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Way-Too-Early Football Schedule Breakdown

By Grant Mitchell | April 05
Burmesiter duke
Photo via Duke Chronicle

Spring football is still yet to conclude, but Hokie football fans are still chomping at the bit to see their team in action again.

Virginia Tech is coming off of a 5-6 season, its lowest win total since 1992, but still showed many promising signs, namely a fierce ground attack behind the demolition crew that is the Vice Squad and a rangy, athletic defense.

The maroon and orange experienced a fair amount of roster turnover in the off-season but have made key additions in former Clemson Tiger and defensive lineman Jordan Williams, ex-Vanderbilt Commodore and free safety Tae Daley and top-rated high school commit, cornerback DJ Harvey.

There has been growing unrest amongst the most loyal supporters of the Hokies in recent times, but a rejuvenated lineup combined with an extra year of training and an adjustment to COVID life could breathe a second life into the pigskin crew.

Virginia Tech's roster for the 2021 season was announced in late January and features many intriguing matchups: here is a breakdown on what to expect from every VT opponent this fall.

Screen Shot 2021 04 05 at 1 55 32 PM
Taken from ESPN

Week One vs North Carolina (8-4 in 2020)

Key Additions: Ty Chandler (Tennessee RB), Keeshawn Silver (incoming DE), Raneiria Dillworth (incoming OLB), Power Echols (incoming ILB)
Key Losses: Michael Carter (RB), Javonte Williams (RB), Dyami Brown (WR), Dazz Newsome (WR), Patrice Rene (DB)

The Tar Heels lost their one-two punch in the backfield with both Carter and Williams declaring for the NFL draft, but brought in an experienced replacement in Chandler (567 total yards, four rushing touchdowns last season).

Quarterback Sam Howell is heading into his junior season and has shown elite talent at the position, racking up 3,586 passing yards, along with 30 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions in 2020. Howell lost his two favorite targets from last season in Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome, also to the NFL draft, leaving his true acumen under center to be tested thoroughly this season.

The Tar Heels defense is serviceable, finishing 58th in total yards allowed per game and 65th in scoring defense last season, but have shown cracks, allowing 53 points to Wake Forest and 45 to Virginia Tech in 2020.

A few key rising freshmen are listed above, but the depth of North Carolina's recruiting class is quite staggering, featuring a five-star and eleven four-star commits.

UNC ranked as high as fifth in the nation last season and will have aspirations of reaching even higher in the upcoming campaign: thankfully for the Hokies, they are getting Carolina at home in both teams' first games of the season. Mistakes will be made by both sides as the rust gets knocked off, opening the door to an early September shootout between the two Atlantic Coast Conference foes.

Week Two vs Middle Tennessee State (3-6 in 2020)

Key Additions: Bailey Hockman (incoming QB), Jamari Williams (Arizona OG), Kameron Grays (incoming CB), Jacqui Graham (incoming OT)
Key Losses: Asher O'Hara (QB), Jayy McDonald (RB), Jarrin Pierce (WR), CJ Windham (WR), Kenneth Major (CB)

The Blue Raiders struggled last season, finishing fifth in Conference USA and being outscored by an average of 13 points per game.

The loss of starting quarterback Asher O'Hara means that Middle Tennessee will be starting either a true freshman, or a rising senior with fifty career pass attempts (294 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions).

MTSU will benefit from a beefed up offensive line and an injection of energy from the freshman class that will likely be asked to play more minutes than coaches would usually prefer.

This game should be a confidence booster for the Hokies, in reality; either they will look to rebound from an opening weekend loss, or they will get the chance to start the season with back-to-back wins against one of the season's lesser-tier opponents.

One sneaky weapon for the Blue Raiders is running back Martell Pettaway: the super-senior opted out of the 2020 COVID season, and has a 2018 season in which he averaged 6.4 yards per carry over 98 attempts and scored seven touchdowns on his resumé.

