I promised a guest post for my predictions for the Hokies in 2021. Folks, this is a difficult slog through a schedule that, as is typical for a mid-grade ACC program, isn’t anywhere near consistent enough to generate much of a clear picture in the old crystal football. Add to that there are some other weird pressures that are beginning to show themselves; and those have nothing at all to do with Virginia Tech, Justin Fuente, or even the bulk of the ACC programs.
Before I launch into my pre-season summary of 2021, it’s important for all of you to understand that in 4 seasons College football changes forever. The move of Texas and Oklahoma to the SEC in 2025 will be the major break in the old order dam and will result in a flood of realignments and changes to the entire FBS conference and affiliation structure. We are already seeing reports that the ACC, B1G, remnant BIG XII, and PAC12 are in talks for an alliance to compete with the SEC. (HERE, here, here, here, and more…)
When the related link pages of the direct story topic search nab several pages of links in a search engine, you know that the smoke has risen to the level of a major fire. Such alliances always morph into something more, and with the SEC looking very much like it’s about to make major changes to its concept of operations (meaning conversion to non-NCAA semi-professional programs) we are going to see some weeding out and resorting of major individual programs.
It’s looking very much like there will be a split between the Amateur NCAA based Collegiate Conferences and the Semi-pro/professional programs, along the lines of the Knight Commission report. That might not even be a forced move, it might actually evolve naturally. Though, even with a natural evolution, there will be some need of legal and contractual regulation to stabilize each entity.
That means it might be best to put all of the next few years of analytical articles and predictions into a special bag, labelled “biodegradable”. The organic changes that are taking place are going to reduce the Power 5 into the Power 4, and with a reshuffling of non-competing programs within that Power 4, we might end up with a Power 2, Group of 4, and Mid-MajorX to shake out. (Maybe one day, I’ll do that article, I have the spread sheet analysis for it.) So, looking ahead more than 4 years is largely futile. All of the calculus changes as the SEC drains the Big XII of money programs and leaves the remainder of that league searching for a new home.
Now on to the Hokies 2021 schedule (Part 1)
General Program Outlook and Health
The Hokies are in relatively decent shape as they roll into the 2021 season. There have been a few frustrating losses to the transfer portal and a very unfortunate legal situation that has dropped below the radar. The loss to medical retirement of Emmanuel Belmar is a major hit to the already struggling defensive line personnel situation. There are lots of inexperienced players who will have to step up big, and the dependence on transfers into the program will again be a critical factor this season. The linebacker situation is looking better with Dax Hollifield finally getting the opportunity to play at the Mike position where his physical capabilities are more appropriate. There is additional hope in the OLB positions as well. The defensive backs are experienced, and have lost very little traction from where they were last season. They will be more experienced and certainly have had much better training time due to the full practice schedule being in effect. The defense might have some fits and starts but it is looking healthy and well coached.
The offensive outlook is not as good as the defensive picture. Tech does have good players in key positions, though. The tight ends are top notch with returning James Mitchell and Joey Gallo, but the lack of offensive scheme for their use is still a serious deficit. The running back room is finally looking healthy and might actually develop some big play dominance if the offensive line can create the holes and creases necessary. The issue with the running game will, again, be scheme and play design which remains the major weakness for the Hokies for 2021. The Paxton Lynch/Tim Tebow huge QB primary runner good for at least 8 yards is not an effective offense in the long run, and its effects on the QB room have been obvious and concerning. The reality is that if Braxton Burmeister goes down to injury the season ends at that point. That’s not a good position to be in. Especially with solid wideouts and some good hands out of the backfield.
The Hokies need to protect their QB more, and use their running backs to actually do the job of running the ball. Burmeister needs to be allowed to riff, get out of the pocket and throw on the move. Tech needs to have a better three-dimensional approach to pass patterns and play development. The one read and run gimmick is old and predictable. Defenses figured out how to stop it by realizing that the pass patterns were 2 dimensional, and they could be covered easily with fewer players which allowed for the assignment of two players to stop both the running back and the quarterback from running the ball too far.
