Tag Archives: Virginia Tech Hokies

Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, I told you there are a lot of big games in Week 1.  Today, we keep it rolling.  Here are some notes on three more games you’ll be watching this holiday weekend: Continue reading Not Another List of Big Games: Week 1 (Pt. 2)

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.

College Football’s Opening Weekend Owes Us More

I love college football just as much as the next guy.  Saturdays aren’t for the boys so much as they are for the boys to gather around a big screen, drinking as many 96-calorie Miller Lite’s as they’d like.  We’ve yet to find anything that comes anywhere near college football’s ability to help us justify that weekly decision.

We owe a lot to college football Saturdays.  When I pick through the Week 1 schedule we have lined up for Labor Day weekend, though, it feels like college football owes us a little more.

Stanford is beginning its season with a game in Sydney, Australia.  That’s cool.  The fact that the Rice Owls are the opposition is not cool.  There’s a Florida rivalry game right off the bat.  Unfortunately, it’s between Florida International and Central Florida.  University Alabama-Birmingham makes its glorious return to football after a two-year hiatus, against Alabama A&M.  How have we possibly contained our excitement all summer?

In all seriousness, there are some things worth looking forward to.  P.J. Fleck, Lane Kiffin, and Tom Herman take the field with their new teams for the first time.  Ohio State opens on the road, on a Thursday night, against a conference opponent for the first time in… probably ever.  Florida State and Alabama collide in a top-five matchup in Atlanta.  Michigan and Florida head for Jerry World and a top-15ish meeting.  West Virginia and Virginia Tech will likely both be ranked for their opening contest in Landover, Maryland.

If you’re not a fan of those programs, you’ll probably be forced to watch your team playing in a glorified scrimmage.  Whether your team is the one laying the beat down or getting its ass kicked makes no difference, really.  Nobody wins if the boys had to finish the Miller Lite by halftime just to make it interesting.

At what point do we stop flooding to football just because it’s back?  At what point do we demand more as consumers, as opposed to blindly accepting whatever we’re given?  My guess is that will never happen.  Until it does, we’ll continue to receive a mediocre slate of games on opening weekend, with the only ones truly worth watching happening hundreds of miles off campus, in NFL stadiums.

This is big business we’re talking about and there’s a ton of money involved in these neutral-site games.  I understand that.  Still, it pisses me off.  These are essentially bowl games.  Actually, these games are more important because the whole season is still ahead.  If money grabbing is what we’re doing now, and it most certainly is, then why not take it to the extreme?

What Can We Do?

Let’s schedule bowl game rematches for the first week of the season.  Think for just a second about the storylines.  Would Clemson be able to pull off another upset of Alabama eight months after their instant classic?  Could USC and Penn State replicate the craziness of last year’s Rose Bowl Game?  Is Lamar Jackson really that containable, or did LSU’s defense just do everything right that day?

Wouldn’t it be fun if the two semifinal losers got a crack at each other to start the new season?  Imagine the hype that would surround a Washington-Ohio State clash in a couple weeks.  Automatically, one of the top contenders to reach the playoff would have an impressive feather tucked into its cap.  The four-letter network could have a field day with that buildup.

If your team was not invited to participate in a bowl game the previous year, it can do whatever it would like.  Honestly, nobody outside of the school gives a damn about your five-win team.  I’m only concerned with the primetime programs here.  And in tying them all up in these bowl game rematches, I am, in turn, saving a lot of you from an opening week embarrassment anyway.  It’s a win-win, even for the losers.  You should be thanking me for ignoring your meaningless team.

Is this grand idea ever going to materialize?  No, it won’t.  Like so many things in the world of college football, it makes too much sense to become a reality.  Still, it doesn’t hurt to dream, especially when the boys still have two weeks to save up their beer money.

E-mail Mitch at [email protected] and follow him @GreatGatzke.

Photo: Wikipedia

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Who Will be the 2017 National Signing Day Diamonds in the Rough?

It’s all about the stars, baby! It’s all about those 4 and 5-star future All-Americans who will catapult your favorite college football team to a national championship. Collecting a stable of primetime players may be easy for coaches like Urban Meyer and Nick Saban but that kind of success on the recruiting trail just isn’t the reality of the situation for the majority of coaches. If your team isn’t considered to be a football blue-blood, success is going to be a process that is built upon 2 and 3-star recruits who will need time to be developed.

But success can be achieved with these so-called “diamonds in the rough.” It’s not an easy path to success, but it can and has been done. Rivals and 247 don’t have crystal balls that will clue us into who these diamonds in the rough will be. Even the most experienced coaching staffs can’t predict which of their less heralded recruits will lead their teams to divisional and conference championships.

