction: Duke 38, Virginia Tech 28 

Florida State Preview and Prediction

The Hokies have another big opening game on national television. Last year it was West Virginia. The year before it was Tennessee in week 2. The Hokies winning against West Virginia made a big statement. They need to start winning these games more often than not in order to grow the program to new levels. If the Hokies lose, everyone will say “same old Hokies.”

The Hokies focus in this game needs to be on stopping the run and forcing Deondre Francois to beat them with his arm. This was the game plan against Clemson last season but Clemson was still able to run all over the Hokies with big plays. The Hokies need to do a better job this time around. Play assignment football and wrap up their tackles. That’s a lot to ask from a very young defense – particularly from first time starters at linebacker. They can’t have Cam Akers and company run for big plays against them. Florida State has the running backs to create big plays out of mistakes from a young defense.

I expect good things from the offense. The Florida State defense has a lot of talent but I trust Fuente to have some different looks to throw at them. This has the potential to be the best offensive line the Hokies have put out in years. The Hokies have pass catching weapons that they didn’t have a year ago. Virginia Tech needs to be able to move the ball on the ground. That will require a big games from Deshawn McClease, Steven Peoples and Josh Jackson. A solid ground game will open things up through the air and make life easier on Josh Jackson. Florida State is also starting two young and smallish linebackers. Expect Fuente and Cornelsen to try to confuse them with RPOs and misdirection.

Teams that have been able to beat the Hokies in recent years have been able to do so by beating them through the air. The Hokies will need to limit big plays with their young secondary. If the Hokies are giving up big plays, the will have a tough time winning this matchup. The Hokies need to make Florida State drive the field to score. Big plays would be a big problem – like they were against Clemson last year. The Hokies need to prepare their young linebackers for the tempo that Florida State will play at.

The lack of depth on the defensive line is a big concern. The talent is there but there is not a lot of depth. Willie Taggart likes to play with tempo on offense which will takes it toll on a thin defensive line throughout the game. It will be critical for the Hokies to get off the field so they are not gassed by the fourth quarter. If they are on the field too long, that’s when you can expect big plays from FSU’s talented running backs.

This game will be closer than many experts think. Even though Florida State has a great home atmosphere, especially at night, they do have their issues too. I don’t expect the FSU offensive line to be able to handle the Hokies defensive line the way many are expecting which will limit the damage from their running backs. Their offense will have to rely on the passing game which means Deondre Francois will have to put up points with his arm. He will, but probably not as many as a some are expecting. It’ll be a tight, low scoring affair but I still think FSU just has too much talent and firepower at this point and they win it by one score. A big play on special teams could be the difference.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 24

2018 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Talk about a bad offseason. Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine Edmunds and Tim Settle all declared early for the NFL draft. Adonis Alexander entered the NFL Supplemental Draft after being dismissed from the team. Mook Reynolds was dismissed. Galen Scott was forced to resign. Jeremy Webb tore his achilles tendon. The best news was Josh Jackson’s near miss with an academic issue. Wow. That’s a bad offseason.

But there is hope for 2018. There are a lot of talented young players who will get their opportunity to step up. The schedule isn’t that tough and the Hokies should be in position for another good year if they can get some young guys to step up – particularly on defense.

Offense

Josh Jackson is back 100% healthy after getting banged up in the 2nd half of last season. He’s a smart QB with a good arm and can run the ball when needed. He reminds me a lot of Bryan Randall. He’s never going to draw comparisons to Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, but he has all the tools to get the job done. He’s good at taking care of the ball and no one knows the playbook like he does. This year he will have more help around him. He can be really good and put up big numbers with the right supporting cast around him.

Virginia Tech will get more production from the running back position. Gone is Travon McMillian but the Hokies have a couple of other guys who are good fits for the offense. I’m most excited about Deshawn McClease. McClease rushed for 265 yards in his last three games with over a 5 yard per carry average in each of those games. And…

That’s some pretty good company. Jalen Holston had his moments in 2017. Steven Peoples can always pick up the tough yards. And you have Coleman Fox who can add some energy and speed when he gets into a game. The guy to watch this season is Deshawn McClease and his progression in this offense.

The wide receivers are young but talented. Damon Hazelton, the sophomore transfer from Ball State, looks like a breakout candidate for the Hokies. Reports are he gave the scout team a lot of trouble last year when he was redshirting. Expect Sean Savoy to build on the big season he had last year. Also keep an eye on Phil Patterson who had the catch of the year in the Spring Game. He could also be a breakout candidate this year. But the guys I will be keeping my eye on are Hazelton and Savoy.

An underrated position group is the tight end group. Dalton Keene looks the part and you can expect to see him have a bigger role in the offense this season. True freshman James Mitchell is already getting rave reviews in practice. And Chris Cunningham will continue to be a dangerous red zone target. This year we will see more production out of this group in the passing game.

The offensive line looks good on paper. They lost Wyatt Teller who brought a lot of toughness to the group but this is a talented and experienced group. It’s also a group of guys playing in their positions of strength. It’s a good mix of experience and young talent for depth. That’s usually a good combination. This position group has 10 guys in the two-deep that are game ready. This should be a good group.

The offense should be better than last season. I think this side of the ball could see a bigger improvement than most are expecting. At Memphis, year 3 under Justin Fuente is when the offense really took off. A healthy Josh Jackson will make a big difference. Fuente has had two years to recruit his players into this offense. The product this year should resemble Fuente’s vision for his offense more than his first two seasons in Blacksburg. They’ll need it with so many young guys on the defense.

Defense

The defense is the area of concern for the Hokies this year. Youth everywhere. This is what you would have to call a rebuilding year. But the Hokies still have Bud Foster. Bud Foster can only cover for so many young players. The beginning of the year might be rough.

