Archives for posts with tag: Justin Fuente

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Some say timing is everything, and if it isn’t it certainly remains a pretty big factor.  College Football’s Power Five slate kicks off at 12 p.m. Saturdays with more chaff than wheat while its prime matchups are usually offered up to ABC, CBS, and ESPN in the coveted 3:30 p.m. window.  The late games kick off from 6 to 7:30 p.m., with a prime time showdown and the customary Pac-12 After Dark duel wrapping up the day’s action.  It should be easy to have everybody play at a reasonable time.

Except with dreaded noon eastern games in the Central Time Zone.  This Saturday there are four games involving ranked teams that begin at 11 a.m. local time:  Oklahoma-West Virginia, Wisconsin-Illinois, Auburn-Arkansas and Purdue-Iowa.  Earlier this fall to fit into the ACC Network’s grid, Pitt played Ohio at 11 a.m. EDT.

Last month Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban complained about a 12 p.m. EDT game against Southern Miss, which would kick off at 11 a.m. local time.  Saban was pounced on by some as being elitist, but I completely understand his thinking.  In a sport where empty seats are a pox and the final days of summer can be toasty, late-morning is the last time you want to gather 75,000 people outside in the sun.  On weekends the last thing many want to do is have to be anywhere by 11 a.m.; even though noon is just an hour later it feels a world away from late-morning.  College students waking up and getting anywhere on a Saturday morning by 11?  Right.  And even though college athletics is not always about the actual student athletes, a player’s body-clock can’t benefit from the morning start.

Leagues blame TV; one wants to show as many games to as many people as possible.  But if the SEC and Big Ten have their own networks, can’t they move the 11 a.m. Central games to noon/aka 1 p.m. Eastern?  It’s not like these channels don’t have pregame and highlight shows that could fill those slots.  So your SEC mid-afternoon game kicks off at 4:30 instead of 3:30…or the seven o’clock game starts at eight.  People will still watch–because it’s football.  Unless it’s Rutgers.

 

Alma Mater Update- major gut-check time for the Orange, who need three wins to become bowl-eligible.  First up is 4-2 Pitt, who’s coming off of three straight wins by a combined seven points.   But at least it’s at home–even if it’s on Friday night.  The offensive line that allowed eight sacks against NC State needs to find itself, and Tommy DeVito needs to put up quality yards instead of simply a quantity of yards.  I’m not confident that will happen this year.

 

Maryland ( 3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) vs. Indiana (4-2, 1-2), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network). 

Speaking of early starts, how is this game not beginning at 12?  I thought “Maryland-Indiana” was French for “noon kickoff”.  Both schools suffer from the “Rutgers Inflation Effect”.  The Terps torched the Scarlet Knights by 41 points while the Hoosiers won by 35 against RU.  They’ve each been humbled by Big Ten foes not residing the state of New Jersey, Maryland getting outscored 99-14 while IU’s been pasted 91-41.  Indiana brings the Big Ten’s second-best passing game into College Park Saturday, and the Terps passing defense allows the most yards per game in the conference.  Hoosiers quarterback Michael Penix Jr. (69.5% completion rate) has the necessary counter-punch in running back Stevie Scott III (5.0 yards per carry) to keep opponents honest; sadly he lacks a “IV” on the roster.  Tyrrell Pigrome starts for the second week at quarterback as Josh Jackson’s ankle still isn’t right, and running back Anthony McFarland’s high ankle sprain looks to limit the sparkplug that gained over 1,000 yards last fall further (he notched four yards at Purdue and dropped a pass in the end zone).

Presto’s Pick: Terps tumble, 35-20.

 

Virginia (4-2, 2-1 ACC) vs. Duke (4-2, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Easter may be in springtime, but last Friday the Cavaliers laid a major egg in their 17-9 loss at Miami.  So much for the “Season of Possibilities” (thankfully not trademarked yet). Early issues that won’t go away begin and end with an offensive line that can’t generate a running game (a league-worst 102 yards per game) or protect Bryce Perkins (13 sacks in their last two games).  Duke has already won in the Commonwealth this fall, but after scorching Virginia Tech by 35 they allowed 33 points in a loss at home to Pitt.  Quentin Harris  is also averaging fewer than 10 yards per completion in four of six games this fall;  UVa’s defense leads the ACC in sacks and will need to make him uncomfortable all afternoon.

