A Changing-By-The-Second Glance at The 2020 Virginia Tech Football Schedule
*** I want to preface this preview with the fact that in this ever-changing landscape, due to COVID-19, there is a chance some of these items, by the time you are reading, may have shifted. This includes the fact that some of these games may have been rescheduled, postponed, or cancelled. I’ve done my best to be as current as possible at the time of publishing. ***
Normally by this time the sports world would have already crowned a NBA and NHL champion, Masters and US Open winners and we would be have already held the MLB All Star game. However, this year is different due to the pandemic spreading around the world. Because of this, Virginia Tech cancelled all spring sports, which meant no spring football practice or spring game. There will not be any actual football happening until the late summer/early fall. Coaches are not able to visit recruits and players are slowly coming back to campus in order to start training, so that leads us to this column. It’s never too early to look ahead to the upcoming season!
2019 had me like
Last year the Hokies went 8-5 overall and 5-3 in the ACC. It was truly a tale of two seasons. The Hokies started off with a loss up in Chestnut Hill to Boston College on August 31, and then rattled off back-to-back wins against Old Dominion and Furman (barely). Then came the embarrassing primetime loss to Duke broadcast on national television to the tune of a 45-10 walloping. After that traumatic game, the season dramatically changed. Tech won six of their next eight games, including a vintage Bud Foster game in Miami where the lunch pail D dismantled the U with multiple turnovers in the first quarter, a record-setting 6OT win against UNC in Lane, an upset of then #19 ranked Wake Forest on Bud Foster Day in Blacksburg, and two back-to-back shutout wins against Georgia Tech and Pitt. Mix a one-point last possession loss to Notre Dame in there and it appears the team had recovered. While this stretch of games showed a more inspired performance from Justin Fuente’s team, the season was capped off with a loss to Virginia for the first time since 2003. Bryce Perkins was a one-man wrecking crew and helped the Wahoos carry away The Commonwealth Cup to the shock of many Hokie faithful. Still however, the Hokies were bowl-eligible for a NCAA-leading 26th consecutive season. They matched up with a fiery Kentucky squad on New Years Eve in Charlotte and fell 37-30 on another last possession touchdown drive.
Now that we are all caught up, let’s wipe the slate clean and dive into the new season. There are many questions that, without spring football to give the fan base clues, will linger into the summer. What is Justin Hamilton’s defensive plan to take over after Bud Foster’s legendary run? Hendon Hooker is going to be QB1… right? How will all the new transfers fit in? During the off-season, has Brad Cornelsen changed any aspects of his offense? We won’t have any hints to these answers until the team and coaches can all assemble again and get back to work. Here we go!
Week 1: Liberty – Saturday September 5 – Blacksburg, VA
Liberty 2019 Record: 8-5
The Hokies will start off the season with a non-ACC and non-Power 5 foe, which I’m sure makes the revamped coaching staff smile. The last time Tech played Liberty was back in Fuente’s inaugural season (2016), and Tech won 36-13. This game will be used as a tune up for the Hokies to prepare for their ACC foes in the ensuing weeks. Don’t expect to see much creativity and risks taken against the Flames, as Tech will be wanting to keep all their best plays saved up for conference play. However, the Hokies still need to be vigilant. Liberty had one of the largest upsets of the past decade, with a win over Baylor in 2017. They also beat state schools New Mexico and New Mexico State in 2019, and only lost to BYU by one touchdown. The Hokies should win this game handily, but the coaching staff needs to make sure no one is looking ahead to their next opponent.
Week 2: Penn State – Saturday Sept 12 – Blacksburg, VA
Penn State 2019 Record: 11-2
*** As of July 14th this game has been cancelled due to the Big Ten deciding to eliminate non-conference games for this season. There is not a rescheduled date as of July 14th. Please enjoy what the PSU preview would have said. ***
The Nittany Lions vs. The Hokies is a match-up fans of both schools have had circled since this meeting was announced back in 2013. This game figures to be a primetime broadcast and a potential College GameDay site. Tech and Penn State have never played against each other before, so Blacksburg should expect an influx of Penn State fans, similar to when unanimous preseason #1 Ohio State came into town back in 2015. James Franklin lead his team to a #9 final AP ranking last year, so Tech will have their work cut out for them, as the Nittany Lions will come into Lane as heavy favorites and as a probable Top 10 ranked team.
Justin Hamilton will have a tough task in just his second game in command of the defense. Penn State averaged over 30 points per game in 2019. Also, Penn State churns out elite running backs, so stopping the run will definitely need to be a focus during this game. Speaking of running backs, this game will serve as a bit of a homecoming for Penn State sophomore RB Devyn Ford who hails from Stafford, VA. Ford, a highly touted recruit, was a top target for Virginia Tech during the recruiting process, but it didn’t go Tech’s way.
