Tag Archives: georgia tech yellow jackets

Not the “Same old Hoos” – Virginia is Going Bowling!

There were enough mistakes on Saturday for Virginia to fulfill the lowly expectations of many fans for the rest of the 2017 season –  a blocked punt, dropped passes across the receiving corps, missed tackles that resulted in long gains. The first two plays of the second half resulted in Georgia Tech touchdowns. For those keeping score at home that was less than a minute off the game clock and a narrow one-point GT lead ballooned to a 15 point margin and the rout was on. Except it wasn’t.

Playing Georgia Tech is always a challenge. They play a different brand of football. They run on first down. They run on 3rd and long. They go for it on 4th down. Their blocking schemes are unique and their athletes are drilled in the nuances of GT football. So when the Yellow Jackets burst out to a big lead, it is not unusual for their opponents to collapse. As noted last week, teams don’t make defensive adjustments at halftime that stymie Georgia Tech. Either you break the code to stop the Jackets in the week leading up the game…or you don’t. There isn’t a lot of middle ground. Virginia looked like they could hang with Georgia Tech, but Virginia can never afford big mistakes. This is especially true against G-Tech who can grind games away with clock-eating drives. Virginia’s early mistakes looked like they would break their back.

When Georgia Tech broke the game open early in the second half, the hearty Virginia fans that braved the Charlottesville downpours could not have been blamed for heading for the exits – to dry tailgate tents and warm rides home.

A funny thing happened in Charlottesville on Saturday. While the crowd was thin due to the horrid weather and tepid team performances of the past two weeks, the fans in the stadium remained and a Virginia team that was expected to accelerate the rush to the exits, instead stormed back and sent the Engineers back to Atlanta with a stinging loss.

Tepid might be a kind description of Virginia’s performances against Boston College and Pittsburgh the past two weeks. Disheartening might be a bit more accurate. However, even in those losses, there was not the expected fatalistic sense of doom throughout the game. There was not the disorganized chaos that has marked Virginia football the past decade. Even in those disappointing losses, Virginia never rolled the tents, like they had in years past.

So when Virginia looked like they had thrown the game away in the first 2 plays of the second half against Georgia Tech, it would have been easy for Virginia fans to begin the groaning festival, reminiscing about the horrors of being a Virginia fan. But this team is not Virginia-business-as-usual. They don’t get rattled like Mike London’s Virginia teams. Instead, the guys that made big mistakes in the first half suddenly made big plays to win the game.

Lester Coleman, after a blocked punt and a touchback-punt that netted less than 20 yards in the fist half punted like an All-American. He flipped the field on Georgia Tech with a monster 60-yard punt on a soggy day when punting was a nightmare. Later, he pinned GT inside the 5 yard line that led to a safety and then again inside the 10. Andre Lavrone, Doni Dowling, and Olamide Zaccheous made fantastic catches after ugly drops early in the game. Kurt Benkert threw pinpoint touchdown passes in traffic after one of the season’s ugliest pick-sixes.

I know this goes against the grain for a program that has not been bowling since 2011, but it is time for the Virginia program – players, coaches, and fans to get greedy. Making a bowl game is great, and I am so happy for the players, especially the seniors who have slogged their way back to respectability. It’s time to move beyond respectable to pretty darned good.

Virginia was a 9.5 point dog to Georgia Tech and a 13.5 point dog to Boise State. The Wahoos have opened as a 9 point underdog to Louisville. I don’t think Vegas knows what to do with Virginia this year. I’m not a betting guy, but take the Wahoos and the points. Lamar Jackson is a fantastic talent and Louisville is hungry for a win after a subpar year. However, unlike too many prior seasons, I just wouldn’t bet a against this team. If they look sloppy in the first half or make a couple of big mistakes to go down to Louisville early, don’t change the channel, don’t go work in the yard. I know what “same-old-Hoos” looks like. These aren’t the same old ‘Hoos.

An Unlikely Virginia Football Contrarian…

I was out of town this weekend when kickoff for the Virginia/Pitt game rolled around. The bartender was either unwilling or unable to find RSN. There was no doubt in my mind that my fellow bar patrons included few UVa fans, so I am not sure if the failure to locate the game was due to a lack of coverage in the area or by design to keep the bar filled and happy.

Frankly, I am not sure it matters. I read the articles and studied the box score. Another convincing Virginia loss. The second in a row as Virginia remains one win shy of bowl eligibility. If I was going to completely miss a game, this was probably a good one. The anatomy of the loss – the shortcomings of the offensive line, a high school caliber field goal kicking game, and squandered opportunities inside the Pitt 40 yard line are not the biggest challenges for the program right now.

I think the biggest problem for the program is that fans are perilously close to or have already thrown in the towel on the season and some on the football program at large. I got several texts during the game, while I was out for a hike in the Virginia mountains, that predicted a 5-7 season and another bowl season without Virginia as a participant. They were done, waiting for basketball season.