Kippy & Buffy are more than comfortable going with an old standby for Duke week:  the ultimate “bro” school demands a bottle from Breaux Vineyards.  This year it’s the ”
Equation Red”, a blend that is 73% merlot with dashes of Petit Verdot, Chamborcin, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  With aromas of “ripe cherry, plum, and chocolate” plus the taste of “juicy fruit, baking spices such as clove and nutmeg” the lingering dusty tannins will go great with some sauteed mushrooms plus Bleu Cheese on toast against the Blue Devils.

Presto’s Pick:  the Cavaliers find the right equation and defeat Duke, 24-20.

 

Virginia Tech (4-2, 1-2 ACC) vs. North Carolina (3-3, 2-1), 3:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Past is present in Chapel Hill, as Mack Brown returned to the program he led to 69 wins from 1988 to 97 (including consecutive 10-win seasons that wrapped up his tenure).  Behind freshman quarterback Sam Howell (15 touchdowns and 3 interceptions) the Tar Heels began the season with thrilling wins over South Carolina and Miami, before dropping one-possession games to Wake Forest, Appalachian State, and then-No. 1 Clemson.  While a 16-point win at 1-5 Georgia Tech doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, look at the Hokies: they led Rhode Island by seven in the fourth quarter and it was just as close in wins against Furman, Old Dominion and Miami.  Cause for confidence:  VT is 2-0 since going with turnover-free Hendon Hooker at quarterback.  What’s helped the sophomore is the presence of a running game, with Deshawn McClease emerging as the primary ground threat.

Presto’s Pick:  Hokies come up short, 26-20.

 

Navy (4-1, 2-1 AAC) vs. South Florida (3-3, 1-1), 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network).

The Midshipmen are coming off of their first road win in over two years, while the Bulls are .500 at midseason despite returning 15 starters.  The sizzle for the Mids is often its option offense, and quarterback Malcolm Perry is directing an attack that leads the nation in rushing.  But major strides have been made so far this year on defense:  the team leads the AAC in stopping the run as well as fewest yards and points allowed.  USF has had major issues protecting the quarterback (a league-high 24 sacks allowed) as well as moving the chains (second-worst in the conference).

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen move one step closer to bowl eligibility with a 31-17 win.

 

Georgetown beats Lafayette, James Madison wins at William & Mary, Richmond gets by Yale, Towson beats Bucknell, Morgan State slips to South Carolina State.

Last Week: 5-5.  Overall: 44-19.

 

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So much for learning!  Like an elementary school’s morning recess, the September bye interrupts whatever momentum the early season had.  Blame the calendar;  usually there are 13 weekends between Labor Day and Thanksgiving which translates to just one week off for most schools.  This year there are 14 weekends which means a bonus bye. Be thankful:  back in the day when 11-game schedules were the norm and before Conference Championship Games, byes would be scattered across the landscape like breadcrumbs.  Now, instead of weeks off, the openings are simply filled filled in with games against FCS and non-Power 5 schools.

Navy has an extra weekend off to begin with, thanks to the Army game taking place in December while counting towards their 12-game regular season total, so this year head coach Ken Niumatalo’s team is already idle for the second time.  “Sometimes you like it later in the season when you’re kind of banged up, but that’s our schedule,” Niumatalolo said. “We knew the schedule a long time ago. We’ve practiced for it and planned for it.”  What’s helpful for the Midshipmen is they get a few extra days to prepare for a Thursday night showdown with a 3-0 Memphis team that’s already beaten Ole Miss.  I like the bye leading the Thursday night game;  it allows the players to properly recover and the team to properly prepare (my major beef with the NFL’s Thursday Night Football package).

While Navy at 2-0 still has a lot to learn about itself, Maryland’s 2-1 start let the light shine on not only how great this team can be (outscoring Howard and Syracuse 141-20) but also how they’re far from perfect (coming up empty on eight plays inside the Temple 10-yard line in the fourth quarter).  After a spring and summer of installing new systems on both sides of the ball, a break might be just what the Terps need mentally and physically. “You add the four weeks of training camp and three weeks of the season, that’s seven straight weeks of wall to wall football: pounding and the contact and things we do,” head coach Mike Locksley said.”Usually every three to four weeks you like to give your players a day off to be able to recover and re-set themselves.  This couldn’t have come at a better time.”  The break also separates the school’s non-conference and Big Ten portions cleanly, and after going 13-31 over its first five seasons in the league the Terps could use a little extra time.  “When you self-scout you give yourself an opportunity to see what other people see,” Locksley said. “You want to refine those things and maybe adjust some things so you don’t have a bunch of tendencies.”  We’ll see how beneficial the Terps’ time-out was when they host No. 13 Penn State next Friday night.