Expect to see much more creative offensive play-calling coming from the Hokies this game than compared to Liberty the week before. In order to topple a highly ranked Penn State squad, the Hokies will need to have multiple big plays and to limit turnovers, as well as churn the clock. The less time Penn State is on offense the better. Tech has struggled to take down a big time opponent in Lane Stadium in recent years; they can change that all with a win against Penn State.
Week 3: Middle Tennessee – Saturday Sept 19 – Murfreesboro, TN
Middle Tennessee 2019 Record: 4-8
In a less glamorous first meeting, Tech travels to Tennessee to take on Middle Tennessee. This home-and-home series was announced in 2018 and comes at a unique time in the schedule, as the outcome of the Liberty clash will no doubt impact the tone of the Hokies going into this game. If the Hokies put up a dominant performance against the Flames then Tech fans should expect a confident team going into this game, but if the Hokies won by just a touchdown or even lose, who knows what team fans will see come out for this game, especially after a long down period between their last game of 2019 and now.
Either way, Tech will be favored by a large margin in this game. The talent Tech has should be able to overcome any potential hiccups due to the nature of current affairs. Middle Tennessee lost by 21 points to an ODU team, who Tech beat last year by two touchdowns, so this game should be another prep game before getting into ACC action in two weeks. Fans should anticipate seeing a fair share of running the ball and screen passes in this game, to get whoever is playing QB more reps without the "first game" jitters of kicking off a new and hectic season.
Week 4: North Alabama – Saturday Sept 26 – Blacksburg, VA
North Alabama 2019 Record: 4-7
Virginia Tech wraps up their FCS schedule with a visit from North Alabama on the last Saturday of September. North Alabama last won a game against an FBS opponent in 1997 when they played Louisiana Lafayette, and it took four overtimes.
This will be an important game for the Hokies, as it is the last non-conference game before ACC play begins. This will be the last time to iron out all the pre-season kinks that may have appeared during the first four weeks of the season. By now, fans should know who to expect as the main players on offense and defense, as well as, what style of coaching we can expect from all the new hires. After a few less than impressive wins over FCS schools in 2019, it would be a welcome sign for Tech to finish out their final FCS game with a large win. Scoring anything less than 35 points here will be looked at with some skepticism by the Hokie faithful.
Week 5: Georgia Tech – Saturday October 3 – Blacksburg, VA – Homecoming
Georgia Tech 2019 Record: 3-9
It came as a relief to some Hokies to hear the news in 2018 that Paul Johnson, the longtime Yellow Jacket coach, would be retiring. Johnson was an expert at crafting a triple option run threat that appeared to have Justin Fuente confused; as Georgia Tech beat Virginia Tech every year since Fuente took over, until 2019.
Geoff Collins took over as the Yellow Jackets coach in 2019 and immediately began attempting to implement a modern offense. This posed a struggle as the roster left behind by Johnson lacked vital components, such as tight ends, since the main ingredient for the triple option is a depth of running backs. Virginia Tech was able to take advantage of this transition in 2019, as they completely dismantled the Yellow Jackets 45-0 in Atlanta to claim the first of Bud Foster’s back-to-back shutouts in the 2019 season.
This year will be very different. Collins has had a year to recruit his players and work on his modern offense. While all of the pieces are not there yet, they will be in the coming years. Georgia Tech has a plethora of explosive athletes, so the Justin Hamilton-lead defense will need to be weary of the potential for big plays as they lull the Hokie defense asleep with their evolving run game. The Hokies need to build on their performance in Atlanta last year and take care of business in this game, as the Yellow Jackets will only be getting stronger from here.
Week 6: North Carolina – Saturday October 10 – Chapel Hill, NC
UNC 2019 Record: 7-6
All Hokie fans will remember the 2019 six overtime victory over UNC for decades to come. That was a bit of a taste for the talent level we should expect in the 2020 version of Tech vs. UNC. Both teams will be picked to compete for the top spot of the ACC Coastal, along with Miami, so this will be a vital game for the Hokies if they want to make it back to the ACC Championship for the first time since 2016.
Virginia Tech should be much improved in 2020, but so should UNC. Tar Heels QB Sam Howell is a stud who threw for over 3,600 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2019, to go along with only 7 interceptions. He has weapons all over the field, including Dazz Newsome, an explosive receiver who accounted for over 1,000 yards and 10 TDs in 2019. UNC will also be very experienced with playing tough opponents by the time the Hokies appear on their schedule. The Tar Heels have an extremely hard schedule to start the season, with games against UCF, Auburn, and James Madison before they begin ACC play.