It is hard to blame them. Virginia has been consistently pretty bad over the past 10 years. Al Groh and Mike London each had flashes success during their tenures, but ultimately both were major players in the disintegration of the Virginia football program. Bronco’s first season at 2-10 didn’t do much to repair the damage. Fans are justified in their short fuse.

I understand the sentiments of those who have seen enough. Virginia athletics has a long and storied history of leaving its fans at the alter, especially in the “money sports” of football and basketball. While Virginia has built itself into a national player on the basketball scene, there is no doubt that recent teams had final 4 potential, yet have fallen short of basketball nirvana. Football has been a train wreck since George Welsh was prematurely pushed aside. I get it, for many it’s time to move on.

I’m not there yet. While the playing margin for error for Virginia football is razor thin and the tolerance for injuries among the starters is even thinner, I think there is another win in this team and a bowl game on the horizon. I’d love to cite a mountain of stats that back up my position, but they aren’t there. In fact, the stats clearly support the opposite position. If I were at the blackjack table in Vegas, I’d be the hated player going with his “gut” hitting a “15” while the dealer shows “6”.

I think that Quinn Blanding and Micah Kizer will rally this team for one more win this season. As it sinks in on the rest of the team that these warriors may go their entire college career without a bowl appearance, I think the rest of the team will dig deep and find a way to pull off a major upset victory.

Virginia will be the betting dog the rest of the season. The Wahoos opened as an 8.5 point dog to Georgia Tech, which will likely be the smallest spread we see the rest of the way.

In past seasons, undermanned Virginia teams have stymied the maddening triple option to upset the Jackets in Charlottesville. I think it is possible again this Saturday, but I think the options this week are polar opposites. Virginia will either eek out a close victory or get blowout by 25 points or more. If it is close, Virginia can will its way to victory. If the roof starts leaking early and Virginia struggles in the first half, it will get ugly in a hurry. The triple option is not a riddle you solve at halftime. It is a puzzle you unravel the week before the game.

Let’s hope for a good week of practice and a sharp performance on Saturday, otherwise I’m the guy that took the dealer’s bust card. You’re welcome.

How Many Games Will the SEC Lose This Weekend?

The SEC has plenty of all-but-guaranteed wins in the first week of the 2017 college football season. But, the SEC also has multiple games that are toss-ups and some that look like likely losses.

As a lover of all things SEC football, I’ve been contemplating what kind of record the SEC will emerge from this opening weekend of games with.

Last year, the ACC proved to be stronger than many anticipated (even though I made an early call on that one). But with three at least decent ACC opponents scheduled for SEC teams this first weekend, should the SEC be worried?

There’s also that Michigan-Florida rematch from about a year and a half ago when the Wolverines annihilated the Gators in the Citrus Bowl. Should we go ahead and give this one to Michigan, too?

What about Texas A&M and UCLA? Aggies Head Coach Kevin Sumlin is undoubtedly on the hot seat this season. Will he be able to get his second-straight win over the Bruins and ease the pressure down in College Station a bit?

Unfortunately, I am not Brandon Stark and I do not have “the sight.” I cannot give you a completely confident answer for any of those questions I just posed. I can, however, give you a few game predictions along with my reasoning for my picks.

The NC State Wolfpack and South Carolina Gamecocks face off on Saturday at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC. This game poses an interesting offense-defense matchup for the teams. NC State has a powerful defensive line but will be lacking in the secondary. South Carolina may be lacking on the offensive line, but boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the SEC this season in Jake Bentley. ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI) gives NC State a 62.7% chance of winning this game. After seeing how the ACC fared last season and considering the intriguing matchup, I give a slight edge to the Wolfpack here as well. Regardless of the outcome, I expect this to be a close contest.

The Florida State Seminoles and Alabama Crimson Tide also face off in an ACC-SEC matchup on Saturday in Atlanta’s new Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I’ll never be one to bet against Nick Saban and Alabama, but if I were going to bet against him, I would be considering this game. ESPN’s FPI may give the Tide a 59%-41% advantage over the Seminoles, but the computers don’t know everything. Alabama returns numerous important pieces of its puzzle, and so does Florida State. Florida State seems to have the advantage on offense while Alabama has the defensive advantage. At the end of the day, this will probably come down to coaching. And in that scenario, I’ll take Nick Saban.

The Tennessee Volunteers play another ACC opponent next Monday, when they also visit Mercedes-Benz Stadium to face off against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. A few weeks ago, I would’ve said Tennessee was likely in trouble in this game. After the Yellow Jackets dismissed top returning running back Dedrick Mills from the team, Tennessee’s chances to win this game surged. After a rough 2016 season defensively, the Vols might have had trouble defending such a dynamic offense. But the loss of Mills will be insurmountable for the Yellow Jackets at this point in the season, giving Tennessee a good shot at winning this game. And for what it’s worth, ESPN’s FPI also gives the Vols a good shot here with a 68.1%-31.9% advantage.