Virginia Tech is also 2-1 entering its bye week, but as no two 2-1 starts are exactly alike the Hokies appear to have a lot more to fix during the hiatus.  So far they’ve followed up a discouraging ACC loss with a pair of unimpressive wins against inferior competition.  No offense to FCS contender Furman or Old Dominion, but neither school should be able to come into Lane Stadium and be a threat in the fourth quarter.  Two keys for head coach Justin Fuente: 1- find a way to temper the turnovers (their nine giveaways is fourth most in FBS) and 2- get better on the ground (Hokies rank 11th in the ACC on offense and 10th in stopping the run).  Help is on the way in the form of ex-Minnesota coach Jerry Kill, who comes on board as a special assistant.  At least they face Duke (Hokies are 3-0 against the Blue Devils under Fuente) and Miami (the Hurricanes are 0-2 against FBS teams this fall) next Friday evening.

Alma Mater Update- the Orange find themselves 1-2 with their bye two weeks away;  thank goodness they face the likes of Western Michigan and Holy Cross to wrap up the month.  I’m by no means putting both games in the win column at this time, as the Broncos are averaging over 30 points per game and put 42 on the board last year against SU while the Crusaders were picked to finish second in the Patriot League.  Back to back noon games hopefully resets the season before ACC play resumes.

No. 21 Virginia (3-0) vs. Old Dominion (1-1), 7 p.m. (ESPN2).  The Cavaliers season of possibilities has the team off to its best start since 2005.  That team featured the dual-threat quarterback Marques Hagans, who completed over 60% of his passes while using his wheels to haunt opposing defenses.  Hagans has nothing on Bryce Perkins, who in 16 games has already moved past Hagans in career touchdown passes and career yards rushing.   The Monarchs come off of their bye knowing they had plenty of opportunities to upset Virginia Tech for the second straight season, while realizing they have a lot to clean up on both sides of the ball.  Quarterback Stone Smartt is averaging less than ten yards per completion and the ODU defense has troubles getting off of the field on third down.

Kippy and Buffy have no issues setting up their third tailgate of the season, and how better to enjoy a showdown of Commonwealth schools than by opening a bottle of Chrysallis Vineyards Viognier (the state grape of Virginia).  “Full-bodied and fragrant with heady tropical and citrus fruits”.  During the season of possibilities that has UVa dreaming of a potential Citrus or-dare I say-Orange Bowl, they’re going all-in on a citrus fruit finish.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers maul the Monarchs, 44-14.

 

Howard slips to Delaware State, James Madison beats Chattanooga, William & Mary falls to East Carolina, Towson tops Villanova, Morgan State loses to Army.

Last Week: 7-2. Overall: 21-6.

 

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Welcome back everyone, and prepare to enter what has been claimed to be the best regular season in sports (amazing how many one-loss Alabama and Clemson teams make the playoff in a world where “every week matters”).  This year there’s a twist though:  Clemson is ranked first and Alabama is second!  I know, I’ll wait for you to pick yourself off of the floor.  In the current College Football Playoff era, the Tigers and Crimson Tide have combined for nine of the 20 semifinal berths.  And there’s a very good chance they’ll be joined by the two other schools with multiple CFP berths (blue bloods Ohio State and Oklahoma) while the Pac-12 champ pounds sand once again.  But it all starts this weekend.  Yes, you heard me correctly.  Even though No. 8 Florida faced Miami in Orlando last Saturday, this is technically week one.  Fans of the Gators and Hurricanes got to see to underprepared teams combine for five turnovers, 23 penalties and convert a combined 4-for-24 on third down.  Heading into the showdown it was referred to as “Week Zero”, and I wholeheartedly agree.  Bring on the real season.