Now for the First Half of the Season
UNC vs. Virginia Tech – September 3rd, 6PM kick - Home
This was another of the boneheaded big game schedules to open the season, compounded by the opening being a big Conference and Division game that could very well determine the order of finish in the Coastal Division of the ACC. Objectively, this is stupid beyond any sort of rational scheduling belief. That makes the season opener, after a disappointing, destroyed 2020 COVID crippled campaign an absolute must win for the Hokies. UNC is projected to be the division winner by many analysts and any chance of us rising to Clemson pogy-bait status in the ACC championship exhibition is truly tiny if we lose.
UNC has taken some offensive hits since the loss of its two star running backs, and their receiver corps is relatively inexperienced. This is going to be on Sam Howell to drive their offense and over the last two seasons, he has definitely shown that he is capable of doing so. The UNC Defense is looking to be relatively par for last season.
So, Tech’s offense can score if the offensive line blocks, the running backs catch and gain yards, and Braxton Burmeister stays upright. Face it, our offense is six plays and a thousand reads and reactions. We have no intermediate passing game in either scheme or structure, and there has been little consistency other than the maddening tendency to follow up big plays with leaden dives. If Tech’s offense works, this game is probably a 55-45 percentage split in favor of UNC, at the moment. If Burmeister is healthy and can complete some key passes the odds might improve to 50-50. On an ominous note, it’s Orange Effect Day… If the past is prologue Fuente will be avoiding anything more than an orange arm band… the color is just bad luck for us.
Middle Tennessee State – September 11th 2PM kick - Home
Tech is not going to lose this one, unless something absolutely disastrous happened in the UNC game. The question is, does Tech struggle like it has in past seasons, with mid-major teams threatening hard, and the Hokies having to scramble to pull out a narrow win? We really won’t know until we see if the UNC game is a dog fight, win or lose, or a blowout loss (please, no, but all eyes are on ODU and a horrid evening in the not to distant past). Please let us not have those sorts of personnel problems. 70-30 Tech win for this one, but it really should be a confident 99-1.
University of West Virginia – September 18th TBA start – Away
West Virginia stunk over the last few seasons, but then we aren’t really doing much better. The BIG XII is disintegrating rapidly and will probably be carved up and farmed out to several conferences after 2025. The rumors are that the Mountaineers might actually finally make it into the ACC and a regular Black Diamond Trophy series be re-established. Frankly, I’m not minding that too much. WVA is probably a much better fit than Notre Dame. But ND will be forced to join a conference soon, and that’ll probably be the new semi-pro league that’s developing outside of the NCAA. We’ll see, but for this year the Mountaineers look like a peer program with about a 55-45 to 45-55 Tech odds ratio. Again, we really won’t know until we see the first two weeks of the season and look at what Tech has in the arsenal.
University of Richmond – September 25th – TBA start - Home
Wow, this is one pulled from the pages of what sort of bizarre “We got to have something, here” scheduling nightmare. Maybe they were picked because they were in state. At least William and Mary or JMU would be worth suiting up for a trip to the south stands. The odds of winning this are the usual 99-1 Tech but we’ve been living life near that 1% for so long you never really are sure of things.
Notre Dame – October 9th after a bye week and the game start is still up in the air – it’s Home…
Answer three questions: What’s their record? What’s our record? And Is Burmeister still healthy?
If the answer is: Undefeated, limp, and limp… we are screwed.
Tech can win this one. It’s really truly possible. But the odds are 35-65, and pulling it off would be a major cookie earning event. Losing it won’t a particularly negative happening. So, we’ll see. I still have to check to see if my section is going to be orange or maroon for the stripe the stadium gimmick.
Pitt – October 16th game is TBA… Gimmicks… Homecoming (Wasn’t this supposed to be Richmond, guys?) and Maroon Effect
The Pitt see-saw comes back to Lane to continue the nasty mid-tier rivalry between the two programs. They are the bane of Virginia Tech’s existence, and we just seem to have some sort of weird fold the tent and go home attitude about playing them. Right now, the Panthers are favored but just because Nardo hasn’t thrown enough tantrums to force Pittsburgh to push him out the door. I think they are entertained. We aren’t. Pitt is always a serious pain, and coming off of the Notre Dame Game there might not be enough left in the tank to make Nardo unhappy. This is a toss up game 50-50… and heavily depends on the shape that are in at the half way point.
(Next: we cover the last 6 games of the season. These are probably so speculative that I am really putting some serious faith in chance for the odds section.)