The Michigan Wolverines take on The Florida Gators on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Due to a 41-7 Michigan win over Florida in the Citrus Bowl the concluded the teams’ 2015 seasons, there is doubt that Florida can even put up a good fight. Michigan returns almost nobody noteworthy from that 2015 team. So, I find that bowl victory to be irrelevant. Florida returns multiple starters, boasts a very talented receiving corps, and has very capable young defensive players to fill gaps left by last year’s departures. Michigan returns talent and has young players stepping up as well, make no mistake. But because of Florida Coach Jim McElwain, I’m leaning toward the Gators for this huge matchup. ESPN’s FPI isn’t any help here, being a near-toss-up at Michigan 50.5%, Florida 49.5%.

The Texas A&M Aggies travel to Pasadena, CA, this weekend to take on the UCLA Bruins. Last season, these two teams kicked off the season in College Station, TX, with an overtime thriller. The Aggies finished the 2016 regular season at 8-4 while the Bruins finished at 4-8. The Aggies lost countless starters, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Their season is as unpredictable as ever under Head Coach Kevin Sumlin. The Bruins finished 4-8 last season, only winning one game after losing starting QB Josh Rosen to a season-ending injury. With Rosen back, the Bruins could be poised to bounce back with a vengeance this season. Because of Rosen and Texas A&M’s departures, I have to give the edge to UCLA here. ESPN’s FPI will back me up on this one, giving the Bruins a 68.4% chance of winning this game.

The question I posed remains. How many losses will the SEC endure in its first week of play this season? If you go by my answers here, it’s only two. But with a couple of my SEC wins being close calls, I wouldn’t be surprised to see three or four losses from the SEC this weekend.

Comment on this story in our free forum.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Will ACC Football Continue Its Roll After Last Season?

Will ACC football do it again? I could answer this question in a couple sentences, but that wouldn’t be any fun for anyone.

ACC football was on a roll at the end of the year last year, with ACC teams winning the overwhelming majority of the bowl games in which they played. Not to mention, Clemson eventually won the National Championship Game.

With a new season less than a few weeks away, now is definitely the time to ponder whether the ACC can (and will) do it again. For me, it depends on what exactly “it” is. If the ACC must win the title and win the same number of bowl games, I just don’t see that happening again. If the ACC simply must have a playoff participant and win most of its bowl games, then maybe “it” can be done.

The playoff participant I’d expect to emerge from the ACC this season would not be the Clemson Tigers, though. If anything, I expect the Florida State Seminoles to earn a spot in the College Football Playoffs this postseason and be the ACC team mostly likely to win the title. Vegas says I’m not alone in this expectation.

Florida State may have lost running back Dalvin Cook, but it looks ready to reload and move forward this season. Cam Akers is expected to pick up where Cook left off, so Seminole fans need not worry about that loss. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Deondre Francois also has an entire season of experience now, which should help him better lead the Florida State offense. The Seminole defense returns countless starters and will have Derwin James back this season (if he can stay healthy). This combination of offensive and defensive power is what makes Vegas (and me) hot on Florida State this year.

On the other hand, Clemson is in for a rebuilding year after losing its dual-threat quarterback Deshaun Watson to the NFL. The Tigers lost multiple other starters that leave a few big holes on both sides of the ball. Two major departures that come to mind are Ben Boulware (defense) and Mike Williams (offense). Clemson fans might place their confidence in Dorian O’Daniel and Hunter Renfrow to step up to replace those two, but I don’t have that same confidence—yet.

As far as the non-conference games during the season and the bowl games during the postseason go, there are countless other ACC football teams that look ready to take on formidable opponents. I’ll be brief, but here are a few teams worth giving some attention.

Virginia Tech had a great first season under one of my favorite head coaches, Justin Fuente. If the Hokies can improve their ball security, they may even finish above that 9-3 mark from last season.

Miami had a solid season under Mark Richt as well. Hurricane fans remain confident as ever, but I’m not entirely sure what to make of this team now that quarterback Brad Kaaya is gone. He may not have been elite, but he was an important part of Richt’s offense.

Louisville was flying high behind Heisman trophy winner Lamar Jackson early last season, but fell from grace by the end of the year. After watching that collapse, the Cardinals are another team that I really don’t know what to think about yet.

Georgia Tech had an interesting season last year, finishing 8-4 in the regular season and beating two SEC teams during that time. The Yellow Jackets beat the Vanderbilt Commodores and the in-state rival Georgia Bulldogs during the regular season. Georgia Tech also went on to beat Kentucky in its bowl game. This season, Georgia Tech gets a chance to prove itself early against another SEC foe—the Tennessee Volunteers. Let it be known right now that I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Yellow Jackets take down the Vols in this season opener.