The starting defensive line looks really good but it is not a deep group. This is the one area of the defense where there is experience. But there is not much behind the starters. The young guys are going to have to step up to give the starters a breather. The depth is concerning but the Hokies have some young talent that should be able to step up to fill out the two-deep. The Hokies need to avoid injuries from the starters. The guy to watch on the line is Ricky Walker, he has All-ACC and All-American potential. Two breakout guys to keep an eye on are Houshun Gaines and Tyjuan Garbutt.

The linebacker group is young and inexperienced. The linebacker group will have three first year starters this season. But there is an injection of talent in this group. Expect the group to struggle early in the season but they should be pretty solid as the season goes on. I feel good about the talent level here but not the experience level. Names to keep an eye on here are Devon Hunter, Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield.

The secondary is also young and inexperienced. Are you sensing a trend here? I like the talent but there is just not much experience here. This secondary will take it’s lumps early in the season but will build confidence as the season goes on. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of mixing and matching with the group to find the four starters the coaches want to roll with. You can expect Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo to start at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by whoever can win the position battles this August. The breakout candidates in the secondary are Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley and Jovonn Quillen.

The defense will take a step back to start the season. You can’t lose the amount of talent the Hokies lost and hope to improve. I do think this will be a good defense but it will take a couple of games before it gels. This won’t look like a Bud Foster defense in the first half of the year. Too many young players. Good news is that there is a lot of speed and talent, and you’ll see it come together nicely in October and November.

Special Teams

Aside from Oscar Bradburn expect a lot of new faces on special teams. Brian Johnson should take over field goal duties. The Hokies will need to find new kick and punt returners now that Greg Stroman is gone. Bryce Watts and CJ Carroll should get an opportunity on punt returns. Jovonn Quillen is a candidate to return kicks along with Caleb Farley and Cole Beck (if he doesn’t get redshirted).

2018 Outlook

The Hokies biggest obstacle to a division championship is Miami. The good news about this year is that the Hokies get Miami at home and a lot of national experts like the Hokies chances in that matchup.

The Hokies have some big match-ups this years. They open the season with Florida State in Tallahassee. They get Notre Dame at home in week 6. Then they get Miami at home on the second-to-last week of the regular season. Those three games will be important in determining the Hokies’ season.

Watch out for games at Duke, Georgia Tech at home, Boston College at home, and Pittsburgh on the road. Those are games where the Hokies could stumble if they are not careful. The Hokies need to avoid the upset bug in 2018.

Key games for the Hokies: at Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami
Upset Alert: at Duke

Date Opponent Prediction
Mon, Sep 3 @ Florida State* L
Sat, Sep 8 William and Mary W
Sat, Sep 15 East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 29 @ Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 @ Duke L
Sat, Oct 6 Notre Dame* L
Sat, Oct 13 @ North Carolina W
Thu, Oct 25 Georgia Tech W
Sat, Nov 3 Boston College W
Sat, Nov 10 @ Pittsburgh W
Sat, Nov 17 Miami* L
Fri, Nov 23 Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: Unranked
Predicted Bowl Game: Music City Bowl in Nashville

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Camping World Bowl Preview and Prediction

For the second time under Justin Fuente, the Hokies have the opportunity to win their tenth game by winning their bowl game. This year it might be more challenging than last year. Oklahoma State is ranked 19th in the country and is one of the nation’s best offensive teams.

Virginia Tech

Overall S&P+ ranking: 24th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 99th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 6th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 38th

Oklahoma State

Overall S&P+ ranking: 11th
Offensive S&P+ ranking: 4th
Defensive S&P+ ranking: 70th
Special Teams S&P+ ranking: 76th

This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the bowl season. Two ranked teams. One is an elite offensive team. One is an elite defensive team. It’s always great to see two elite units matched up against each other.

One of the bigger storylines going into this game is the injuries for Virginia Tech. The Hokies limped to the finish at the end of the regular season. Going into the UVA game, VT was missing eight starters and had a banged up quarterback. For the bowl game, the Hokies will be missing Yoshua Nijman, Cam Phillips and Vinny Mihota. Those are significant injuries which will have a significant impact, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.

This is the best offensive team the Hokies have faced since West Virginia in Week 1. Virginia Tech will have a difficult time stopping Mason Rudolph and James Washington. They may be the best quarterback-wide receiver combo in the nation. Greg Stroman and Brandon Facyson are going to have their hands full in their last collegiate game.

Oklahoma State is far from one-dimensional. Their spread attack opens up the running game and their rushing attack is ranked 38th in the nation. If there is one aspect of their offense that can give the Hokies hope, it’s that Mason Rudolph is not a running quarterback.

With Yoshua Nijman and Cam Phillips out, I’m not super confident in the Hokies offense. The Oklahoma State defense is middle-of-the-road but I’m not expecting the Virginia Tech offense to be able to keep up with the Cowboys offense. The Hokies will have to do it without their left tackle and their best wide receiver. It’ll be up to Josh Jackson and a bunch of young wide receivers. It’ll be tough to keep up with an offense that is sure to put points on the board.

If the Hokies hope to win, they will need to win on defense and special teams. Like they did against West Virginia earlier in the year. But Oklahoma State is significantly better on both sides of the ball than West Virginia. This will be a tough game. I would feel like it would be a pretty even matchup if the Hokies were completely healthy, but they are still a banged up team. They are not as banged up as they were for the UVA game, but they aren’t full strength either. I’m very concerned that this game might get away from the Hokies. I hope the defense and special teams can have a big performance to prove me wrong.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 38, Virginia Tech 17