Whoever is at the helm of the Hokies offense, whether it be Hendon Hooker, Quincy Patterson, or Braxton Burmeister, will need to keep up with the UNC offense in a game that will likely turn into a shootout if Sam Howell gets going early.
Week 7: Bye Week
Week 8: Boston College – Thursday October 22 – Blacksburg, VA – Orange Effect
Boston College 2019 Record: 6-7
ESPN Thursday Night Football returns to Blacksburg in what should be a revenge game for the Hokies. In 2019, Virginia Tech was picked by most to start off their season with a win up in Chestnut Hill, but that didn’t go according to plan. The then-Ryan Willis lead team looked lethargic and couldn’t come back from an early deficit, as they lost 35-28.
AJ Dillon, the powerhouse running back for the Eagles, has moved on to the next level, so that should at least ease a bit of the anxiety for the Tech defensive staff. Virginia Tech has split the series since Justin Fuente took the helm in 2016. The Hokies won 49-0 in 2016, won 23-10 in 2017, lost 31-21 in 2018, and most recently lost 35-28 in 2019. This will be a rubber match as they say and it will be interesting to see what direction the Eagles go now that Dillon is no longer on the team. The Hokies should probably get the slight edge here, but BC is a team that has always given the Hokies fits, even if they shouldn’t on paper.
Week 9: Louisville – Saturday Oct 31 – Louisville, KY
Louisville 2019 Record: 8-5
The Louisville game on Halloween begins the toughest stretch of Tech’s schedule, as they have to play away this week, away at Pitt the following week, and then host Miami the week after.
The Cardinals were the biggest surprise of the ACC in 2019 as they defied the odds and put up an incredible 8-5 season, after going 2-10 the year before. Head Coach Scott Satterfield earned ACC Coach of the Year honors after the incredible turnaround in just his first year. In 2019, Louisville had surprise wins over Boston College, Wake Forest, Virginia, and beat an SEC foe in Mississippi State in their bowl game.
The last time the Hokies and the Cardinals played each other was back in the 2006 Gator Bowl. In that game, the #10 BCS ranked Hokies defeated the #19 BCS ranked Cardinals 35-24.
This 2020 matchup is going to be a tough one for the Hokies, as Louisville has playmakers all over the field. Javian Hawkins is one of the best running backs in the country, who accounted for more than 1,500 yards in 2019. Then there is wide out Tutu Atwell who racked up nearly 1,300 receiving yards last season. Both players have game changing speed and quickness that will be a real concern for the Hokie defense. The Hokies haven’t played at Louisville’s home stadium since 1992, so this will be one of the more intriguing ACC matchups throughout the league in the coming season.
Week 10: Pitt – Friday November 6 – Pittsburgh, PA
Pitt 2019 Record: 8-5
Bud Foster’s Lunch Pail Defense took over the 2019 matchup to the tune of a second straight shutout and a 28-0 Hokie win. The series now shifts back to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, where Tech has struggled recently. The Hokies have not won in Pittsburgh since 2016, where they just eked out a 39-36 victory. The last time Tech traveled to Pittsburgh the Hokies left reeling after a crushing 52-22 debacle where Qadree Ollison ran all over the Tech defense for 235 yards.
Pat Narduzzi is still at the helm of the Panthers ship, so there’s always a chance for fireworks in the halftime interview or post-game press conference. But Pitt will come in confident as they feel that their QB Kenny Pickett is still one of the best in the country. In 2019 Pickett threw for over 3,000 yards and 13 touchdowns. Combine that with a bruising defense which allowed less than 23 points per game last year and this should end up being a challenge for the Hokies, especially in the swirling winds of Heinz Field. The Hokies will be looking to stay focused on another primetime nationally televised game, this time taking place on a Friday night.
Week 11: Miami – Saturday November 14 – Blacksburg, VA – Hall of Fame
Miami 2019 Record: 6-7
Miami and Tech’s 2019 seasons are heavily intertwined. The Hokies turned their season around with their win last season in Miami and the Hurricanes took their beating as motivation and won the next four out of five games, including a win over then top 20 ranked UVA, as well as Pitt, Florida State, and Louisville. However, the Hurricanes’ season left much to be desired for fans of their program. First time head coach Manny Diaz immediately begin to feel the heat from the supporters after a disjointed first season that ended with a 14-0 loss in The Walk-On’s Independence Bowl against Louisiana Tech.
Miami will no doubt come into 2020 with their normal amount of hype, especially now that electrifying University of Houston QB D’Eriq King has transferred to the U, where he is immediately eligible. However, he is not guaranteed to be the starter as Tate Martell, formerly of Ohio State in 2018, will be his competition. Both quarterbacks are dual-threat and can beat teams with their arms and legs.