The Pittsburgh Panthers, North Carolina Tar Heels, and NC State Wolfpack are a few other teams to keep on the radar in the ACC this season.

To wrap things up I’m also going to give you my prediction for the end-of-year standings in the ACC.

ACC Atlantic Division:
  1. Florida State
  2. Clemson
  3. Louisville
  4. NC State
  5. Syracuse
  6. Wake Forest
  7. Boston College
ACC Coastal Division:
  1. Virginia Tech
  2. Miami
  3. Georgia Tech
  4. Pittsburgh
  5. North Carolina
  6. Duke
  7. Virginia

With those being my standings, I would expect Florida State to beat Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game and secure a spot in the College Football Playoffs.

While the ACC may not be quite as good as last year, I do still expect a championship contender from the conference and a strong record in non-conference games.

 You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @KristenBotica.

Featured photo courtesy of Ashley Romanosky.

Ramblin’ Around the SEC, Something’s Burning

Occasionally, I do a column on my personal website which I call Ramblin’. It’s a stream of consciousness, word association, hodge-podge type of thing on which I bemuse on any number of subjects. Today, we’re going to ramble around the SEC a bit. This one will be more organized and structured but it is ramblin’ nonetheless.

One topic of discussion that tends to circulate throughout college football, in the off-season, concerns coaches who are on the hot seat. Some of those coaches’ fannies are truly scorching, for others it’s just a matter of speculation on the part of the media and fans.

Here is my take on the SEC coaches who appear to be feeling the most heat, in no particular order.

Gus Malzahn

I’ll start with Gus because I’m an Auburn guy and his situation is, obviously, the most important to me. I do not believe Gus’ hiney is as hot as many might think. Now. But, if Auburn loses 4 or 5 games it probably will be; however, I don’t think that will be the case. The Tigers appear to me as the second best team in the conference and their record should, ultimately, reflect that.

Kevin Sumlin

 A similar situation to Malzahn. A&M needs to have a big year. Sumlin needs to break the pattern of winning his first 5 or 6 games and then crashing and burning in the second half of the season. The Aggies’ boss definitely needs to take care of business or climb down off of the porcelain throne.

Hugh Freeze

 Whether the Ole Miss powers-that-be or their fans like it or not, his rump is hot. How can it not be? Regardless of the Rebels’ on-the-field performance, their NCAA situation screams for someone to take the fall in Oxford. In the end, doesn’t that fall on the head coach?

Butch Jones

 In spite of being “Champions of Life” and having “Five Star Hearts”, the Tennessee Volunteers need to win a lot of football games. Talk is, indeed, cheap, especially when the product on the field consistently fails to meet expectations.

Bret Bielema, are you listening?

Onward to some talk about some actual football games. SEC Media Days is just around the corner, July 10-13, and polls will then begin to pop up everywhere. Speculation will be like wildfires spreading across the nation. And here in the Southland is where things seem to always burn with the greatest intensity.

Yeah! Let’s keep on with that hot theme!

Here are the ‘smokinest’ games in the SEC on opening weekend. Again, in no particular order.

Florida vs. Michigan

 Both teams will be ranked (Yes, I think Florida should and will be ranked). SEC vs. Big Ten. Gators and Wolverines. Jim vs. Jim. The flamboyant Harbaugh and the steady McElwain. Jerry World.

Alabama vs. Florida State

 The biggest one of the weekend. Two top five teams, at minimum. The ACC and the SEC. The Tide and the Noles. Hotlanta, GA. First college game at Mercedes-Benz stadium. Playoff preview?

Texas A&M vs. UCLA

 Two coaches on the hot seat. Huge for both teams. Rose Bowl. Bruins house. Prime Time. Sunday! Sunday! SUN-DAY!!! Be there!

Tennessee vs. Georgia Tech

Rocky Top and Ramblin’ Wreck. Great jump-start for someone. Mercedes-Benz, again. Hotlanta Deux. Jones and Johnson.

Disparate styles. A shootout?

Missouri vs. Missouri State

Just messin’ with ya!

And now, we might as well conclude with more hot topics or burning questions.

Will Alabama keep its playoff streak alive? Will Ole Miss be sanctioned into certain, long term mediocrity? Will Georgia win the East for the first time in five years? Will Coach “O” deliver? Will Vanderbilt go bowling again? Does anybody care? Will Muschamp?

All of this and more… later!

Bowl Season’s Biggest Winner: ACC Football

If you’ve read my articles here before, then you know I am admittedly a huge SEC homer. I was raised on SEC football and would not feel the way I do about the sport of football as a whole if it weren’t for the SEC.

