The 2017 College Football Season is only three weeks away! Over the next three days I will be discussing all the matchups the Hokies will face in the regular season and how I expect the Hokies to perform. Without further ado, let’s look at the first four games!
No. 20 West Virginia Mountaineers: WVU enters this game ranked just ahead of the Hokies in the USA Today Coaches Poll. On offense West Virginia technically only returns five starters, but that does not account for Florida Gator transfer QB, Will Grier. During his time starting for UF Grier looked solid, leading them to a 6-0 record. He went 106-161 (65.8%), 1,204 yards, and had a 10-3 TD-INT ratio before being suspended in 2015. Justin Crawford, the senior RB out of Columbus Georgia, racked up 1,184 yards on 163 attempts (7.3 YPC), but only four TDs. 540 of those yards (45.6%) came during two games when he gouged Oklahoma for 331 yards during WVU’s 28-56 loss and then two games later when he racked up 209 yards during a 24-21 win over Baylor. With the departure of All-American center Tyler Orlosky and senior left guard Adam Pankey there are questions on the offensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball WVU must replace their entire starting line-up on the d-line. Things get better with their LB corps where they return two starters. They have talent and leadership returning to the secondary with safety Dravon Askew-Henry coming back from an ACL injury.
For the Hokies, the biggest question marks are on the offense, particularly at QB where the Hokies lost starter Jerod Evans. There are also questions regarding the running game with the departure of Sam Rogers and an apparent step back by Travon McMillian. The Hokies do return an experienced WR in Cam Philips, but lost Bucky Hodges and Isaiah Ford to the NFL.
Bud Foster looks to have, not only one of the best DB units in the ACC, but in the country. Phil Steele has ranked VT as having the No. 3 DB unit in the country while Athlon gives the Hokies the nod as the No. 5 DB unit. Mr. Steele also recognizes the Fighting Gobblers’ LB corps as the No. 9 in the country while Athlon thinks a bit higher of them, ranking them at No. 4. The Mountaineers DB and LB corps don’t register with Athlon who only provided their thoughts on the top 25 units while Phil Steele gave their DBs No. 50 and LBs No. 30. He has the Hokies d-line at No. 26 while Athlon again shows more confidence at No. 18. The West Virginia d-line was a no show for Steele or Athlon. The Hokies offensive units did not crack Steele’s or Athlon’s top units. WVU’s RB unit is ranked No. 22 by Steele and No. 13 by Athlon. The other offensive West Virginia units that Steele recognized were ranked amongst the 50-somethings.
The inexperience and loss on the offensive side of the ball, by VT, lines up nicely with the obstacles WVU faces on defense. After seeing what Coach Fuente built on offense during his first year there is reason to believe that, even if the VT offense is not elite, it will at least be respectable. Bud Foster’s defense lost its normal elite form in 2015, but came back with vigor in 2016. The 2017 squad looks to be even more impressive and should be able to slow the Mountaineer offense more than the WVU defense will slow Fuente’s offense.
The previous regime struggled in opening games against ranked opponents and the Hokies have always seemed to stumble during neutral site games, though they did show up against Clemson during the ACC Championship game. Although the Mountaineers are ranked higher the Hokies look to be built better and performed at a high level in a more competitive conference last season. Virginia Tech struggled at a neutral site in 2016 (Battle at Bristol) and emotion may run high as a once bitter rivalry is reignited, but I believe Virginia Tech wins this matchup.
Delaware Blue Hens: Six days after the Hokies face the Mountaineers they will host the Blue Hens at Lane Stadium. As JMU showed the Hokies and Appalachian State showed Michigan, FBS teams simply cannot sleep on a motivated FCS squad. Regardless, barring some sort of ridiculous hangover from the WVU game the Hokies should cruise to an easy home opener victory.
@ East Carolina Pirates: The Hokies absolutely destroyed the Pirates last year and it felt really good. ECU gave the previous regime fits and upsets, regardless of how good or bad the ECU squad was on paper. Fuente and company seem to have put that situation to bed. Last year the Pirates leapt out to a 2-0 start including a victory over eventual ACC bowl team N.C. State. In their third game of the season they almost upset South Carolina and showed up to Blacksburg 2-1. Fuente and company provided something of a statement game against the Pirates when he handed them a 17-54 loss. This kicked off a rough stretch for ECU and they only managed to win one more game in 2016. Now the Hokies travel to Greenville, and East Carolina looks to improve after their worst season in 12 years. The Pirates and their pass-happy offense do have the ability to strike quickly, which they showed with passing TDs of 75 yards and 70 yards against VT in 2016. Interestingly ECU will face a tough away game against WVU the week prior to Virginia Tech. There is potency on the offense, but serious problems on defense. Last year the Pirates allowed opponents to score 30 or more points nine times. In five of those games opponents scored 45 or more points. I expect East Carolina to improve from last year, but the Hokies should still be able to overwhelm them in every facet of the game.
Old Dominion Monarchs: I see the game against ODU as a serious trap game for the Hokies. VT’s very next match up is the ACC Championship re-match against the reigning national champions. The Monarchs made a massive leap in their performance during 2016. They were one game shy of making the Conference USA championship game, which eventually went to Western Kentucky. Incidentally the only conference game ODU lost last year was against WKU. Old Dominion went 10-3 last year and earned the programs first bowl appearance and bowl win when they defeated Eastern Michigan, 24-20, during the Bahamas Bowl. The Monarchs are returning fifteen starters and they are nicely distributed among the offense and defense. There is experience and talent returning to the defensive line and secondary. The LB corps will be their biggest question mark as they must replace everyone, but the head coach, Bobby Wilder, credits the defensive line as the foundation for the Monarchs’ significant improvement in 2016. ODU does have a QB battle on their hands, but whoever ends up leading the offense will have the support of a solid offensive line, RB corps, and WR corps. Old Dominion has yet to defeat a Power-5 conference team and by all accounts the Hokies are bigger and more talented than ODU. Virginia Tech should have no problem defeating ODU at home in Blacksburg. But, the Monarchs are dangerous, they are driven, and if the Hokies get caught looking ahead to Clemson they may find themselves in for more of a fight than they anticipated. I do see this as a trap game, but VPI should face Clemson at 4-0.
Stand by for part two of my 2017 season preview, posting tomorrow morning!