Week Three @ West Virginia (6-4 in 2020)

Key Additions: Doug Nester (Virginia Tech OG), Wyatt Milum (incoming OT), Kaden Prather (incoming WR), Jaylen Anderson (RB)
Key Losses: Tony Fields II (LB), Tykee Smith (S), Alec Sinkfield (RB), T.J. Simmons (WR)

The West Virginia recruiting department did an excellent job filling in the holes in their roster, mostly by bringing in a pair of 6'3 freshman receivers and four-star running back Jaylen Anderson. These are important signings not only for the future of WVU, but also the present, as Alec Sinkfield and T.J. Simmons were key contributors offensively as off-speed pitches to the defense.

West Virginia's offensive line will get an immediate boost from transfer Doug Nester, part of the Hokie crew that paved the way for 2,641 total rushing yards last year.

WVU also maintains familiarity at the starting quarterback, running back and wide receiver positions, while a majority of last season's defense will be suiting up again.

The Mountaineers were a stingy crew defensively last season, boasting the FBS' 21st-best scoring defense (20.5 points per game). Losing leader Tony Fields II will be a substantial hit to the team's engine room, though they will be a hard team to the beat.

Fortunately for the Hokies, West Virginia found themselves on the opposite end of the spectrum with the ball in their hands: the Hokies' path to victory will center around defensive pressure on a quarterback that only threw 14 touchdowns in 10 games, as WVU's 3.8 yards per attempt on the ground will not be enough to carry them to victory.

Week Four vs Richmond (3-0 in 2020)

Key Additions: Kyle Wickersham (incoming QB), Donovan Hoilette (Palm Beach Central ILB)
Key Losses: Joe Mancuso (QB), Wistar Allen (ILB)

This should absolutely be a victory for Virginia Tech— if it is not, there will be serious support for a change in regime at the end of the season.

The Spiders only took the field three times last season, and although they came out on top in every instance, they did not play the greatest of competition (William & Mary, Elon twice).

Richmond does not have a ranked prospect entering their program, according to 247 Sports, and flat-out have no business walking out of Lane Stadium with a win.

Mark this one in the W column with great assuredness.

Week Five vs Notre Dame (10-2 in 2020)

Key Additions: Jack Coan (Wisconsin QB), Blake Fisher (incoming OT), Rocco Spindler (incoming OG), Deion Colzie (incoming WR), Prince Kollie (incoming OLB)
Key Losses: Ian Book (QB), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB), Javon McKinley (WR), Ben Skowronek (WR), Aaron Banks (OG)

It should not be hyperbole to say that this will be the biggest test for Virginia Tech next season, given that Notre Dame spent most of last season near the top of the national rankings and made the College Football Playoff.

Losing Heisman candidate Ian Book will be a major hit for the Fighting Irish, although their stellar offensive line and overall sound group should be enough to rack up plenty of victories.

Former Wisconsin QB Jack Coan has been taking snaps as the #1 this spring, coming off of a year in which he threw for 2,727 yards and 18 touchdowns to five interceptions.

Coan is no danger to take off in the open field, but has a strong arm; the Hokies will have to control the clock and wear down Notre Dame's stellar defense that only conceded 19.7 points per outing last season, the 14th-lowest mark in the nation.

On the bright side for Hokie Nation, this bout will be their fourth at home in the first five weeks— if the team can assemble some sort of early-season rhythm prior to Notre Dame's arrival, they will be in with a chance to take down a perennial powerhouse.

Week Six vs Pittsburgh (6-5 in 2020)

Key Additions: Melquise Stovall (Hawaii WR), Marcus Minor (Maryland OG), Elliot Donald (incoming DT), Naquan Brown (incoming DE)
Key Losses: Jimmy Morrisey (C), DJ Turner (WR), Paris Ford (S)

The Hokies never seem to win in Pittsburgh anymore: luckily for them, this one is right at home on Worsham Field.

The Panthers thumped the Hokies last season to the tune of 47-14, a major victory despite barely finishing above .500 on the season.

Pittsburgh returns most of its starters at the skill positions, including its starting quarterback, running back, tight end and two wide receivers.

The Hokies' mid-season opponent did well in the turnover department last season, forcing just under two per game, thanks to 14 interceptions and six fumble recoveries on the season.

Damar Hamlin leads the defense from the back, lining up at safety, and can drop into coverage or make open-field tackles with great regularity.