Last year, the SEC did pretty well overall in bowl play. I would’ve given them props for that. In fact, I probably did. This year, it was a mixed bag for the conference I love.

But, there was a conference that really did shine in the most unimportant games of the season. That conference, to most people’s surprise, was the ACC.

Earlier this year I wrote an article trying to tell people to show ACC football some respect. After all, you don’t have to like the ACC to respect it. And now those of you that did read that article back then will see that sometimes I’m right. (I’m also wrong sometimes, too.)

But instead of just bragging about being right about that call, I will walk you through exactly how the ACC proved that I was right this bowl season. As I said above, bowl games are largely unimportant. That being said, they do come with bragging rights for the teams and conferences that fare well.

So, here’s to the ACC. Enjoy your bragging rights for the next eight months, and we’ll see what happens next year.

The ACC did take 3 L’s in bowl play. One of those really wasn’t that bad, in my opinion. But Louisville’s (vs. LSU) loss and Pittsburgh’s (vs. Northwestern) loss were both inexcusable. In a somewhat comical manner, I did manage to call the outcome of that LSU game on Twitter though. #SorryNotSorry

Let’s face it: Lamar Jackson had to carry Louisville this season, and if he was shut down then the team was hopeless. LSU shut him down and the Cardinals were hopeless.

And as for Pitt, I really didn’t see that loss coming. I guess that’s what happens when you cough up the ball four times. Northwestern wasn’t bad this year, but it also wasn’t good. Even with four turnovers, I’m still surprised Pitt dropped this game.

The other ACC bowl loss, the one that I don’t think was all that bad, was North Carolina’s loss to Stanford. North Carolina had some great moments this season, including victories over both Miami and Florida State. The Stanford Cardinal had a more solid season overall so I wouldn’t have expected a win from North Carolina in this one. Keeping the game as close as the Tar Heels did was actually pretty impressive. Here’s to moral victories!

Now, let’s discuss the ACC’s wins. And as I write this, there are eight of them. There could potentially be nine after the College Football Championship game. But I won’t get into that. My SEC bias might start showing again.

Boston College beat Maryland. But who really cares? Maryland is only recognizable in the college football world because of its hideous uniforms. Not to mention, Maryland left the ACC. The joke’s on them now.

Going into the bowl game with Wake Forest, Temple had actually put together a pretty good season. The Owls finished out the season with a convincing win over Navy, which was actually doing pretty well this year. The Demon Deacons jumped out to an early lead over the Owls and managed to hold onto that lead for the remainder of the game. They also had cool shiny helmets, so that’s a win too.

I never thought I would say beating Kentucky in football is a good win, but I’m saying it now. Georgia Tech’s win over Kentucky may not be as impressive as the win over Georgia during rivalry week. But now the Yellow Jackets are on a roll against the SEC East, having won their last three games against teams in the division. As we all know, the SEC East is not exactly full of formidable opponents. It’ll be interesting to see how the Yellow Jackets fare against one of the SEC East’s better teams, the Tennessee Volunteers.

Speaking of SEC East opponents that aren’t formidable, N.C. State dominated Vanderbilt in a game that was never close. N.C. State wasn’t exactly impressive during regular season play either but it did finish the season on a high note with a big rivalry win over North Carolina on the road. With that win and this dominant performance against Vanderbilt, it seems that the Wolfpack may be gaining momentum.

Arkansas may not be in the SEC East, but the ACC did notch another win over the SEC as a whole when Virginia Tech topped Arkansas in comeback fashion. Arkansas has always been confusing under Bret Bielema, and you never know what to expect from the team. Virginia Tech under Justin Fuente has been incredibly impressive, and the win over Arkansas just solidified that.

I don’t like West Virginia and I never have, but watching Miami get a relatively easy victory over the Mountaineers wasn’t any fun for me as a Gator fan. Mark Richt has done pretty well in his first season with the Hurricanes, and topping that off with a bowl win over a ranked opponent was a great sign for Miami fans. Maybe they’ll finally be able to forget the dark days of Al Golden.

Floridians can be proud of the college teams in their state because Florida State also managed to get an impressive win over Michigan. Michigan was supposedly a playoff contender but after an embarrassing first half in this game, Florida State made the Wolverines look like pretenders. As much as I may dislike both teams, I have to admit that this was a great win for the Seminoles and for the ACC.

Last but not least, there’s Clemson’s College Football Playoff beatdown of Ohio State. This was a glorious moment for me as an Ohio State/Urban Meyer hater. The one team from the Big Ten that did make it to the Playoff wasn’t even able to score a single point against Clemson. Talk about pretenders! I truly have a huge smile on my face as I write this. Clemson absolutely destroyed Ohio State, just showing the rest of us how overrated the Buckeyes (and the Big Ten teams) were this season.