With today being National Signing Day, let’s take a look back and some 2 and 3-star recruits from the past who proved to have significant impacts on the field.

Marcus Mariota was barely recruited before signing with Oregon. He was a 3-star recruit with two scholarship offers. Oregon and Memphis. That was it. All Mariota did was lead Oregon to an appearance in the 2015 National Championship game and he won the 2014 Heisman Trophy. Not bad for a recruit who struggled to receive offers.

I can’t imagine Michigan State fans were waiting with eager anticipation for the day a 2-star running back recruit with offers from Bowling Green, Eastern Michigan, and Marshall would step on the field for them. All Le’Veon Bell did in his Spartan career was rush for 3,346 yards and 33 touchdowns. In his junior season, before leaving early for the NFL, Bell rushed for 1,793 yards and 12 touchdowns. He proved to be more talented than a 2-star recruit with mid-major offers.

Missouri’s Charles Harris makes Bell look like a highly sought after recruit. Harris excelled on the high school basketball court and had barely played any football prior to Missouri offering him a scholarship. His options were Northern Iowa, Missouri Western and Pittsburg State. In his three-year career, Harris recorded 18 sacks, 34.5 tackles-for-loss and forced 5 fumbles.

Jordy Nelson committed to Kansas State as a 2-star safety prospect. His options were Kansas State and Kansas but even those weren’t legitimate options. Neither coaching staff was willing to provide a scholarship offer to Nelson so he attended Kansas State as a walk-on. Nelson holds the Kansas State record for most receiving yards in a single season and is 2nd all-time in career receiving yardage. Not bad for a high school player that nobody wanted.

Gaines Adams was a 3-star tight end recruit who chose Clemson over Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia, and Virginia Tech. Compared to the others on this list, Adams offer list made him look like a blue-chip recruit. Not only was he not a blue-chip recruit, tight end wasn’t even his ultimate position. Adams became a first team All-American and ACC Defensive Player of the Year in 2006.

As fans, we like to get all worked up over National Signing Day. How many 4 and 5-star recruits has our team collected? Which kids pulled a signing day surprise and left our team at the alter? Which players did our team’s coaching staff manage to flip? It can be an entertaining soap opera to follow, but none of us have a clue as to how the story will unfold.

My advice to you is this – Have fun with recruiting, but don’t become so invested in it that a signing class ruins your day. None of us will know the verifiable quality of this recruiting class for another few years. Enjoy the ride, because who knows, maybe your team has a diamond-in-the-rough buried in this recruiting class.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

Photo: Flickr.com

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2016 ACC Football: Proof That They Aren’t Just Good at Basketball

Now is when I tell you about the good and the bad from this past season of ACC football. I’ve been brainstorming for this article since the day after Clemson won it all, but I’ve still run into a problem of sorts. All in all, there was just much more good in ACC football than there was bad this season.

That isn’t to say that there was no bad in ACC football. Trust me, there was. There is even one play from one particular ACC game this season that still bothers me. I’ll get to that later, though.

What all the good did do for the conference was offer evidence that maybe these schools are capable of being among the best in the country in more than just one sport. Without further ado, I present you with the proof.

The Best of ACC Football

Clemson won the College Football Playoff National Championship game. I am sure nothing else that any conference carried out can top that. But Clemson’s victory over mighty Alabama in that game wasn’t all the good they provided for ACC football this year. The Tigers were 14-1 by the end of it all, having lost that one game by a single point. They also shut out Ohio State in their first playoff game.

Deshaun Watson, our favorite (black) dual-threat quarterback, ended up accounting for a total of 50 touchdowns and over 5,000 yards between passing and rushing for Clemson. Running back Wayne Gallman contributed 17 more touchdowns this season. And there was wide receiver Mike Williams who came back from injury and ended up having quite the season as well, racking up 11 touchdowns.

The Clemson defense was also nothing to scoff at, allowing an average of 314 yards per game. Clemson was very good for the ACC.

Florida State, overall, was also pretty dang good for ACC football. There was some definite bad in that 63-20 loss to Louisville early in the season, but the Seminoles still managed to bounce back and have an impressive year. Star running back Dalvin Cook was essential to Florida State’s success, with 288 carries for 1,765 yards and 19 touchdowns. The fact that he was not a Heisman finalist still baffles me. But aside from Dalvin Cook’s success, the team was successful as well, finishing the year at 10-3. Not to mention, Florida State beat Michigan 33-32 in its bowl game when Michigan was arguably a playoff contender at the end of the season.

