Today we finish an in depth look at the Hokies 2017 Football season. Three of the last four games of the year are away and include arguably VT’s most important match up of the year.
@ No. 18 Miami-Florida Hurricanes: After Clemson this is the hardest game for the Hokies in the 2017 regular season. Looking at VT’s and Miami’s schedules this game will likely determine who will represent the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship game. The Hokies rolled Clemson from the Atlantic. Miami dodged that bullet but must play FSU in week three. Honestly, I think the Hokies have a better chance to win hosting Clemson than Miami does traveling to Florida State. The problem with this game is that it is quite the tie-breaker. The last few years the ACC Coastal has been a dog-fight between several teams through the waning weeks of the season. I do not believe this will be the case in 2017. The way I read the tea leaves indicates that, while there are teams that could take advantage if VT and Miami stumble, the Hokies and Hurricanes will rapidly rise to the top of the Coastal. Even if the Hokies show up to this game undefeated and Miami is carrying a loss to the Seminoles, if the Hurricanes beat the Hokies they will own a heads-up tiebreaker against VPI. More likely the Hokies and ‘Canes meet as single loss teams. This might not be the hardest game of their regular season, but this will be the most important game of the regular season for both squads. You can be sure that both teams have October 20th circled on their calendars.
The parallels between the Hokies and the Hurricanes are irritatingly similar. Both have second-year coaches and both lost their starting QBs. Both squads have one of the best defenses, not only in the ACC, but all the FBS. Both teams face their toughest game early in the season, so they can recover from an early loss. The answer for both the Hokies and Hurricanes rests significantly on how their offenses develop.
Miami has 15 starters returning, but as was stated above, there are some key holes in the offense. As far as individual units are concerned there seems to be more hope in what Miami has on offense. Phil Steele lists the Hurricanes with the No. 36 RB unit, the No. 22 WR unit, and the No. 14 OL. Interestingly Athlon doesn’t list any Miami units in the top 25. According to Steel the ‘Canes have edge on defense, but not everywhere. Steele lists the Miami DL at No. 4 (Hokies No. 26), LBs at No. 7 (Hokies No. 9), and DBs No. 31 (Hokies No. 3). Steele has Miami’s special teams at No. 15 and the Hokies just under at No. 18. Athlon ranks the Miami DL at No. 6 (VT No. 18) and LBs at No. 11 (VT No. 4).
This game is problematic for the Hokies. Right now, on paper, it seems like Miami has an edge. There are individual Hokie units that are better than Miami, but taken as an aggregate it seems as if Miami has more. Coach Fuente performed well in most big games this past season, but Coach Richt spent 14 years in the SEC in a highly pressurized situation. Richt won two SEC championships with the Georgia Bulldogs. Fuente is certainly one of the up and coming young coaches but coach Richt is experienced in the most competitive conference in college football, and arguably the most competitive and visible conference in all collegiate athletics.
Last year the Hokies dominated the Hurricanes in Blacksburg. VT showed they can beat Miami when they bring their best to the field. Many sports pundits believe that if Kaaya had stayed at Miami they would’ve started the season ranked in the top ten. Miami started last season 4-0 and then dropped 4 straight. Of the four games they lost three were determined by a single score or less, except for one – the game against the Virginia Tech Hokies. VT won 37-16. Much of the expectations of the 2017 season, for Miami, is based on potential and their dominating win over the then No. 16 WVU Mountaineers during the Russell Athletic Bowl. Since the end of the annual competition for the Black Diamond Trophy and the Hokies ownership of the Commonwealth Cup, Virginia Tech has been hungry for a rival. After joining the ACC only Miami has consistently provided a semblance of rivalry. This will be the ninth game of the season. At that point in the season the teams will be as good as they are going to be. If the Hokies develop and the offense steps up and the defense lives up to expectations this can be a victory for the Hokies. If they don’t, this game will be painful, because Miami will show up. Right now, ESPN’s match up predictor has the Hurricanes with a 76% chance to win. To put that in perspective ESPN’s match up predictor has Clemson with a 74.1% chance to win. Right now, in this moment, ESPN believes that the No. 5 team has less of a chance to win than Miami. This game will determine the Coastal. Can the Hokies win? Yes. But, right now the Hurricanes are in a better position to win, especially because it is going to be played in Coral Gables.
@ Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets: At the end of 2015 I predicted that Paul Johnson and the Jackets would return to form after the aberrant 2015 season. That proved to be true in 2016 when GT finished 9-3 in the regular season and defeated in state SEC rival Georgia. The Hokies lost to two ACC teams in the regular season. They lost to the 4-8 Syracuse Orange (2-6 ACC) and the 9-3 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-4 ACC). Worse, the Hokies lost to GT’s second string QB. VT was absolutely gouged in the rushing game. GT laid 309 yards down on the ground, only completed two whole passes… TWO… and still beat the Hokies… IN BLACKSBURG! On top of that the VPI offense was sloppy, losing four turnovers, while GT only turned the ball over once. Sloppy losses like this are what concerns me the most about VT. The Yellow Jackets defense should be stout. The entire secondary of GT is comprised of returning starters. The DL and LB corps both have leaders and starters returning. Since joining the ACC the Hokies have oscillated between success and failure against Johnson’s triple option. Barring significant injury, the 2017 Hokie defensive effort will be armed to find success. The offense cannot be sloppy with the ball. It is unrealistic to expect victory with four turnovers, and such actions puts undue pressure on the defense. After Miami, I see GT as the most dangerous team the Hokies must face in the Coastal. VT is equipped to win this game, but every year the Hokies show a penchant to lose match ups they should win. This game represents one of those matches to me. Over the last five years the Hokies and Jackets have consistently traded losses. This year it is supposed to be VT’s turn to win. They should win, but they should’ve won last year too.
