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December 30, 2013

Staff Picks: Hokies In The Sun Bowl

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It's another bowl for the 21st consecutive season for Virginia Tech, but can the Hokies pull out win their not expected to win, against high-powered UCLA? The Bruins are ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press poll after a 9-3 season and falling just short of the Pac-12 title game.

We take our shots at calling what will happen at tomorrow's 2 pm ET kickoff.


Jason Stamm, publisher

Yes, Virginia Tech is in a bowl for a 21st straight season. That streak is the second-longest in the country, behind national championship game-bound Florida State. But for one of the few times during the Hokies' streak, they're a big underdog.

UCLA, No. 17 in the Associated Press poll, had a chance at a Rose Bowl appearance not that long ago. The Bruins have a dynamic offense, some playmakers on defense and some big win this season. It's easy to see why they're expected to win this game.

But UCLA hasn't done well in bowls for quite a while, going just 4-9 over their last 13 bowls. Virginia Tech isn't spectacular, at 6-7 in its past 13 bowls since playing for the national championship, but the Hokies have a staff who's been to some big-time games and knows how to win. And Virginia Tech has a stout defense, one that arguably is good enough to play for a national championship this season.

For the Hokies, that defense had better come ready to play. UCLA averages 36.5 points and 448.2 yards per game. Virginia Tech's defense allows 17.4 points per game, but aside from a few outbursts by a few opponents late in the season, has been stout all season.

The defense better bring it, but senior quarterback Logan Thomas and the offense have to hold up their end of the bargain and not have any turnovers. That will be tough without redshirt freshman running back Trey Edmunds (broken leg), but if the defense plays the lights out its capable of, the offense will have to produce just enough and not turn the ball over.

I still think there will be a turnover, but that will happen and the defense might play its best game all season.

PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 27-24


Doug Bowman, senior writer

This one has many interesting aspects to it. UCLA quarterback Brett Hundley is going to be the X-factor because he is involved in just about all of them. First, he completes a lot of passes. However, the secondary is the strength for the Hokies. Secondly, the Bruins don't protect him well, which bodes well for Virginia Tech's front four and defensive coordinator Bud Foster's blitzes. However, Hundley is elusive and can get out of trouble. Elusive quarterbacks have hurt the Hokies this year (see: Maryland).

I have a lot of respect for what Hundley is able to do at quarterback, which is why I think the Hokies are going to have to score to win this game. Linebacker Anthony Barr and defensive back Myles Jack pose problems for the Hokies rushing from the outside, so the offensive line is going to have to protect Thomas better than they have all year.

However, I think at the end of the day too much of the offense is placed on the shoulders of Thomas. The Bruins likely won't be concerned about whatever running back is playing for the Hokies, which means Thomas will have to play like he did against Miami (either this year or in 2011) for the Hokies to win this game. With guys like Barr and Jack coming at him constantly from the outside, I don't see that happening. This one will be close in the first half, but I expect the Bruins to pull away late.

PREDICTION: UCLA 34-17

Mike Stancik, staff writer

The Hokies come into this game having 30 days of rest since their 16-6 win against UVA to secure an 8-4 regular season. Most would assume that the squad will be well-prepared to face their counterpart in UCLA, the 17th ranked team in the country. But the first time Virginia Tech had a bye week to prepare for an opponent, Duke ended up winning the de-facto ACC Coastal division championship with a 13-10 victory in Blacksburg.

Meanwhile, when UCLA has had more than a week to prepare, they have been victorious over the likes of Nebraska (41-21) and Utah (34-27). Although the Bruins don't own a fantastic run-defense (74th at 171 YPG), they have allowed a respectable 3.99 yards per rush. Not many teams have really tried to attack a solid secondary that uses relentless pressure from Barr and Cassius Marsh to contain quarterbacks.

Without Edmunds, it seems as though Thomas will be forced to win the game through the air, even though it appeared that the Hokies made excellent strides forward in their rushing attack against Virginia. Combine the loss of Edmunds with the loss of Antone Exum and possibly Kyle Fuller, and suddenly this team will be relying on unprovens in vital roles against a team that dispatched USC by 21 in their last game.

UCLA is currently seven-point favorites, and while I could easily see Virginia Tech winning, I think a more likely scenario is a close game that the Bruins ultimately take because of a lack of the ground game. (Same story, different chapter) Hundley (1,120 yards, 69.4 completion %, 13 TD (5 rush), 1 INT in last 5 games) possesses the exact type of skillset needed to beat this Hokie defense, and that's what I think will happen against a depleted secondary.

Thomas and the defense keep things respectable throughout, but the Bruins end up winning the Sun Bowl and the Hokies finish 8-5 on the year, with plenty of questions to answer in the offseason.

PREDICTION: UCLA 27-21





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