 

Alma Mater Update- the Orange begin the year ranked for the first time since 1997.  Yes, SU hasn’t been in the Preseason Top 25 since Donovan McNabb was wearing #5.  Naturally they’re opening the season at…Liberty.  I do have friends headed to Lynchburg for the game as the drive is manageable, and I’m wondering if they’re going to follow the trend and bring Spiked Seltzer to the tailgate.  I’m holding my breath.

 

Maryland vs. Howard, noon (Big Ten Network).

The Terps will start a different quarterback in their opener for the fourth straight season, as Virginia Tech transfer Josh Jackson gets the nod. While with the Hokies Jackson started Labor Day weekend wins over ranked foes West Virginia and Florida State.  And he never had a running threat like Anthony McFarland: the sophomore looks to continue the momentum of last November where he posted a pair of 200-yard rushing games.  The Bison counter with third-year starting quarterback Caylin Newton (yes, he’s Cam’s younger brother) and the offensive weapons that led the MEAC in scoring last fall, but they also bring a defense that allowed 34 points per game in 2018.  

Presto’s Pick: Terrapins Triumph, 45-20.

 

Navy vs. Holy Cross, 3:30 p.m (CBS Sports Network). 

The long road back from 3-10 begins with a game against a Patriot League foe. One that was picked to finish second in its conference and ended 2018 with four straight wins.  But the Crusaders lost quarterback Geoff Wade to graduation, and Emmett Clifford (under 10 yards per completion and a 1-3 touchdown to interception ratio) is just the kind of QB the new-look Navy defense wants to confuse pre-snap.  All eyes will be on the arm of Midshipman quarterback Malcolm Perry as the team has been talking all month about throwing the ball more.  It’s one thing to say you’re going to open up the offense, it’s another thing entirely to try to do so in game situations and yet another thing to execute.

Presto’s Pick: Midshipmen crush the Crusaders, 38-14.

 

Virginia Tech at Boston College, 4 p.m (ACC Network).  

Of the three schools that marked the first exodus of the Big East to the ACC in 2004-05, the Hokies have been the most successful (Miami didn’t even win a Coastal Division title until last year) but for a while BC held its own against the Clemsons and Florida States in the Atlantic Division.  But since finishing first or second in the Atlantic each of their first five years in the league, the Eagles haven’t posted a winning ACC record.  Junior running back AJ Dillon rushed for 96 yards and a touchdown against the Hokies last year.  We’ll see how revamped Virginia Tech’s defense is this year after finishing near the bottom of the conference in 2018.  The road team has won four of the last five games in this series.

Presto’s Pick: Hokies make it happen, 27-17.

 

Virginia at Pitt, 7:30 p.m. (ACC Network).

Could this be the Cavaliers’ year?  The other six Coastal Division schools have each taken turns advancing to the Conference Championship Game since 2013.  Last year’s representative was a Pitt team that reached Charlotte behind 1,000-yard rushers Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall; both are trying to stick with NFL rosters this summer.  The Panthers also have four new starters on their offensive line and a quarterback in junior Kenny Pickett who has plenty of experience but also a very low ceiling.   Cavaliers QB Bryce Perkins is coming off of a spectacular season where he was one of two FBS players to pass for at least 2,600 yards while rushing for 900+.  The other? Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray.

My UVa tailgating pals Kippy & Buffy are back for another exciting season, and just like their team that’s dreaming big in 2019 my favorite couple begins big: a bottle of 2013 Joseph Phelps Insignia. “Focused and fresh, this exceptionally concentrated wine showcases elegant tannin structure and a silky mouthfeel layered with dark fruit, sweet vanilla bean, cracked black pepper and bittersweet chocolate.”  Nothing bittersweet about the season ahead.

Presto’s Pick: Cavaliers are focused, fresh, and find a way to win, 27-20.

 

Georgetown falls at Davidson, Towson tops The Citadel, James Madison makes FCS proud with an upset win at West Virginia, William & Mary wins at Lafayette.

Last Year: 69-44, including a 1-8 week where I should have pulled a George Costanza and went the opposite.