Virginia Tech's key to victory will be getting off the field early, as the Panthers only converted on 36.4% of third downs last season— extra opportunities will allow an offense that regularly lacked big play ability the chance to earn easy points.

Week Seven vs Syracuse (1-10 in 2020)

Key Additions: Garrett Shrader (Miss. St. QB), Jason Simmons Jr. (New Mexico St. LB/DB), Duce Chestnut (incoming CB)
Key Losses: Nykeim Johnson (WR), Ifeatu Melifonwu (CB), Patrick Davis (OL)

Syracuse finished dead last in the ACC last season, going 1-9 against league opponents with a lone victory over Georgia Tech.

The Orange gained the third-fewest yards per game offensively in the FBS, notching a lowly mark of 265.3. Quarterback Rex Culpepper threw for 1,028 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in 10 games, while running back Sean Tucker carried the ball for 626 yards and four touchdowns.

This will be the first face-off between the two programs since October 2016, when the Orange defeated the Hokies 31-17 at home. Syracuse currently holds the series lead, 10-8.

One of SU's lone stars in Ifeatu Mlifonwu declared for the NFL draft early in 2021, leaving them even more exposed on the defensive end. While you never know with the ACC, a -14.8-point average scoring margin will not help 'Cuse heading into the coming season.

The Hokies should be able to conclude their four-game home stand with a victory against this lesser-tier opponent.

Week Eight @ Georgia Tech (3-7 in 2020)

Key Additions: Kyric McGowan (Northwestern WR), Kenneth Kirby (Norfolk State OL), Keion White (DE), James BlackStrain (incoming WR)
Key Losses: Jalen Camp (WR), Jack DeFoor (OG), Kaleb Oliver (DB), Kenan Johnson (DB)

The Yellow Jackets had a balanced attack last season, totaling 1,991 passing yards and 1,908 on the ground.

The loss of top receiver Jalen Camp will hurt an already limited passing attack, although the additions of McGowan and BlackStrain will help reprieve some of these issues.

GT was able to place consistent pressure on opposing backfields, racking up 21 sacks and 12 fumble recoveries (tied for second-most in the FBS) in their 10 games of action.

With so many positives, it is hard to imagine how the Jackets ended up with a 3-7 record: part of the answer lies in their lack of efficiency in the red zone. Georgia Tech only scored on 66.7% of their trips inside the opponent's end zone, tying the sixth-worst mark in the nation.

The Hokies will have to be prepared for sustained defensive efforts, as Georgia Tech's success running the ball allowed them to have a firm control of the time of possession in many of their contests last season.

Week Nine @ Boston College (6-5 in 2020)

Key Additions: Alec Sinkfield (West Virginia RB), Isaiah Graham-Mobley (Temple DB), Jaiden Lars-Woodbey (Florida State S)
Key Losses: Isaiah McDuffie (LB), Hunter Long (TE), Max Richardson (LB), David Bailey (RB), Max Roberts (DE)

The Eagles may have a quarterback controversy on their hands: Phil Jurkovec started all but one game last season and is listed atop the depth chart heading into 2021, but backup Dennis Grosel threw for a whopping 520 yards and four touchdowns (with three interceptions) in the season final against UVA.

Make no mistake about it, Boston College wants to air it out: BC is returning their top three receivers and will be hoping to continue their high-powered air-raid attack that ranked 24th in yards per game last season.

Losing two stud linebackers in the middle of the field will hurt tremendously, weakening an already porous group. BC finished in the middle of the pack in both rushing and passing defense, and will need a new face to establish themselves as the leader on that end of the field.

The key for Virginia Tech will be limiting the big play: QB Jurkovec threw at least one pass over 30 yards in all but one game last season, including a season-long of 77, and is likely to continue the trend as he enters his junior season, should he retain starting privileges.

Week Ten vs Duke (2-9 in 2020)

Key Additions: Scott Boylan (Brown WR), Brian Foley (Holy Cross OL), Kade Parmelly (Abilene Christian OL), Andrew Jones (incoming OT)
Key Losses: Chase Brice (QB), Michael Carter II (S), Deon Jackson (RB), Victor Dimukeje, Devery Hamilton (OL), Chris Rumph II (LB), Derrick Tangelo (DT),

The Blue Devils took major hits all over their roster, losing starting-caliber players to the transfer portal and the NFL draft left and right.