Here it is: Yes, the ACC had a couple bad losses and one loss that was a moral victory so to speak. Still, the ACC had numerous good wins and a few great wins this bowl season. Like I said before, maybe it’s time to finally give credit where credit is due.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo courtesy of Ken Lund.

Comment on this and every article by becoming a Campus Pressbox Insider.

Hokies’ Justin Fuente Proved He Was Last Year’s Best Hire

Now that the season is over, I can confidently say that Justin Fuente is my pick for best head coaching hire after last season. The Virginia Tech Hokies have become (somewhat) relevant this season and that isn’t just a fluke.

The Hokies finished the regular season at 9-3, winning the ACC Coastal Division. Granted, winning the ACC Coastal is about the equivalent of winning the SEC East these days. But I’ll get to my SEC East comparison. Virginia Tech then went on to lose in a pretty close game to Clemson at the ACC Championship in Orlando.

Virginia Tech beat UNC, Miami, Pitt, Duke, Notre Dame and a few other opponents. Who did it lose to? Virginia Tech’s three regular season losses were to Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. Syracuse is the least excusable loss of the three. And you can blame the Tennessee and Georgia Tech losses almost entirely on turnovers.

In fact, I was at that Tennessee game. I remember just how sloppy it was. Virginia Tech outgained Tennessee by 70 yards, had the ball for two and a half minutes longer and had five more first downs than Tennessee did. But because of the Hokies’ five turnovers (and the Vols’ one), they fell to Tennessee in what turned out to be a bit of a rout.

Virginia Tech outgained Georgia Tech by almost 100 yards and had ten more first downs than the Yellow Jackets did. But Virginia Tech lost by ten points after giving up four turnovers. Georgia Tech only gave up one.

The Syracuse game is a bit of a different story. The Hokies only had one more turnover than the Orange did. But Syracuse quarterback channeled his inner Lamar Jackson and had 311 yards passing as well as 106 yards on the ground.

Aside from these three hiccups, the Hokies really did have a great season under first-year head coach Justin Fuente. Transfer quarterback Jerod Evans may not have been a Cam Newton, but he did what Fuente needed him to do. He racked up over 3,000 passing yards and also led the team in rushing yards.

Compare this to last season when Virginia Tech finished in a tie with Duke for fourth place in the ACC Coastal and you’ll see why I’m impressed. The Hokies, in one year, went from being 4-4 in conference play and unranked to being 6-2 in conference play and ranked somewhere in the Top 25 depending on which rankings you look at.

Just like it was miraculous for Jim McElwain to take the Florida Gators from 4-4 in the SEC to 7-1 last season, it was nearly miraculous for Fuente to do what he did with the Hokies this season. And just like I was anxious to see what McElwain would do this season, I’m very anxious to see what Fuente could do next season.

Now, I know he won’t be the national coach of the year. Some other coaches had even more success this season on a national level. But Fuente’s ACC Coach of the Year honor is well deserved. And of course I think calling him the best first-year head coach for a program is equally well deserved. Heck, I almost wish Florida had held out another year so we could have gotten Fuente instead.

What Fuente did for the Memphis Tigers football program in his four years there was incredible. And it seems like he’s on track to make equally incredible strides with his Hokies.

So here’s to you, Justin Fuente. You may not have the same name recognition as some of these other coaches, but you are truly a coach to keep our eyes on over the next few years. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see you repeat as division champions, just like McElwain did in the SEC East. In fact, I may even be rooting for you to join that club.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo: Kristen Botica

Getting It Mostly Right, Unfortunately


In a new twist to keep myself entertained during a 2-9 season, I wrote this “game summary” at 9:00 Saturday morning, 3 hours before kickoff. I was hoping I would be dreadfully off base in my musings. However as I wrote this I had visions of Matt Johns overthrown passes going for picks. Visions of 2015 danced in my head. For the first half it looked like I was going to be dead wrong. Then we played the second half and I got this one more right that I had hoped:

While I don’t think any Virginia fans expected the ‘Hoos to be 9-2 eleven games into the 2016 season, I don’t think many expected 2-9 either. If this is the process of getting back to football respectability, at least we have 1 year under our belts and can look forward to improvement in 2017. George Welsh was 2-9 in his first season at Virginia as well, so at least we have that going for us…which is nice.

Listening to the team, especially the seniors, speak about the season that is about to conclude, you would never imagine that the won/loss record was so abysmal. The chatter is optimistic. It is about winning. It is brimming with enthusiasm. Unfortunately, when you have a young defense that has sustained more than its share of injuries going up against the triple-option of Georgia Tech, execution is more important than enthusiasm. Virginia learned that lesson in a big way on Saturday in Atlanta. Hopefully Saturday’s loss will help them when the Jackets visit Scott Stadium next year.

