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February 28, 2013

Analyze This: 2013 Schedule Overview

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Three things related to college football happen each year in February: National Signing Day, the NFL Draft Combine, and the release of the coming season's schedule. The ACC officially released its schedule on Monday afternoon, locking the next 12 Virginia Tech football games into specific dates. The countdown is on. Today, we'll analyze what the Hokies will face this season.


Immediate Reaction

- The most glaring aspect of the schedule is obviously the lack of a Thursday night home game. Virginia Tech has had a Thursday night home game every year since 2002 and it has become a bit of a tradition in Blacksburg. Virginia Tech athletics director Jim Weaver requested to not have one for the sake of the fans. It's an interesting decision considering how Hokies fans talk feverishly every year about the Thursday night game.

I see both sides of the coin, as Thursday night games severely restrict the game day experience. I remember the 2007 Boston College game leaving Richmond at 1:00 p.m. with my dad, being stuck in traffic for six and a half hours in the driving rain, and walking into Lane Stadium as Enter Sandman was blaring. Then again, that game was one of the most memorable games ever in Lane Stadium and not having a Thursday night game will prevent that chance from even happening.

- The other point that has been repeated is the, for lack of a better word, boring home schedule. The teams that will visit Lane Stadium are: Western Carolina, Marshall, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke, and Maryland. The combined 2012 record of those teams was 30-44 and the only team with a record over .500 was North Carolina at 8-4. Could North Carolina take another step forward under coach Larry Fedora and become an elite home game? Most definitely, but in February, it doesn't look like it at all.


Game By Game Look

Game 1: August 30 - vs. Alabama (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)

The other tradition Virginia Tech has (had?) other than playing on Thursday nights seems to be opening the season with a big one. It doesn't get much bigger than this one as the Hokies will be squaring off right in the middle of SEC country against defending National Champion Alabama. The Crimson Tide lost Eddie Lacy, a handful of offensive linemen, and a few key defenders as well but they will just reload and probably be better than ever.

Junior quarterback A.J. McCarron, he of two national championships, returns to go for a third along with talented skill players like running back T.J. Yeldon and wide receiver Amari Cooper. The Hokies will be heavy underdogs in Atlanta, especially with what I expect to be a pro-Alabama crowd. These two teams met in an evenly divided Georgia Dome in 2009 with both teams in the top ten, but with Virginia Tech coming off a 7-6 season, I suspect a few Crimson Tide fans will sneak their way into the Hokies' sections.

Early prediction: Alabama 34-13


Game 2: September 7 - vs. Western Carolina

No matter what happens in Atlanta, the Hokies will have this one to look forward to and get some confidence back. The Catamounts are an FCS team that went 1-11 last year. Translation? This one won't be close.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 45-0


Game 3: September 14 - at East Carolina

The Hokies and Pirates have played 16 times since coach Frank Beamer took over in Blacksburg and nine of them have been decided by 10 points or less. A road trip to Greenville gets tougher and tougher by the year, especially when the Hokies come to town.

East Carolina has 18 starters returning for coach Ruffin McNeil, so it will be chomping at the bit for a signature victory. The last time the Hokies played in Greenville was in 2011 and Virginia Tech barely got out of there with a 17-10 victory in quarterback Logan Thomas' first road start. Expect a similarly slow, ragged, and physical affair when these two teams renew the series this season.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 26-17


Game 4: September 21 - vs Marshall

Coach Doc Holliday continues to rebuild Marshall, looking to reignite the magic the program had when quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich were running the show for the Thundering Herd. The next great quarterback might be Rakeem Cato, who threw 37 touchdown passes and was 5th in the entire country in total offense last season.

The Herd went 5-7 last season and are looking to take the next step back to being a bowl contender each season and it all starts with Cato. However, I expect Virginia Tech to take control of this one in the second half.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 33-14


Game 5: September 26 - at Georgia Tech

This has the potential to be one of the ugliest games of the 2013 season. Both teams will be on short weeks as the Hokies play Marshall five days before this one and the Yellow Jackets play North Carolina. Combine that with the triple-option attack featured by Georgia Tech and a Virginia Tech team that wasn't exactly efficient in 2012.

Vad Lee, who played sparingly last season, takes over at quarterback for the Yellow Jackets, who will be buoyed by a rowdy crowd in the ATL on Thursday night.

Early prediction: Georgia Tech 20-13


Game 6: October 5 - vs North Carolina

The Tar Heels torched the Hokies last season to the tune of 48 points, 339 rushing yards, and 533 total yards in Fedora's first season. Quarterback Bryn Renner returns for his third season under center for North Carolina and has huge expectations centered on him after he threw 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2012.

Thankfully for the Hokies, running back Giovanni Bernard declared for the NFL Draft after last season. He rushed for 262 yards against Virginia Tech last year. You can bet defensive coordinator Bud Foster will have his unit fired up for this one after last year's performance. However, I expect Renner to be very good again this year in Fedora's spread offense and make this one a shootout.

Early prediction: North Carolina 33-27


Game 7: October 12 - vs Pittsburgh

The Hokies get two of the teams that absolutely pounded them in 2012 in back-to-back weeks in 2013, setting up potentially a revengeful 14 days for the Hokies. The Panthers have had the upper hand in the series recently, winning each of the past four games. They have scored at least 28 points in each game, which will likely fire Foster up a little bit more in the week leading up to this one.

