ACC play really cranks up for the Hokies this year in October when they travel to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina on Oct. 6. October also brings the much-anticipated rematch at Clemson. Today, let's take a look at how October figures to shape up for Frank Beamer's squad.
Sept. 29 - vs. Cincinnati (at FedEx Field, Washington D.C.)
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What We Learned: What We Learned: Offensively, the Bearcats should be pretty good. They have a solid offensive line protecting QB Munchie Legaux who, aside from being one of the all-time great names, is back for his second year as the starter. This team is close to the offensive gem they were when VT played them in the Orange Bowl, but I don't expect this team to struggle offensively. Defensively, freshman linebacker Nick Temple, who hails from that Warren Central place in Indiana, appears to have claimed a starting spot after a strong spring.
What We Don't Know: Cincinnati's defensive line is going to be something to watch early in the season. They have three terrific, starting caliber defensive ends in Walter Stewart, Dan Giordano, and Brandon Mills. The latter is a pass-rushing specialist who will get considerable time in obvious passing situations. However, the Bearcats lost two stalwarts at defensive tackle off of last year's squad and need to replace the production that they brought. Jordan Stepp and Camaron Beard are being tasked with the assignment of replacing John Hughes and Derek Wolfe inside, and their ability to control things in the middle of the line of scrimmage may just make or break the Cincinnati defense this year.
What to Expect: This is going to be a really fun game. Anytime Tech gets to play at FedEx, it's a memorable game. While not nearly as enticing as Boise State or USC, this will be Tech's third solid test in the first five games of the year.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 28 - Cincinnati 16
Oct. 6 - at North Carolina
What We Learned: Byrn Renner is back for his second year under center in Chapel Hill and after a 23-28, 295 yards, two touchdown passing performance in the spring game, it appears he is picking up new coach Larry Fedora's spread scheme very well. The Tar Heels want to be way more up-tempo than they were under Butch Davis and having a steady hand operating the controls in Renner will help.
What We Don't Know: There is a ton of uncertainty surrounding this program in 2012. They can't play in a bowl game this year, so how will Fedora keep his players motivated? Fedora brought in co-defensive coordinators in Dan Disch and Vic Koenning to implement a funky 4-2-5 defense. Will that work in the ACC? The Heels have had some incredibly talented defensive linemen over the past few seasons with guys like Robert Quinn, Marvin Austin, and Quinton Coples all donning the baby blue. Which defensive linemen steps up in 2012 as the next big thing?
What To Expect: Looking at Carolina's schedule, this looks to be their Super Bowl this year. The Heels could easily be 5-0 heading into this game if they sneak around touch matchups at Wake, at Louisville, and home with East Carolina. Other than the rival Wolfpack, the Hokies are the premier team coming to Chapel Hill this year and a win would be huge for Fedora in his first season.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 30 - North Carolina 28
Oct. 13 - vs. Duke
What We Learned: Sean Renfree is entering his third year as the starter in Durham under coach David Cutcliffe, so expect a huge year from him. The talent Cutcliffe brought in during his first recruiting year is starting to pay dividends, with contributions expected from guys like DE Justin Foxx, CB Ross Cockrell, and S Walt Canty. Wide receiver Conner Vernon returns for his seemingly 11th year at Duke and will be near the top of ever receiving statistical category.
What We Don't Know: The offense will be fine, so everything this year rides on Duke's defense. This will be the Blue Devils' second season in defensive coordinator Jim Knowles' 4-2-5 scheme, so hopefully they take a few steps forward with eight returning starters. The other area of concern for Duke has always been the offensive line, although that shouldn't be that big of a deal this year. RT Perry Simmons, RG Laken Tomlinson, and C Brian Moore form three-fifths of what could be Duke's best offensive line in a really long time. If those guys can stay healthy and compete at the point of attack, Duke could be striving for a bowl.
What to Expect: Three of the last four VT/Duke games have been a little too close for comfort. This Duke team is expected to be better than any of the past four squads Cutcliffe has put together, so by no means should the Hokies be overlooking this one.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 41 - Duke 17
Oct. 20 - at Clemson
What We Learned: The Tigers are still loaded at skill positions and should be a juggernaut offensively once again. Under center, Tajh Boyd is back for his second year in Chad Morris' system, Andre Ellington and Mike Bellamy return at tailback, and Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins give Clemson the ACC's best wideout tandem. The defense was deemed unfixable after the Orange Bowl shellacking, so coach Dabo Swinney convinced Brent Venables to leave Oklahoma and come fix it as the Tigers' defensive coordinator. Venables always put together strong units in Norman and after implementing his 4-3 system this spring, look for some major improvements on that side of the ball.
What We Don't Know: Clemson is replacing three offensive and three defensive linemen, so the battle in the trenches is going to be huge for the Tigers all year. Andre Branch isn't going to be out wide harassing opposing quarterbacks, which is a plus for the rest of the ACC. Dalton Freeman returns at center to anchor an offensive line that underwent a lot of shuffling this spring. If they struggle, it would complete negate the sheer silliness of the talent Clemson has on the offensive side of the ball. Then there's the defense, which gave up 70 points to West Virginia and is now being run by a new coach. How will they react? Can they live without defensive line stalwarts like Branch and DT Brandon Thompson?
What to Expect: Game of the year here and everyone knows it. The Hokies will be gunning for revenge following two blowouts at the hands of the Tigers last year and this is their regular season opportunity. This might be the conference's game of the year as well. If the Hokies want to win this one, they will need to put up some major points.
Early Prediction: Clemson 31 - Virginia Tech 16
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