There’s also Virginia Tech and coach Justin Fuente on the “good” side of things. In his first season as head coach of the Hokies, Fuente took the team to the ACC Championship Game. And, the Hokies actually gave Clemson a good game. Fuente and the Hokies finished with a record of 9-4 and an impressive comeback win over Arkansas in their bowl game. This is why Fuente, in my mind, was clearly the best coaching hire from last year.

There’s one more name I’d be crazy for not mentioning, regardless of how his season ended. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson had an incredible year. It was so incredible that he won the Heisman trophy. With 51 touchdowns throughout the season, it’s safe to say that Jackson was the key to Louisville’s success. Jackson is also only a sophomore, which means he has at least one year left with the Cardinals. That’s very good for them.

I can think of one last name I should also mention when praising the good in ACC football. Pittsburgh running back James Conner returned this season after being diagnosed with and treated for cancer. He clearly didn’t let his cancer slow him down considering he had 16 rushing touchdowns and four receiving touchdowns this year. Here’s to Conner, because he’s about as good as it gets–aside from Clemson’s championship.

The Worst of ACC Football

The few bad things I could come up with off the top of my head require much less explanation.

There are the only three teams from the ACC that did not play in bowl games: Virginia, Duke and Syracuse. Virginia and Duke both were 1-7 in conference play while Syracuse was 2-6. None of these teams won more than four games this season. When you’re a member of a Power Five conference, those kinds of records are beyond bad.

The other major “bad” that I saw in ACC football this year was Lamar Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson did get some help from his teammates at times. But most the work rested on Jackson’s shoulders, and because of that the Cardinals had a hard time winning when their opponents could contain him.

This brings me to the one horrible play I mentioned above. The Louisville vs. Clemson game was one of the best games of the regular season. That game really did come down to the wire. And the Cardinals could’ve beaten the Tigers if it weren’t for a huge mistake James Quick made on a pass play from Jackson at the end of the game. Instead of getting the yardage necessary to get a first down, Quick went out of bounds to stop the clock only to realize he had done so on fourth down and had not gained enough to get the first down. And that was the end of the game. SO BAD!

One last fact worth mentioning when speaking of the bad in ACC football this season has to do with the North Carolina Tar Heels. They were actually a pretty good team this season with a top 20 defense. But somehow the Tar Heels managed to only grab one interception (as a team) during the entire season. For most of the season, it looked like they might make history and not end up with any interceptions at all. That one interception came against The Citadel, too, so it wasn’t even all that impressive. What gives, Tar Heels?

 

Even with these bad things I just mentioned, it stays clear that this was a mostly good season for ACC football. Only three teams in the entire conference weren’t bowl eligible. Then, the ACC won eight of its eleven bowl games, not including the National Championship Game. Dabo Swinney took down Nick Saban in that one. I’d say that’s good—especially for a basketball conference.

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

Photo from Flickr user Jason A G.

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.

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Belk Bowl – ACC Looks for Validation Against the SEC

If you live outside of SEC country there is always a lively debate about which college football conference is the best in the land. If you live in the SEC footprint, there is no debate, and there hasn’t been for decades. If you are a college football fan living in ACC country, your situation is unique. A bit of a poser.

There is no doubt that the ACC is not the best football conference in the land. Fans could credibly argue that the ACC has been the least powerful of the “power 5” conferences since such an alignment came to be. However, the ACC has a couple of programs that can frequently play with the nation’s best in Clemson and Florida State. The ACC also has a few wannabe programs that want to win against the big boys of college football, but just can’t get over that hump. These programs (Belk bowl participant Virginia Tech among them) can usually hang tough with the nation’s best for about a half. Then the disparity in the depth of the talent starts to show.

The Hokies have played well for 30 minutes against the SEC elites when Virginia Tech was close to the top of their game. These crusades into the deep end of the college football swimming pool always end badly for Virginia Tech and by association, the ACC. Maybe the Hokies just don’t have the national recruiting reach. Maybe their recruiting footprint is not as stocked with talent as the SEC. Maybe they don’t have enough bagmen.

The Belk Bowl that pits the Arkansas Razorbacks (7-5) against the Virginia Tech Hokies (9-4) will be another chance for the ACC to prove, not that it is the best football conference in the land, but that it is a respectable conference and that it’s best can win against all comers.