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The distance between Lane Stadium in Blacksburg and Scott Stadium in Charlottesville may stand at 146.2 miles, but the gap between the two programs appears to be closing from what was one a huge chasm.  For the first time since 1997, Virginia (8-5) owned a better record than Virginia Tech (6-7).  Last year it was the Hokies who suffered the embarrassing non-conference stumble.  After dealing with a quarterback carousel for over a decade, it was the Cavaliers who had a stable signal caller situation for the third straight season while the Hokies are the ones who saw a former starter leave via transfer.  UVa’s formerly Swiss cheese defense?  The third stingiest in the ACC while Virginia Tech allowed more than 40 points four times.
But there’s one area where the Hokies still dominate:  fifteen straight wins in the series, including last year’s overtime triumph where Virginia appeared to somehow snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Fifteen straight wins, meaning most of the kids who were students when UVa last prevailed will be eligible to run for President next year.  Fifteen straight wins, or every time these two schools have played as ACC foes.  Could this year finally be the one where the Cavaliers conquer the Commonwealth?

 

Virginia returns 14 starters from its best team in over a decade; with quarterback Bryce Perkins back to build on a stellar 2018 campaign (65% completion percentage, 2680 yards, with 25 touchdowns and 9 interceptions).  While he won’t have his main running threat (1000-yard rusher Jordan Ellis) or top target (1000-yard receiver Olamide Zaccheaus) he does have a pair of seniors to throw to in Hasise Dubose (52 catches last year) and Joe Reed (a team-high 18.6 yards per reception with 7 touchdown catches). The running game by committee will feature junior P.K. Kier plus sophomores Wayne Taulapapa and Jamari Peacock.  Don’t be surprised if it’s Bryce Perkins (923 yards rushing with 9 touchdowns last year) who emerges as the chairman of the board.
Defense looks to be the strong suit with last season’s defensive line returning intact along with standout linebackers Charles Snowden (61 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 interceptions in 2018) and Jordan Mack (66 tackles with 2.5 sacks) anchoring the second line of defense.  Senior Bryce Hall continues the recent tradition of outstanding Cavaliers defensive backs (Quin Blanding, Juan Thornhill) and was named All-ACC Preseason First Team.
The Cavaliers kick off the season by visiting Pitt; believe it or not, they played the Panthers last November for the ACC Coastal Division lead. They face Florida State and Notre Dame in September, meaning we could find out if this season represents another step forward for Coach Bronco Mendenhall’s program.  And then there’s that home game the day after Thanksgiving.

Dream Scenario:  Virginia completes an odd streak where all seven Coastal Division schools reached the ACC Championship Game over a seven-year span.  Most importantly, they win the Coastal by beating Virginia Tech.

Nightmare: 2018 proves to be a mirage as early losses at Pitt and Notre Dame plus a rout at home to Florida State set the tone for a 5-7 finish that includes another loss to the Hokies.

 

Virginia Tech will say farewell to longtime Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster this season.  He’s been with the school since 1987 and this will be Foster’s 25th year directing the defense.  In nine of the first ten seasons the Hokies were in the ACC, they ranked first or second in total defense.  In the last five years they’ve finished in the top three just once, and 2018’s unit ranked 11th in the conference and 98th overall.  The ingredients of the collapse were part youth (only three returning starters) and injuries/ineligibility (three projected starters were lost prior to the season).  This fall Foster has nine returning starters, with junior linebacker Rayshard Ashby (105 tackles last year) and junior defensive tackle Jarrod Hewitt leading the way.  Senior rover back Reggie Floyd is the type of playmaker we’ve gotten used to seeing the Hokies secondary; he’s the strong link in the last line of defense.

Junior quarterback Ryan Willis took over for an injured Josh Jackson in the Old Dominion game last fall.  He then showed enough on the field (59% completion percentage, 2716 yards, 24 touchdowns and 9 interceptions) during Jackson’s recovery from the broken leg to convince the former starter to look elsewhere for future snaps (he wound up at Maryland where he’s starting Saturday against Howard).  Unlike his Cavaliers counterpart, Willis doesn’t have the wheels as he rushed for just 354 yards.  But he does have four of his top five receivers from 2018 returning, including junior Damon Hazelton who caught 51 passes for 802 yards and 7 scores last season.  Coach Justin Fuente’s running back by committee will feature 2017’s leading rusher Deshawn McClease.