Let us not forget the swag as well. Who knows what kind of jewelry the Hurricanes will show up with this season. First it was the diamond encrusted “turnover chain” that gained popularity and swept the nation back in 2017. Then it was the bedazzled “touchdown rings” that debuted last season. There’s always something flashy happening on the Miami sideline.
The Hokies will have to deal with all those distractions and channel them into staying focused on their game plan. Tech executed an almost flawless game in 2019 until they let the lead slip away from them in the 4th quarter, however still winning the game. Both defenses will be on display again, as they’ve been the past few years, but this will be Justin Hamilton’s first time being the coordinator in the bitter rivalry.
Week 12: Duke – Saturday November 21 – Durham, NC
Duke 2019 Record: 5-7
While the UVA game the following week will be a hot topic given the end of the Hokie win streak, this Duke game is a focal point as the Hokies were embarrassed by the Blue Devils last year on national television. The 45-10 shellacking in Lane on ESPN, lead to many sports analysts and writers to wonder what exactly was happening down in Blacksburg. One sign of how big that loss was showed itself in the form of famed college football announcer Kirk Herbstreit, who expressed his admiration for Frank Beamer and Bud Foster, but questioned what path the Hokies were on with the new coaching staff during a twitter video that surfaced on the internet later.
This will be a statement game for the Hokies. At this point in the schedule, Tech is either still vying for a trip to the ACC Championship game or they aren’t. Either way, Fuente will want to have the team fired up in order to not have a repeat performance of 2019. It doesn’t help that the game is away, but in recent memory the Hokies seem to play better at away sites.
Duke Coach David Cutliffe is a known QB whisperer and was able to land Clemson transfer Chase Brice this past February. Brice adds a level of experience to a QB room that was seriously lacking. The Blue Devils have been in search of a QB since Daniel Jones was drafted sixth overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, and with Brice they just may have secured one for the 2020 season.
Week 13: Virginia – Saturday November 28 – Blacksburg, VA
UVA 2019 Record: 9-5
The streak wasn’t going to live forever. The 2019 edition of UVA vs. VT was a tough one to swallow for many Hokie fans. There was a “what could’ve been” feel to the end of the game as there was so much on the line, including a trip to face Clemson in the ACC Championship game. If UVA didn’t have Bryce Perkins, Hokie fans would be talking about yet another year where the Hokies prevailed and kept the Commonwealth Cup in Blacksburg, but alas that is not what took place.
In 2020 the Hokies will be looking to start a new streak by exorcising their demons on the Wahoos in their final regular season game of the year. The coaching staff will definitely have no problem getting the squad up for this one. While it was considered a rivalry, it wasn’t an actual one for almost two decades because UVA never won. 2019 has changed that a bit, as now the Hokies will be seeking to bring the Commonwealth Cup back to Blacksburg where it sat for 15 consecutive years.
There are many questions that remain for the UVA squad now that Bryce Perkins has graduated. Who will be the QB in 2020? What will the offense look like? It will be hard to fill the void left by Perkins, who was the entire offense. He threw for over 3,500 yards and 22 touchdowns, as well as rushing for 11 touchdowns and nearly 800 yards. To put that in perspective, the entire UVA offense scored 56 TDs in 2019 and with Perkins accounting for 33 of those, that’s nearly 59% of all scores stemming from one player. Meanwhile, Tech scored 49 offensive touchdowns in 2019, with the quarterbacks accounting for 32 total touchdowns: 18 (13 pass, 5 rush) courtesy of Hendon Hooker, 10 (9 pass, 1 rush) courtesy of Ryan Willis, and four (2 pass, 2 rush) courtesy of Quincy Patterson. That comes out to 65% spread amongst three different QBs, which shows Tech had a more balanced offensive attack in 2019. This bodes well going into this 2020 finale, as Virginia Tech is poised to become winners again.
And in conclusion...
The 2020 season will be a defining moment for Justin Fuente and his newly assembled coaching staff. In year five, this is entirely his program. There are not any remaining staff members from the Beamer and Foster years, and there is only one or two players remaining that were not recruited by Fuente and his staff. There are still too many unknowns currently to predict any win/loss totals, but there will be hard questions for Fuente to answer if his team again wallows in the six to eight win purgatory, after his only 10 win season and ACC Championship game appearance came in his first year with most of Beamer’s players. There will be expectations for this team, as Tech returns the majority of its offensive and defensive talent, minus a few transfers. The excuse “this team is young” will not work anymore, as now the players have a full year or more of experience playing in the ACC. There is no ceiling for the Hokies in 2020, but it is up to the players and the coaches to take advantage. In a time of negativity and division, if there’s one thing that can bring people together in a fan base, it’s winning and winning big.