The Razorbacks, like the Hokies, had an up-and-down season. They had big wins against Florida and Ole Miss, but ended the year with an embarrassing loss against pseudo-SEC rival Missouri. The fact that Mizzou got an invitation to the SEC rankles a lot of the HokieNation who feel they have earned an invitation into the best football conference in the land (despite all evidence to the contrary). The Hogs move the ball well on the ground behind the duo of Rawleigh Williams & Devwah Whaley, but they also give up ground in big chunks on defense. The Razorbacks will need both success on the ground and a strong performance from QB Austin Allen to keep Bud Foster’s defense off balance. If the Hogs become one-dimensional, the Hokies defense can thrive.

All of that said, the success or failure of the Hokies boils down to the play of JUCO transfer QB Jerod Evans. If Evans plays well, the Hokies can win this game convincingly. The receiver trio of Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges, and Cam Phillips is as good as any in the country. The Hokie’s running game has been by committee but led by QB Evans. If Evans is on target throwing and runs enough to open things up for the running back committee, VT will score enough points to win the Belk Bowl.

However, the Gobbler’s margin for error is thin. The Hogs are well tested and have passed more tough exams than the Hokies took all season. Arkansas played 7 ranked teams in 2016, beating 3 of them. From October 8th through November 12th, the Razorbacks played 5 ranked teams in a row. The Hokies didn’t play 5 ranked teams the entire year.

So the question comes full circle. Toss the stats and the injury reports aside. Is the second place team in the ACC good enough to beat a run-of-the-mill SEC team? The Hokies lost the ACC title game to the playoff-bound Clemson Tigers in a close match that may have been the best performance of the season by the Hokies. The Razorbacks were never in the conversation to make the SEC title game. Not in the pre-season prognostications nor as the season progressed.

Those in SEC country would tell you this game is a walk for the Hogs. They have played by far the better schedule. They have SEC talent that beat more ranked teams than the Hokies played all year. That feeling may be the best asset the Hokies have going for them. If I know the Hokies, they will show up with a chip on their shoulder, already having lost to the SEC once this season in the Bristol Bowl. If Arkansas comes to Charlotte expecting to steamroll an ACC wannabe, they are going to be in for a long night. If they treat this game like an SEC matchup against Florida or Ole Miss they should return to the land of plentiful duck hunting with a win.

This game boils down to who wants it the most. Given that Arkansas spent their season playing ‘Bama, LSU, Florida, & TCU just to name a few and the Hokies spent their season playing Duke, Virginia, and ECU, I give the “want to” edge to the Hokies. I think that is what makes the difference in this game and I’ll give the edge to the Hokies to win in Charlotte.

 

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

Photo: Wikipedia

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

The Sunday Morning Notebook: Conference Championship Edition

December is for contenders, and the rest of the season is for pretenders. Unless, of course, you’re Ohio State, in which case you can be a contender without even playing in December. The College Football Playoff picture just got a lot clearer after a weekend chock-full of marquee matchups. Or, perhaps it’s just as murky as it was in November.

Somebody call 9-1-1! I think he’s dead!

But just to make sure, Derrick Gore pounded it home from 10 yards out with 3:48 to play to cap off Alabama’s 54-16 evisceration of Florida. In a game that meant little to either team’s playoff chances, Saban decided to press the pedal to the floor and try to earn Alabama a bye in the College Football Playoff, purely out of mercy to whichever sorry team gets placed at #4 (That was a joke, by the way, Alabama can’t get a bye in the playoff. The #4 team will have to play Alabama. Keep EMS on standby to resuscitate whomever it may be).

Game Notes:

  • Jalen Hurts had a lackluster day, throwing 11/20 for 138 yards and just one touchdown. It’s not his fault he didn’t rack up big numbers, though. There was a six-minute span in the first quarter in which the Tide gained one yard, and yet they scored 16 points.
  • The Crimson Tide had a pick-6 and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown in that time frame, and they picked off Gator quarterback Austin Appleby twice more for good measure
  • Three Alabama running backs notched touchdowns: Derrick Henry–erm, I mean Bo Scarbrough, Joshua Jacobs, and Derrick Gore.

Pac-12 Champion playoff bound after all?

Sko Buffs! Colorado must have forgotten that the Pac-12 Championship was Friday night and not Saturday. In another blowout conference title game, Washington made it clear that it wants its shot at the College Football playoff, as the Huskies dominated the Colorado Buffaloes 41-10.

