The countdown to the 2014 football season is officially on. On Wednesday, the ACC released the full football schedules for next season and officially locked in dates for key games across the conference. The Hokies will be breaking in a new quarterback in 2014; do they have a chance to hoist the trophy in Charlotte?
- The biggest news with this schedule release is the date of the Battle for the Commonwealth Cup. This year, the ACC moved the game against rival Virginia to Black Friday afternoon. The last time this game was played on Black Friday was in 1996, but this time it was done to slide into the ACC's Black Friday deal with ESPN. When the new TV contract with the ACC was announced, it included three Friday night telecasts - one each for Syracuse and Boston College and another on Black Friday. It is likely that the earliest this game will now kickoff is 3:30 p.m. In 2013, the first year of the deal, Miami and Pittsburgh kicked off at 3:30 p.m. Look for a mid-afternoon kickoff in Lane Stadium for this one.
- Also, the release of the schedule revealed the critically acclaimed Thursday night home game is returning to Blacksburg. After a year off from a Thursday nighter in Blacksburg at former athletic director Jim Weaver's request, the Hokies will be back in their biggest showcase game. This year, the Miami Hurricanes will visit Blacksburg on a Thursday night for the first time ever.
Aug. 30 - vs. William & Mary
This year's FCS opponent will come in a lot more prepared than 2013's FCS opponent. Western Carolina went 1-11 the year before playing the Hokies. The Tribe went 7-5 and competed in a 24-17 road loss at West Virginia to open the season. The Hokies should win this game, but with a new quarterback and several new starts on defense, it could be a little more strenuous then some would like.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 24 - William & Mary 14
Sept. 6 - at Ohio State
Before retiring, Jim Weaver set up the schedule to feature at least one marquee non-conference game for the next several years. This year begins a home-and-home with Ohio State. Next year, the Hokies get the Buckeyes in Lane Stadium on Labor Day Monday, but this year they will have to travel to Columbus to take on a very talented OSU team. Coach Urban Meyer is entering his third year at Ohio State and, after two seasons, is 24-2 in Columbus. The Buckeyes return a ton of talent - including an early Heisman favorite in quarterback Braxton Miller. The chances of the Hokies winning this game are about the same, if not less, than the chances they had against Alabama in 2013.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 7 - Ohio State 31
Sept. 13 - vs. East Carolina
Virginia Tech's long-term series with East Carolina continues in 2014, this time with the Pirates returning to Blacksburg for the first time since 2010. The last two games have both been played in Greenville. The last two games were very close - 17-10 in 2011 and 15-10 in 2013 - so you better believe the Pirates will come in looking to pull the upset this season. If things go as expected in Columbus, this will be a huge game to determine exactly where the leadership is coming from on the team. After a kick in the gut like that, getting back to playing good football the next weekend is incredibly important, particularly with ACC play just a few weeks away.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 17 - East Carolina 13
Sept. 20 - vs. Georgia Tech
The Yellow Jackets and Hokies nearly always play close games, which makes this one a dangerous one considering it's VT's ACC opener. Coach Paul Johnson is likely on the hot seat this year after a few average seasons in Atlanta, so he will be going all out for each victory. Quarterback Vad Lee transferred to JMU over the offseason, which means Johnson will be searching for a new quarterback he can trust in the spring and into August. No matter whom he finds to be his quarterback, expect this one to be close.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 17 - Georgia Tech 20
Sept. 27 - vs. Western Michigan
The Hokies played Western Michigan often in the early 2000s, and handily thrashed them each time. The Broncos have never scored a point against Virginia Tech in three games and the combined score of the games is 124-0. This might be the easiest game on the schedule for the Hokies. In head coach P.J. Fleck's first year at the helm in 2013, the Broncos went 1-11 and lost to Nichols State and Eastern Michigan.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 31 - Western Michigan 0
Oct. 4 - at North Carolina
Over the last several seasons, North Carolina has always been a team with a ton of potential. This year is no different as the Heels enter head coach Larry Fedora's third year at the helm. Quarterback Marquise Williams picked up a ton of experience filling in for Bryn Renner late in 2013 and could be a breakout star in the conference for the Heels. Virginia Tech's experience at Ohio State could help them out in this game, as well as the fact that North Carolina very well could be coming off a loss at Clemson the week before. I expect this one, like many others in 2014, to be close.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 23 - North Carolina 30