Virginia Tech was torn to shreds by Pitt running backs Rushel Shell and Ray Graham last year as they combined for over 200 yards on the ground. Graham is gone, but Shell is back as the lead back for coach Paul Chryst, who will try to continue to build this program in year two under his watch. The Panthers will hold an open quarterback competition this spring among junior Tom Savage (a former Arizona and Rutgers transfer), junior Trey Anderson, and redshirt freshman Chad Voytik. The winner of that battle will determine a lot for the Panthers in 2013. Regardless, I expect this one to be your typical Virginia Tech/Pittsburgh battle.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 28-24


Game 8: October 26 - vs Duke

The Blue Devils lost a lot offensively as both quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receiver Conner Vernon graduated from the team that qualified for the first bowl game since 1994. Sophomore quarterback Anthony Boone takes over for Renfree after playing a good bit last year (49 of 95, 531 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INT) and will need to pick up where Renfree left off.

As far as Duke has come as a program in recent years, it still doesn't have the sheer talent to match up with the bigger programs in the conference, especially on the road.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 31-7


Game 9: November 2 - at Boston College

The Hokies snuck out of Chestnut Hill with a 30-23 overtime win to keep their bowl hopes alive in 2012, but this year's Boston College team will be much different under new head coach Steve Addazio, who was very successful as the head man at Temple. He was hired to rebuild the program after a dreadful 2-10 campaign last season.

Quarterback Chase Rettig returns for another season under center, although his development has been stunted by a revolving door at offensive coordinator (new coordinator Ryan Day will be his fifth in four years). I don't expect a massive turnaround, as there aren't any big difference makers on the depth chart right now for the Eagles, so look for this one to be one of those sleepy early afternoon kickoffs that no one seems excited about.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 20-10


Game 10: November 9 - at Miami

With expansion came some shuffling within the future schedules and along with playing Duke at home and Boston College on the road, the Hokies will be traveling to Coral Gables for the second straight season. Who knows what will be of the Hurricanes' post season chances by this point as the NCAA continues to shuffle its feet with regards to their investigation. Regardless, coach Al Golden has a lot of talent to work with.

Only two starters departed after last season and among the returnees are quarterback Stephen Morris and ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, running back Duke Johnson. Miami pounded the Hokies 30-12 last season and any trip down south is going to be a tough one.

Early prediction: Miami 30-20


Game 11: November 16 - vs Maryland

The Terps will be saying farewell to the ACC this season and their second-to-last conference game will take them on the road to Blacksburg. Who their quarterback will be by this time is a question no one knows, as who will start the spring game isn't even known.

Maryland has three quarterbacks, including 2011 starter C.J. Brown, nursing knee injuries this spring, which has forced coach Randy Edsall to make healthy options Ricardo Young and Dustin Dailey off-limits to contact this spring. Young, who started his career at Virginia Tech, might seize the top spot with a strong spring. Edsall has gone 2-10 and 4-8 during his first two seasons in College Park, so the pressure is on to show some real progress during his third season before the school moves to the Big Ten.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 24-13


Game 12: November 30 - at Virginia

Virginia Tech has won nine in a row and 13 of 14 in the series, although the most recent game was a hard fought 17-14 grind that went to the Hokies only after a late Antone Exum interception. Coach Mike London has been playing a lot of young players over the last two seasons and has his quarterback situation figured out with Phillip Sims under center.

The Cavaliers' schedule leading up to this one is difficult. A rivalry game on the road will present a challenge, but I still see the Hokies pulling out another close victory in 2013.

Early prediction: Virginia Tech 23-16


Ranking the Games In Order of Quality

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. North Carolina
4. Pittsburgh
5. Virginia
6. East Carolina
7. Georgia Tech
8. Maryland
9. Boston College
10. Duke
11. Marshall
12. Western Carolina


Top Players On Each Opponent

Alabama - QB A.J. McCarron
Western Carolina - LB Courtland Carson
East Carolina - LB Derrell Johnson
Marshall - QB Rakeem Cato
Georgia Tech - S Isaiah Johnson
North Carolina - QB Bryn Renner
Pittsburgh - RB Rushel Shell
Duke - QB Anthony Boone
Boston College - LB Steele Divitto
Miami - RB Duke Johnson
Maryland - WR Stefon Diggs
Virginia - QB Phillip Sims

FINAL THOUGHTS

As of now, I have the Hokies at 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the conference with losses to North Carolina, Miami, and Georgia Tech. If that happens, there's no way Virginia Tech is remotely near the ACC Championship discussion. However, this is before spring and fall practice. This is before we've seen Scot Loeffler's offense and Jeff Grimes' offensive line in action. This is before we've seen if Trey Edmunds is a breakout star at tailback or if D.J. Coles is 100% back from knee surgery.

This is before we find out if that deep defensive line is ready to dominate the line of scrimmage. Basically, this is entirely way too early to be locking in predictions, so don't hold me to them if Edmunds breaks out and the defense looks great this spring and I bump the Hokies back up into the ten win range. But if the Hokies struggle to run the ball again and Thomas remains inaccurate, 8-4 might be right on the money.

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