Game Notes:

  • The Washington defense was stifling all night, and held the Buffaloes to 81 yards passing and 82 yards rushing. Lockdown.
  • Jake Browning, who for some reason is still in the Heisman race, put up an abysmal 118 yards on 9/24 passing.
  • Browning didn’t need to do much, though, because running backs Miles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman lacerated the Colorado defense for 159 and 101 yards rushing, respectively.
  • Despite this convincing win, I still don’t think Washington will make it into the top 4 tonight. I think that the Pac-12 has spent this whole year beating up on itself, and now they’re going to be left in the dust.

On the BIGgest stage, the true contenders perform

After trailing 28-7 with just a minute to go in the first half, the Penn State Nittany Lions rallied to defeat the Wisconsin Badgers 38-31. On the back of a 10-point fourth quarter, Penn State stonewalled Badger running back Corey Clement on fourth down to seal the victory.

Game Notes:

  • Trace McSorely wants Bama! (No you don’t) The Nittany Lion gunslinger notched 384 yards and four touchdowns on 22/31 passing,
  • Clement had himself a game as well for the Badgers, chalking up 164 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
  • Unfortunately, this win doesn’t totally seal the deal for the Nittany Lions. The committee will be forced to think long and hard about the value of a conference championship, because as it stands now, Ohio State is going to get in over Penn State, despite losing the head-to-head battle.

Other Notes:

  • Clemson hung on to defeat Virginia Tech 42-35. It will probably be enough to get them into the playoff, but Clemson has not been dominant this year. If it were purely up to personal preference, they can have the Orange Bowl.
  • Western Michigan beat Toledo 29-23 in the final installment of #MACtion. The Broncos capped off an undefeated season with a hard fought 13th win in the MAC title game. They’ll be rowing the boat in the Cotton Bowl, though. No chance for playoff berth here.
  • Baker Mayfield’s 288 yards and three touchdowns gave Oklahoma their second straight Big XII title, but it was all irrelevant bedlam. The Sooners beat Oklahoma State 38-20, but they also don’t look likely to make the playoff.
  • Navy lost, so that makes life easy for the bowl selection committee.
Email writer John at [email protected] or connect with him on Twitter: @John_Horlander.

Photo: Flickr – David Smith

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Irish Proved They Still Have Much to Play for

After falling short by one point against a Navy team that played the game of its life, Notre Dame rebounded with a convincing 44-6 dismantling of Army. Defending the triple option is always hard, but it’s much easier when Army doesn’t complete 4-5 fourth downs and holds the ball for half a quarter at a time.

The Irish dominated from start to finish, roaring out to a 21-0 lead and finishing the game with twice as many yards and three times as many first downs as the Black Knights. It was exactly the type of commanding performance that Notre Dame needed; it proved that it won’t be going away easily to end this year.

But the road is the toughest it has been so far. The Irish welcome a tough Virginia Tech squad to Notre Dame Stadium on Senior Day. Jerod Evans, the Hokies’ dangerous dual-threat quarterback, promises to make life difficult for an Irish defensive unit that, while showing great improvement since Brian Van Gorder was fired, is still young and inexperienced. They follow that up with a trip to Los Angeles to face USC in the mausoleum colosseum. USC has looked much better since it was obliterated by Alabama, and the Irish will need to be careful to avoid another beatdown like the last time they visited the Trojans.

The Irish, especially freshman Julian Love, looked good against Army. Love began to stand out against Navy, finishing with eight tackles, a tackle for loss and a blow to the head that many thought would rule him out against Army. After tests showed that Love had no concussion, he stepped up again and had three tackles, an interception and a pass break up this weekend. Love, smiling like only a freshman on the sidelines after his first career interception could, symbolized to Irish critics and fans alike that Notre Dame is not done yet.

A season filled with tough, close losses can often lead to uncertainty and separation in the locker room for a program like Notre Dame. There has been a great deal of debate and speculation as to whether or not Brian Kelly will retain his job next season (he will, by the way) and whether or not the players still like him (they do, by the way).

At 4-6, with two tough games remaining, the Irish proved that they aren’t just looking to fast forward to next season. An absurdly talented offensive group seems to have alleviated the problems which befell it against Stanford and NC State. Equanimeous St. Brown, C.J. Sanders, Kevin Stepherson, and more headline a standout wide receiving corps. Balanced with Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tarean Folston in the run game, Notre Dame has a lot of weapons with which to strike. If the defense can keep up the good work, Kelly may have just turned this season around. Kind of. Beat the Hokies. (Time to play some real football).

Contact writer John Horlander on Twitter: @John_Horlander or via email: [email protected]box.com

Flickr – West Point – The U.S. Military Academy