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The last two years in Charlottesville have been surreal.  After a decade-plus of witnessing a revolving door at quarterback, Kurt Benkert started all 25 games for the Cavaliers over the last two years.  Now what?  Coach Bronco Mendenhall will go the transfer route again with former Arizona State QB Bryce Perkins.  While Perkins and Benkert both transferred into the program, that’s where the similarities end. “Kurt was more a traditional NFL-style passer: drop-back and could make every throw and was very dynamic with his with his arm,” Mendenhall said, “Bryce is a tremendous athlete: he’s fast, he’s dynamic, he’s quick, he changes direction with the ability to create plays.”  While the former Sun Devil led Arizona Western Community College to the 2017 NJCAA Championship Game, he’s yet to take a snap at the Division I FBS level.

He’ll have help in the form of the Cavaliers’ thunder and lightning combination of tailback Jordan Ellis (led team in rushing with 836 yards last fall) and H-back Olamide Zaccheaus (a team-high 85 catches for 895 yards in 2017).  “Jordan is physical and he’s a slasher and falls forward and he moves the chains. He’s very very consistent,” Mendenhall said,”Olamide adds another dynamic and big play threat…with a lot of ability to run after the catch.”  Virginia ranked ninth in the ACC in moving the chains on third down last fall with a senior directing the offense; the presence of seniors Ellis and Zaccheaus will hopefully smooth Perkins’ growing pains this fall.

While the defense returns eight starters, they lose their two best players in linebacker Micah Kiser and defensive back Quin Blanding.  The two held together as best they could a defense that was vastly improved against the pass (2nd in the ACC) but still had issues against the run (13th) and overall (12th in points allowed). “Now that mantle is passed…their identity still has to be established.” Mendenhall said, “That’s going to take some time. It’ll take playing through some games, having some critical moments and having players make plays in those moments.”  Senior Juan Thornhill’s four interceptions tied Blanding for the team lead and his 12 passes broken up paced the Cavaliers in 2017.  One stat Thornhill might not want to follow in Blanding’s footsteps is the amount of tackles Blanding made last year (137).  It’s never ideal when one of your defensive backs averages over 10 tackles a game (in theory it means your front seven aren’t getting the job done), and for Thornhill less stops will result in more effectiveness for the UVa defense.

The schedule opens invitingly enough:  they host Richmond and visit Indiana over the first two weekends.  With a home game against Ohio to follow a 3-0 start is a possibility again.  Their cross-over games in the ACC are against Louisville (ouch) and at NC State (manageable).  Of course, the season ends with a trip to Blacksburg.  You may have heard the Cavaliers haven’t beaten the Hokies since 2003.

Penthouse Prediction- another hot start in Charlottesville sees the Cavaliers enter their game with Miami 5-0.  Even a loss to the Hurricanes is a minor speed-bump as they recover to move in position for a Coastal Division title (Miami implodes in November as always).  A road win at Virginia Tech delivers the division…and ends a decade-plus of disappointment.

Outhouse- Perkins never fits into the offense and the defense misses Kiser and Blanding a lot more than they thought they would.  A last-place Coastal Division finish is punctuated by yet another humbling by the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech enters its third season under Coach Justin Fuente- and unlike last year they won’t be trying to repeat as Coastal Division champs.  For some reason the Hokies of September and October were not the team we saw in November:  losses at Miami and Georgia Tech eliminated Tech from ACC contention, and they were lucky to post victories over Pitt and Virginia.  So was last year the aberration, or was the 2016 debut the outlier for the Fuente regime?

Like four of their six division foes, Virginia Tech returns its starting quarterback.  Josh Jackson enjoyed a standout freshman season (2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns passing) before running into academic issues this spring. While he’ll be eligible and will start, Jackson will look to reverse the 2-3 finish where he completed 55% of his passes while tossing just three touchdowns to five interceptions (Jackson began his career completing 63% with a 17-4 TD-INT differential).  He’ll be minus wide receiver/security blanket Cam Phillips (236 catches over his career-including 71 as a senior)-and while Sean Savoy (39 receptions) and Erik Kumah (28 grabs) could contribute in 2017 with each averaging 11.6 yards per catch, somebody’s going to need to stretch secondaries this fall.

At least Jackson will have last year’s leading rusher returning in Deshawn McClease. The sophomore ended the season with a flourish, gaining 265 of his 530 yards in the last three games.  McClease’s ascension helped spur the exit of Travon McMillan, who gained 1042 yards as a freshman in 2015 but managed just 1110 yards in his sophomore and junior seasons combined.  While the offensive line didn’t land a player on the All-ACC Preseason Team, the unit does boast three seniors (Kyle Chung, Braxton Pfaff and Yosuah Numan) who boast a combined 52 career starts.

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster will have his work cut out for himself this fall as they will return just three starters.  The secondary dealt with a pair of late losses as Adonis Alexander entered the NFL Supplemental Draft after becoming an academic casualty while Mook Reynolds was arrested on felony drug charges.  Junior College transfer Jeremy Webb was expected to compete for a starting job; instead the defensive back suffered an Achilles injury and is out for the season.  Thank goodness three-fourths of the defensive line that helped generate 32 sacks (third best in the ACC) returns, led by junior Trevon Hill.

The season begins under the lights in Tallahassee on Labor Day- and the Hokies will have their hands full.  I wouldn’t sleep on William & Mary the following Saturday- Virginia Tech has had a history of September stumbles five days after Labor Day openers.  Notre Dame comes to Blacksburg in October and the Hokies host Georgia Tech in their traditional Thursday night game.  And then there’s that game the day after Thanksgiving against Virginia.  They can’t make it 15 straight, can they?

Penthouse Prediction- even with a loss at Florida State, the Hokies find their way back to the ACC title game and this time they beat Clemson.  A New Year’s Day bowl berth awaits.

Outhouse- the undermanned secondary becomes an eyesore and the loss to the Seminoles begins one sloppy September where the Hokies go 2-3.  The downward trend continues for the Fuente regime as they fall out of Coastal contention with consecutive losses at home-to Miami and Virginia.  Yes, they lose at home to the Cavaliers.

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