What stands out most in Duke's losses are the absences of Rumph II and Dimukeje, who take away 15.5 sacks from the defense. The Blue Devils were 14th-best at getting after the quarterback in 2020, amongst teams that played 10+ games, and will be significantly weakened on that front in 2021.

Rising junior Gunnar Holmberg is set to take snaps under center next season, having thrown only 25 career passes at the collegiate level. The dual-threat QB was once a three-star recruit coming out of Heritage High School in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and will have his chance to prove himself in the Power Five.

The name of the game for the Hokies when they return Lane Stadium is to attack, and attack early. Duke will have plenty of games to gel prior to their bout with Virginia Tech, though it will be impossible to form total chemistry after losing so many starters.

This contest will be the lone home game in the Hokies' final five weeks, and they must take advantage of it.

Week Eleven @ Miami (8-3 in 2020)

Key Additions: Charleston Rambo (Oklahoma WR), Leonard Taylor (incoming DT), James Williams (incoming S), Elijah Arroyo (incoming TE)
Key Losses: Brevin Jordan (TE), Jaelan Phillips (DE), Quincy Roche (DE), N'Kosi Perry (QB),

Star quarterback D'Eriq King tore his ACL in a 37-34 bowl loss to Oklahoma State late in the season, though he is hopeful to be ready for action by the fall. Incoming four-star quarterback Jake Garcia may be the man to fill the void if King cannot go, following the departure of backup N'Kosi Perry.

The Hurricanes would have been lighter up front after losing their starting defensive end duo to the NFL draft, had they not brought in top-10 recruit Leonard Taylor to add some nastiness to the defensive line.

Another incoming freshman, James Williams, is the #14 recruit in America and offers tremendous size at the safety position, standing at 6'5, 218 pounds.

Miami's three losses in 2020 came against the #1, #17 and #21 teams in the nation; they are no pushover.

The Hokies were in with a shout to topple the Hurricanes last November after taking a 24-13 lead halfway through the third quarter, but relinquished 12 unanswered points and ultimately dropped the weekend affair.

There is no specific weakness to target on the Hurricanes' roster— Virginia Tech will just have to put together 60 minutes of complete football.

Week Twelve @ Virginia (5-5 in 2020)

Key Additions: Devin Darrington (Harvard RB), Bryce Carter (incoming DT), Anthony Johnson (Louisville CB), Logan Taylor (incoming OT)
Key Losses: Charles Snowden (LB), Zane Zandier (LB), Jowon Briggs (DT)

Virginia came alive late in the season last year, winning four of their last five and reversing their early fortunes.

UVA has explosive athletes on both sides of the football, most notably 6'7 wide receiver Lavel Davis Jr. (515 yards, 25.8 yards per catch and five touchdowns) and 6'1, 235lb linebacker Nick Jackson, who had the second-most tackles per game in the ACC last season.

The battle for the Commonwealth Cup will take place in Charlottesville on November 27th, almost a year after the Hokies reclaimed the trophy on their home field. Virginia Tech has won 16 of the last 17 matchups.

UVA banks heavily on the playmaking of QB Brennan Armstrong, who lead the team with 2,117 passing yards and 552 rushing yards. For this reason, Virginia Tech will have to shut him down to win the ball game.

The Cavaliers found themselves victorious the last time these two faced off on their home field in 2018, although the Hokies will be hoping to start another historic streak against their rivals.

One major component to watch out for is Virginia's pressure on the QB: they ranked seventh in sacks per game amongst FBS teams with 10+ games played last season, recording 32 in total; good for the Hokies that they finished with 36.

So, that's the season preview. Virginia Tech's opponents combined for a 61-56 record last season, with some extremes on both ends.

Seven of VT's 12 games will be played at home and they will avoid the ACC powerhouse that is Clemson, giving them an advantage in scheduling.

Any number of factors could shift the maroon and orange towards a winning or losing season, and that remains to be seen; what is for sure is that the season is steadily approaching, and with the murmurs of fans being allowed back into the stadium this fall, Hokie Nation is riled up to see what their crew will produce on the field.