Ga Tech’s unique offense always carries with it the advantage of style. Very few teams run the triple option and defensive coordinators struggle at times to alter their schemes for the “one off” game against the Jackets.While not dominant, the Georgia Tech offense was “effective enough” and most importantly, effective when it had to be. Virginia continued its trend of giving up big plays at inopportune times. Usually following tackles for loss or in 3rd and long situations. Georgia Tech’s triple option was good enough when it had to be and Virginia had no answer on ether side of the ball.

In true Virginia fashion, even the upside of Virginia’s game against Ga Tech has a downside. While I think most if not all Virginia fans think the world of Matt Johns and were glad to see him have solid game in a return his role as Virginia’s starting QB, the fact that he was back leading the Virginia offense did not speak well of the performance to date of Kurt Benkert, Virginia’s opening day quarterback.

I was glad to see Johns running the show again. By all accounts he is a great kid an outstanding leader with a bright future ahead of him. His penchant for picks at just the wrong moments however, is the reason his future prospects do not include holding a clipboard on the sidelines on Sunday afternoons. At this point in a 2-9 season, that is beside the point. Johns helped keep Virginia in the game for a half and made the ‘Hoos competitive in the battle for boxscore stats. Well done Matt, Virginia fans sincerely wish you great success next week and beyond.

If Virginia football collectively won the Power Ball lottery, I bet it would forget to pay its taxes and end up in jail. It seems that no matter what happens to Virginia football that on the surface, appears to be good, it ends up being bad. Once again, Virginia failed to convert opponent miscues and Virginia accomplishments into points on the scoreboard. When really good teams are presented with opportunities to crush their opponents, they get it done. Virginia failed to capitalize on several opportunities both presented and earned throughout the game.

For what seems like every game this season, Virginia showed it could hang with their opponent, for about a half. Virginia has been in most every game this season (Oregon excepted) up to halftime and some times beyond. I am not sure if this is a depth issue, a lack of confidence, or just providence (see last year’s column) but Virginia just cannot close. Turnovers have been a problem all year and have contributed mightily to Virginia’s tribulations. If the Virginia team were a salesman in Glen Gary, Glen Ross, we certainly would not be in the running for the new Cadillac or the set of steak knives.

Next week Virginia gets on more shot. One more chance to close the deal. It would seem that just once this year the ball might bounce our way, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

 

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Coastal Division Is Worse for ACC Football than East Is for SEC Football

One thing I always seem to hear from those who don’t support the SEC the way I do is “Well, the East is garbage.” Garbage? With two teams still in the top 25, I wouldn’t call the SEC East garbage. The SEC West may be better, but the SEC East isn’t that bad. If you want to know about garbage, look no further than the Coastal Division of ACC football. Not only is the Coastal Division worse than the Atlantic, it also isn’t much good compared with any other division out there.

I wrote an article earlier this season about ACC football finally deserving some respect. Now, I want to amend my statement. The ACC Atlantic Division still deserves respect, but the Coastal Division has quickly fallen from grace.

Of course, the three main teams that have been carrying ACC football this season are Clemson, Louisville and, at times,  Florida State. But you know what those three teams have in common? They’re all part of the Atlantic Division.

You see, the Atlantic Division is home to the number #4 Tigers, the #7 Cardinals and the number #13 Seminoles. The Coastal Division’s highest-ranked team, on the other hand, is the #22 Tar Heels.

While the Miami Hurricanes and the Virginia Tech Hokies may have looked good a few weeks ago, neither team is impressing anyone now. So when I say that the Coastal Division is garbage, I mean it. Yes, they’re closer to garbage than the SEC East is. If I were the Atlantic Division of ACC Football, I would definitely want to disown them.

North Carolina, the best part of the division, is 5-2 so far this season. One of those losses was to the Georgia Bulldogs and one was to division opponent Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels did manage to get a win at Florida State, though, and this is likely why they’re still in the top 25. How long the Tar Heels will remain in the top 25 depends on the rest of the country’s teams. At this point there are no more impressive opponents left on the schedule for the Tar Heels, so anything but wins will not be acceptable.

As I said, one of North Carolina’s losses was to the Virginia Tech Hokies, who were briefly in the top 25. After a two-touchdown loss to Syracuse, the Hokies are no longer part of that club. The most difficult teams remaining on the Hokies’ schedule are the Miami Hurricanes and Notre Dame. Unfortunately, the Fighting Irish have proven to not have all that much fight in them this season. The Miami Hurricanes may be better than they were last year, but “The U” is still not back.

