When the calendar turns to November this fall, four big games will await the Hokies on their march to what they hope will be a berth in the ACC Championship game. With road trips to the extreme south (Miami) and extreme north (Boston) and huge home games against Florida State and Virginia, November will certainly be an exciting month.
Nov. 1 - at Miami (Thursday)
What We Learned: The 'Canes have talent everywhere, but coach Al Golden is still looking for the best to emerge. There are competitions just about everywhere, especially on offense where Golden and offensive coordinator Jed Fisch are looking at competitions at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver. Ryan Williams took most of the snaps under center this spring with Stephen Morris out with a back injury and he proved over the course of the spring that he might just be the guy under center come September. Defensively, Anthony Chickillo looks poised to become the playmaker everyone thought he would be as a true freshman in 2012. At 6'4" and nearly 250 pounds, he is tough to handle from his defensive end position.
What We Don't Know: As mentioned above, there are competitions in a lot of places right now, the biggest of which is at quarterback. Morris and Williams will enter August nearly deadlocked. The defense has a lot of experience, with nine juniors and seniors expected to start, but they must get better at the point of attack. A big year form Chickillo will help.
What to Expect: This is the first of the back-to-back Thursday nighters for the Hokies, so they will be coming off their first extended rest all season. Tech is also coming off that crucial Clemson game, so this could very well be a must-win. However, I don't expect Miami to be a factor by this point in the year simply because their schedule is downright brutal to open the year. Their schedule the first eight weeks of the year goes: at BC, at K-State, vs. Bethune Cookman, vs. USF, at GT, vs. NC State, vs. Notre Dame (Chicago), vs. North Carolina, vs. FSU. Aside from Bethune Cookman, each game is probably a toss-up. Look for Tech to go down and take care of business as the 'Canes rebuild.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 26 - Miami 13
Nov. 8 - vs. Florida State (Thursday)
What We Learned: Coach Jimbo Fisher "opened up" all positions for open competition this spring and went full-tilt in hopes of identifying his best players at each position. What it produced is a cleat statement that the 'Noles, in fact, have a ton of talent. Quarterback E.J. Manuel is back for another year under center and will undoubtedly be looking to join the Tajh Boyd/Logan Thomas conversation in ACC Circles. FSU's leading rusher, sophomore Devonta Freeman, missed the spring with aback injury, which opened up plenty of opportunities for guys like Chris Thompson and freshman Mario Pender, one of FSU's prized recruits. Defensively, the Seminoles should be stout in defensive coordinator Mike Stoops' second season. DE Brandon Jenkins returned to anchor the line, Christian Jones and Nick Moody return to lead the linebackers, and the secondary is absolutely loaded with corners Greg Reid and Xavier Rhoades and safeties LaMarcus Joyner and sophomore Terrence Brooks.
What We Don't Know: The 'Noles had a couple key injuries, namely Freeman and NT Timmy Jernigan. Both are expected to be back for the fall, so the main concern is whether they aggravate something in August. The other big story out of Tallahassee on the field was the departure of former uber-prospect LB Jeff Luc, who transferred to Cincinnati. He was only going to be a backup this year though, so his loss isn't that huge.
What To Expect: This is the home game everyone has circled and is a close runner up next to Clemson for potential "game of the year" status. If the 'Noles can knock off Clemson at home on Sept. 22, they could very reasonably be undefeated heading into this game. Road trips to South Florida, Miami, and NC State along with home games against BC and Duke pre-date the trip to Blacksburg following that Clemson game. This is expected to be a matchup of two of the top teams in the conference and could be a preview of the ACC Championship Game a few weeks later, so expect this one to be played accordingly. It'll be fast, physical, and a test of intestinal fortitude as both teams lock horns in a huge contest.
Early Prediction: Florida State 28 - Virginia Tech 23
Nov. 17 - at Boston College
What We Learned: The Eagles got hit with some rough news when it was announced that former star RB Montel Harris wouldn't be returning, as had been expected, to the program. That leaves a gaping hole in the BC offense that must be filled for them to expect any improvement over last year's 4-8 performance. Luke Kuechly departed from his linebacker position, but expect Kevin Pierre-Louis to continue his development and assume the lead playmaking responsibilities on defense.
What We Don't Know: Boston College's improvement in 2012 hinges completely on whether quarterback Chase Rettig is a better quarterback this year than he was last year. He is on his fourth offensive coordinator entering in third year as the starter in Chestnut Hill and without Harris to hand the ball off to reliably 30 times a game; he is going to have to become a much bigger playmaker for BC to move off their 4-8 mark from a year ago.
What to Expect: A trip to Boston in late November is always going to be an unpredictable, tricky encounter. Tech has been burned a couple times in recent history by road trips to Boston, namely 2008 (28-23 L) and 2006 (22-3 L). It'll be frigid and the Eagles will look to shorten the game, but look for the Hokies to grind one out defensively heading into the final game of the year.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 17 - Boston College 3
Nov. 24 - at Virginia
What We Learned: The 'Hoos should be fine on offense. Mike Rocco returns under center, although he will face competition from Phillip Sims in the fall, three tailbacks return (Kevin Parks, Perry Jones, Clifton Richardson) and a host of talented receivers are looking to make their mark (Tim Smith, Darius Jennings, Dominique Terrell). Add in an emerging tight end threat in former walk-on Jake McGee and a few standout offensive linemen in Morgan Moses, Oday Aboushi, and Luke Bowanko and the 'Hoos offense could be the one leading the team in 2012. Defensively, they return just four starters, but they are some good ones. DE Jake Snyder is as solid as a rock, same with Steve Greer at middle linebacker. Those two are going to be expected to anchor the defense after strong springs.
What We Don't Know: Demetrious Nicholson played a lot as a true freshman, but struggled at times in year one. Without Chase Minnifield to rely on across the way, has Nicholson improved enough to be that #1 cover man? Also, without Corey Mosley and Rodney McCleod at safety to help out, how do all the corners handle their coverage? The issue of what to do with Sims is a legitimate one, as it seems likely he will get an NCAA waiver to play immediately. What affect will a quarterback controversy have on the season in Charlottesville?
What to Expect: I expect the 2012 version of the Battle for the Commonwealth Cup to be a lot more competitive than the previous three meetings. The 'Hoos have a lot of talent returning offensively and after eleven games, the defense should be past the "inexperienced" stage. The way the programs are set-up now, a close game between the two will never be a shootout, but rather a grind-it-out, defensive affair. That's what I expect in 2012. Depending on the records at the end of the year, this could be the most important game of Mike London's UVA tenure.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 17 - Virginia 10
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