The season starts on the road at Boston College; the road team has won four of the last five meetings.  Then there’s the revenge game against Old Dominion (the Hokies lost at ODU 49-35 last September).  While they visit Notre Dame in November, there’s nothing to suggest that this won’t be another bowl season in Blacksburg.  There is that season finale in Charlottesville, however.  Could it possibly be a sweet sixteen party as well as successful sendoff for Bud Foster?

Dream Scenario:  the defense proves that 2018 was an isolated incident as they bounce back and rule the Coastal Division with an iron fist.  They might not be able to beat Clemson, but a double-digit win season sends Bud Foster out on a high.

Nightmare Situation:  they can’t stop Boston College running back A.J. Dillon on Labor Day weekend, and that sets the tone for a rough 2019 where they not only lose to UVa for the first time since 2003 but also miss a bowl for the first time since 1992.

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.

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There’s a new era underway in Blacksburg.  Virginia Tech- hold on, isn’t this “new coach thing” getting old this week?  Haven’t we already gone down this road with Maryland and Virginia?  Great, now Terp and Cavalier fans can say the new-money Hokies are copying them in this regard as well.

But while DJ Durkin and Bronco Mendenhall are replacing failed administrations, Justin Fuente has the unenviable task of taking over for the man who turned Virginia Tech football from a struggling independent into a Big East and ACC champion.  For 29 seasons, Lane Stadium was a place you could find delicious smoked turkey legs and fantastic special teams.  As Frank Beamer retires, Fuente looks to turn around what’s been a stagnant program as of late (29-23 over the last four years) while honoring the legend that still has a position within the athletic department (Beamer now serves as the special assistant to the Athletic Director).

The former Memphis coach brings his no-huddle, spread offense to Blacksburg…and set to direct it is Junior College transfer Jerod Evans.  Plan B isn’t bad should Evans falter; senior Brenden Motley threw for over 1000 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall when then-starter Michael Brewer went down with an injury.   Whoever plays QB this fall will have two imposing targets:  Isaiah Ford stretched the field last fall by notching 75 catches for 1164 yards and 11 touchdowns while tight end Bucky Hodges not only has a cool nickname but moved the chains consistently with clutch receptions.  The Hokies return a 1000-yard runningback in sophomore Travon McMillan.  They should fare better than last year’s unit that ranked 6th in the ACC in scoring.

There won’t be major changes regarding the Hokies’ defensive philosophy as longtime  coordinator Bud Foster was one of Beamer’s assistants that stayed.  That’s a good thing as they’ll have to replace five starters on the front seven.  One of 2015’s issues was the inability to stop the run (ranking 11th in the ACC).  They’ll be leaning on linebacker Andrew Motuapuaka early and often this fall for his playmaking ability and leadership.  The secondary appears to be solid with senior Chuck Clark one of three starters returning…but defensive back play hinges on how effective the front seven is (or isn’t).

This fall coach Fuente announced that the special teams player of the week will wear former coach Frank Beamer’s retired number 25 to honor the Hokies legendary tradition of game-changing special teams.  While the kicking game was the hallmark of this program’s rise in the 90’s as well as the sustained success in the 00’s, the reputation has exceeded the results recently.  Last fall the Hokies ranked 6th in ACC in kickoff return average, 7th in punt return average, 7th in net punting and 9th in kickoff coverage.

The schedule offers up more than a few twists and turns.  After opening with Liberty, the Hokies head to Bristol Motor Speedway for an early-season showdown with Tennessee.  There’s the potential September stumble with East Carolina (don’t laugh, the Pirates have beaten the Hokies two straight years) before the meat of the ACC schedule begins.  And let’s just say the conference slate is somewhat lean:  they don’t draw either Florida State or Clemson this fall-instead having to face Syracuse and Boston College as cross-over opponents (Orange and Eagles went a combined 2-14 in the ACC last year).  A November date at Notre Dame looms large…right before the annual game with Virginia.  Fuente knows the Hokies have beaten the Cavaliers 12 straight years, right?

Best Case- the Hokies further expose Tennessee to win the battle at Bristol…and despite a defeat at North Carolina find a way to sneak into the ACC Championship game via tiebreaker. A 10-4 season gets the Hokies back into the big time.

Worst Case- Jerod Evans fails to translate his skills to the Division I-A level…as the Hokies stumble early and often in the ACC.  The 5-7 season includes an ignominious loss to Virginia at home.  For shame…