Let’s talk about those Hurricanes, though. In their first season under Mark Richt, the Hurricanes got off to a 4-0 start. Since then, the Hurricanes have lost two games. While the loss to Florida State is somewhat excusable, the loss to North Carolina is not quite the same. The Florida State loss came on a missed extra point during what was otherwise a pretty close game. The North Carolina loss wasn’t quite the same, with the Canes losing to a lower-ranked team in their own less powerful half of the conference. Not to mention, they didn’t lose by one point; they lost by one touchdown.

The Coastal Division of ACC football also includes the Pittsburgh Panthers (5-2, 2-1), the Virginia Cavaliers (2-4, 1-1), the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (4-3, 1-3) and the Duke Blue Devils (3-4, 0-3).

Just for laughs, let me go ahead and end this article by equating each ACC Coastal team to their SEC East counterpart. North Carolina is like Tennessee, near (or at) the top of the division, with the hardest games already behind it. Virginia Tech is like Florida, near (or at) the top of the division, with a top ten defense. Miami is like Georgia (and not just because of the Mark Richt factor). Pittsburgh is like Kentucky. Virginia is like Vanderbilt. Georgia Tech is like South Carolina. Duke is like Missouri. Poor Duke…

I’m sorry, ACC Coastal fans. Well, not really. It’s about time somebody makes the SEC East look okay. But hey, look on the bright side! At least basketball season is well on its way.

You can email Kristen at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons, by Brian Allen.

Creating the New ACC Football Schedule: 9+1=10, But So Does 8+2

Back in July, it was finally announced that there would be an ACC Network. If you missed this news then I’m surprised you even clicked on my article. But by all means, keep reading and educate yourself about this exciting time for ACC football.

This new network, formed through a partnership with ESPN, will obviously generate income for all parties involved when it launches in August 2019. But to make it most profitable, ESPN is asking the athletic directors of the conference to pick one of two options for their future football schedules. Better games mean higher viewership and higher viewership means more money. You may not realize it, but football really is all about money.

Obviously, nothing worth having (the long-awaited ACC Network in this case) comes easily. In fact, the programs are currently deadlocked between their two options for schedules moving forward. It comes down to what would be best for the most competitive schools and what would be easiest for all schools.

What Are the Options?

There is the obvious option to increase the required number of conference games each season from eight to nine. Teams would then also have to schedule one Power Five opponent annually.

The other option is to leave the conference games at only eight. But, this would require all teams in the conference to schedule two Power Five opponents annually.

It should be noted that for these purposes, Notre Dame is considered a Power Five opponent.

So What’s the Holdup?

If you know anything about the way ACC football has been going lately, then you can probably take a pretty good guess at which programs are on what side of this debate. The programs that are more competitive nationally and would like a better chance to reach the College Football Playoffs are in favor of keeping only eight required conference games. On the other hand, the programs that aren’t quite as competitive would rather have an extra conference game.

Why does this even matter? Can it actually affect their schedules all that much? Why are the athletic directors so dang disagreeable?

It matters because it can cause scheduling nightmares for some programs. On each end of the spectrum, there are different problems that the schools would face if forced to implement the type of schedule they aren’t currently supporting.

Clemson, FSU, Georgia Tech, and Louisville all already have a Power Five game built into their schedule each season due to in-state non-conference rivals. If these programs were required to have nine conference games, then that means the one Power Five game they play would always be the same. Yawn Granted, who’s to say that they couldn’t step up and schedule two Power Five games anyways? The logistics of the scheduling wouldn’t be easy, and their resulting record may not be as pretty but they could just suck it up.

There are teams like NC State and Virginia that are on the other side of this argument though. NC State hasn’t played two Power Five opponents in one season since 2003. And as of right now, that rarity will only happen one more time through 2028. Having to find another Power Five team to add to their schedule every season would be much more difficult than just rotating in an extra ACC opponent. Virginia currently has the same line of thinking. Coach Bronco Mendenhall says the nine-game model is an easy way to already have another good game built into the team’s schedule.

What About Us?

For fans of the game overall, it could be a Catch-22. Games like the North Carolina-Georgia game would become much less desirable for a school to schedule if they have to devote nine weekends to conference play. But fans of the ACC itself would get to see more cross-divisional ACC matchups on a yearly basis, and some of those games are actually pretty exciting.

At the end of the day, one set of programs is going to have to compromise here. The premier programs like Clemson and FSU would be hard-pressed to give up the chance to play a more formidable Power Five opponent instead of an extra conference one. But the less successful ACC football programs would be hard-pressed to find another Power Five opponent to fit into their schedule each season if they had to.

It’s a lose-lose. But it’s also a win-win…if you really like ACC football. The 2019 season may be three years away (which will feel like 21 years away because football time goes by like dog years), but when it gets here they will finally have their own network. We can watch more ACC football games than ever before while our favorite teams make more money. Now that’s pretty sweet, regardless of the possible scheduling woes.

Email Kristen at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @OGKristenB.

Image Courtesy of Flickr user Emily Baron.