Pittsburgh Panthers: Until the Panthers can answer the mail with, at least, an average defense it doesn’t matter what their offense does. Syracuse and Pittsburgh set the FBS record for yards in a game at the end of the 2016 season when Pitt won, 76-61. Both teams combined for 1,312 offensive yards. There are squads where that is half their season’s offensive output. Last year the Panthers were the only Power-5 team to score 28+ points in every game. Last year Pitt defeated the ACC and national champions (Clemson) and the Big-10 champions (PSU). The Panthers’ offense was fantastic last year, but two critical pieces are gone. QB Peterman and RB James Conner are off to the NFL while most of the receiving corps and offensive line return. There are serious questions on the d-line while the secondary and LB look like it may improve, which isn’t saying much since they were second to last in pass defense. The Hokies ended up in something of a shootout with Pitt last year. Peterman threw for 406 yards, but he is gone. Conner slashed the Hokies for 141 yards and three TDs, but he is gone. The biggest threats to the Hokies are gone. Former Pittsburg OC, Jim Chaney, left to fill the same role at UGA under Kirby Smart. The three biggest threats to VT are gone. Pitt was a very close game last year and Pitt was my “almost” team last year after what they showed against PSU and Clemson. 2017 is a different story. I expect the Hokies to handle Pitt much more definitively this season.
@ Virginia Cavaliers: This past July Bronco Mendenhall admitted that the situation in Charlottesville is worse than he realized, and that it will likely take several years of rebuilding to set things straight. Last year was something of an embarrassment for our friends down I-81. The Hoos managed two wins and barely avoided being completely defeated, in the ACC, with a singular win over Duke. Mendenhall has an established trend of success at BYU and the 2017 schedule is much friendlier than 2016 or 2015. UVA has been absolutely steamrolled by the Hokies in recruitment and losses to FCS teams like Richmond simply cannot become the norm if Bronco hopes to instill a culture of winning which might inspire potential recruits. The reality is that the Hoos have a mentality issue, which may be fixed this season, and a talent issue which won’t be answered this season. I believe the Cavaliers will improve this year and might be an outside bowl game contender if they can pull an upset or two. The Hokies will likely spit-roast UVA, like they did last year, win their 14th straight against the in-state rivals, and retain the Commonwealth Cup for another year. BUT, rivalry games are always dangerous and this away match could sneak up on the Hokies, especially if UVA shows up with some momentum or something (like a bowl berth) to fight for.
Based on things I have researched, read, and what my gut says I believe the Hokies will do relatively well. Coach Fuente is still reliant on recruits from before his time, particularly on offense. I do believe the Hokie faithful will need to temper their expectations for 2017. It will still be another year or two until Fuente truly has a team that he groomed and recruited from the ground up. Last year showed that, even with an influx of new coaching leadership, the Hokies are still susceptible to losing games they should win (Syracuse and GT). To be fair, the ability of the team to face and overcome adversity increased substantially later in the season (Notre Dame and Arkansas).
2017 is a tough season to gauge. There are only three matches the Hokies should be at risk to lose (WVU, Clemson, and Miami). One could make an argument for GT, but all four are games they can potentially win. Last year the Hokies won the Coastal and made a mighty showing in the ACC Championship game against the eventual national champions. In 2017 VT certainly has the potential to improve over 2016, but much of that revolves on whether or not the Hokie offense can pace what could be a top ten defense in the FBS. Until I see otherwise, during the season, I feel it appropriate to keep my expectations conservative. I think the Hokies are moving in the correct direction, but that improvement might be masked this year with a slight step back compared to 2016.
I anticipate VT to drop the games against Clemson and Miami. I think the Hokies stay within the Top 25 ranking mix all season. Regarding the regular season the Hokies end up losing at least one game they should win (possibly two), and finish the regular season at 9-3 or 8-4. Unfortunately I think VT will ultimately miss a consecutive appearance in the ACC Championship. The Hokies likely end up back at the Belk Bowl or head to the Russell Athletic Bowl against second-tier SEC foes. VPI will earn a nine or ten-win season and a final ranking in the mid-teens. Without surprise performances by the stake-holders on offense I feel like the ceiling of the 2017 squad is similar to that of the 2016 squad.
What are your thoughts on the 2017 season? Let us know in the comments and poll below!
How do you think Hokies football team performs in 2017?
This poll is closed
This assessment is dead on! Hokies go 9-3 or 8-4! Man am I glad your polls are back!
Bro, you underestimate the Hokies. They make it back to the ACC Championship game and get another ten win season. By the way... did you lose weight during the off season?
The Hokies will go undefeated, win the ACC, and end up in the CFB Playoffs.
The Hokies take a significant step back and will be fighting for bowl eligibility. Seven wins max.