Oct. 16 - at Pittsburgh (Thursday)
The game against Pittsburgh in 2014 begins the common back-to-back Thursday stretch that most teams prefer to take with regards to Thursday night games. It gives the teams extra rest at both the front end and back end of the two games. Pitt went 7-6 in head coach Paul Chryst's second season in charge. The Panthers will return both of their leading rushers from last season - sophomore John Connor and senior Issac Bennett - but they need to be stronger up front. The Panthers finished 102nd in the country in rushing yards last year, something Chryst desperately wants to improve given his work as offensive coordinator at Wisconsin prior to arriving in the Steel City. Pittsburgh night games can be tricky because of the NFL stadium they play in and the so-so support the program receives from a Steeler crazed city, but it will be a tough visit nonetheless.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 17 - Pittsburgh 21
Oct. 23 - vs. Miami (Thursday)
This is the marquee game on the home schedule and one the majority of Virginia Tech fans look forward to each season. The fact that it is against the rival 'Canes only adds to the allure. Coach Al Golden spurned interest from Penn State over the offseason to continue rebuilding Miami, who almost certainly are looking to make a resurgence similar to that of Florida State. Is this the year? Probably not. Former Memphis transfer quarterback Ryan Williams is likely the leader-in-the-clubhouse to replace Stephen Morris under center, which might be a good thing considering his propensity for interceptions over the years.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27 - Miami 20
Nov. 1 - vs. Boston College
Quarterback Chase Rettig finally graduated after serving four years under center for the Eagles and head coach Steve Addazio turned to his Florida connections to land a replacement. Former Florida quarterback Tyler Murphy, who started six games for the Gators in 2013, transferred to BC over the offseason and is eligible to play immediately. With a new quarterback under center and star running back Andre Williams graduated, the Eagles will have a brand new look in 2014.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 22 - Boston College 20
Nov. 15 - at Duke
Duke is by far the most intriguing team in the conference heading into 2014. They are coming off a storybook ten win season that included a trip to the ACC Championship and a near victory over Texas A&M in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl. How they respond to radically different expectations in next year is crucial for Duke. Coach David Cutcliffe's teams will be expected to win next year. They have a home Thursday night game against North Carolina. The Blue Devils upset the Hokies in Lane Stadium in 2013 so revenge is going to be on the mind of the Hokies. Given this game's late November date, this could be a huge game in the Coastal Division.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 20 - Duke 24
Nov. 22 - vs. Wake Forest
The last time the Deacs visited Blacksburg, the Hokies strolled to a 52-21 victory, but not without concern on the ground. Wake Forest running back Josh Harris rushed for 241 yards on the ground as the only offense the Deacs could muster that day. A lot has changed for Wake since then with the biggest change coming this offseason. Long-time head coach Jim Grobe stepped down and former Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson was hired. Clawson has a terrific reputation from his time as a program builder at both Richmond and Bowling Green. This might not be the year for Wake Forest to return to a bowl, but expect them to steadily improve from year-to-year. They also have to replace four-year starting quarterback Tanner Price this season.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 26 - Wake Forest 10
Nov. 28th - vs. Virginia (Friday)
Coach Mike London is definitely on the hot seat in Charlottesville, but his fate might be decided by this time in the season. The 'Hoos are looking at another quarterback competition between David Watford and Greyson Lambert, and it could last the entire season. At this point in the offseason, who knows how this game will look. These teams could be competing for a championship, a bowl, or just bragging rights. Whatever the case, it's likely to be close like the last two games.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 20 - Virginia 17
My early predictions have the Hokies finishing 2014 at 7-5 overall and 4-4 in the ACC. Obviously, this would be a disappointing season in Blacksburg. However, the concerns at quarterback, the lack of playmaking ability at skill positions, and the new defensive starters cause concern for me. The Hokies are recruiting well this year, but they can't count on guys like four-star running back Shai McKenzie or four-star wide receiver Cameron Phillips to make a huge impact next season. The years the Hokies should be looking forward to are 2015 and 2016, when the young talent the Hokies are recruiting - particularly on offense - will start to take shape.