Blacksburg and Charlottesville.  Two opposite sides of the college football coin in the Commonwealth.  Virginia Tech is coming off of the school’s ninth 10-win season since it joined the ACC and a league-best sixth division title, while Virginia suffered through its second 10-loss season in four years and has finished higher than third just twice since divisional play began.  And then there’s the thing about how the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since their poor country cousin crashed the Atlantic Coast Conference party in 2004.

The contrast between the two programs also goes against recent form:  Virginia returns stability at quarterback while Virginia Tech has question marks surrounding the position this fall.  Yes, you read it here first.  The Cavaliers plan to start the same QB two straight seasons for just the second time in 13 years.  Kurt Benkert threw for 2,552 yards and 21 touchdowns (second-most all-time in school history behind Matt Schaub’s 28 in 2002). The transfer from East Carolina certainly has the arm to compete in the ACC, but coach Bronco Mendenhall says, “(he has) to use the arm that he has but also make the good decisions and not think he has to throw the ball every single play.  Sometimes a scramble and a slide or just throwing the ball away is effective.”  Virginia Tech will start a redshirt freshman in Josh Jackson…who sat and learned last year watching transfer Jerod Evans tear up the ACC.  Coach Justin Fuente used three criteria to determine his quarterback competition: “how many times were you executing what we asked you to do on a consistent basis, to see them protect and value the football, and the third was a little bit of a feel thing-a little bit harder to measure.”  Plan B and C at the position are a pair of players who have yet to take a snap as a Hokie:  junior college transfer A.J. Bush and true freshman Hendon Hooker.

The contrast continues on the defensive side of the ball, where the Hokies look to build off last year’s strong showing (3rd in the ACC against the pass and 4th overall) while the Cavaliers look to plug holes in a unit that allowed the 3rd most points in the conference.  Coach Mendenhall feels last year’s defensive shortcomings were created by inexperience and unfamiliarity with the scheme installed: “I hope that we’re not nearly as volatile.  Usually inexperience leads to volatility–you’ll play a stretch where it looks like good football and then there’ll be some miscues and balls go over your head.”  UVa’s top player on defense remains safety Quin Blanding, who led the team in tackles last fall.  Tech also returns its leading tackler in linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka and returns six other starters, but coach Fuente knows the key will be how well his backups step up:  “the days of only playing defense with 11 guys are just over.  Offenses run too many plays with too many personnel groups–you’ve got to create depth.”

The two teams kick off the 2017 season in contrasting fashion:  Virginia Tech begins the year with a bang by facing #22 West Virginia at Fed Ex Field.  They previously played at the Redskins’ home field in 2004, 2010 and 2012. “There are a lot of Hokie fans up there,” Fuente says, “I think it’s a neat venue for us to play in and we have a quality opponent.  I know it’s given us something to work towards.”  A trip to East Carolina (the Pirates have given the Hokies fits over the last decade) also awaits before they start the ACC slate by visiting defending National Champion Clemson.  Tech also visits preseason Coastal Division favorite Miami.  Virginia begins its year with three straight home games- potentially providing the program momentum entering play against a league that enjoyed a stellar 2016.  “The numbers say a year ago that the ACC was the best conference- by national champion, postseason record and crossover record with other conferences,” Mendenhall adds, “after being in the league one year, I think it’s very strong top to bottom.”  Florida State and Clemson are in the preseason top 5, while Louisville and Miami start the year in the top 20.

The two contrasting Commonwealth roads converge the day after Thanksgiving when Virginia entertains Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville.

 

Hokie Penthouse– how do you top last year’s 10-4 season?  By winning the ACC this year!  While they lose to Clemson in September, they do run the rest of the conference table and upset Florida State in the Championship Game.  While they might not make the playoff, Virginia Tech is in the conversation.

Hokie Outhouse– an opening night loss to West Virginia at Fed Ex Field sets the tone for a stumbling September that includes a defeat at home to Clemson.  Josh Jackson is no Jerod Evans…and the offense takes its lumps in losses to North Carolina and Miami to fall from Coastal Contention before falling to—gulp!—Virginia.  At least they don’t lose in Blacksburg.

Cavalier Penthouse– a 3-0 start gets everyone a little too excited…and Boise State bursts the bubble to end September.  But Kurt Benkert wins a game or two on his own and the defense isn’t completely dismal.  A bowl bid is secured…and then UVa goes out and beats the Hokies the day after Thanksgiving.  Plenty to be thankful for this year…

Cavalier Outhouse– the offense misses Taquan “Smoke” Mizzell more than they thought and the defense still has issues.  Losses to Indiana and Boise State temper enthusiasm…before the November nightmare of Georgia Tech, Louisville and Miami bury slim postseason hopes.  A rout at home to Virginia Tech remains the cherry on the turkey once again.