Virginia Tech kicks off the 2012 football season in less than three months against Georgia Tech in prime time on a Monday night. After a spring that saw a number of developments come to Blacksburg, it is time to look ahead to see what we learned, what we still need to know, and what to expect at this point from each game.
Sept. 3 - vs. Georgia Tech
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What We Learned: GT's offense will be potent enough to win the ACC championship. This will be the best Georgia Tech offense since Paul Johnson had Josh Nesbitt, Jonathon Dwyer, and Demaryius Thomas. Johnson is talking like Vad Lee has a shot to overtake Tevin Washington under center, but something tells me that's a motivational tactic to get Washington operating at maximum capacity. Defensively, Georgia Tech has a very strong secondary led by cornerback Louis Young. He and Roderick Sweeting give the Jackets one of the top cover duos in the conference.
What We Don't Know: Johnson played this spring without three offensive line starters, so the cohesion, consistency, and experience needed to be effective in the triple-option system at the point of attack may be lacking heading into August. Defensively, Al Groh's unit suffered a massive setback when it was announced that Julian Burnett, who was hurt during the Sun Bowl, would miss the 2012 season with a lingering neck injury. That injury is apparently serious and is a big blow dealt to the second level of GT's still developing 3-4 unit.
What to Expect: This is going to be a tight, tight game. GT's offense naturally allows for them to control the clock and keep VT's offense off the field, but Bud Foster's strong unit should be able to keep GT out of the endzone most of the time. This one will be low scoring, but I think the Hokies can create a bit more offense and squeak one out thanks to the home crowd.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 19 - Georgia Tech 17
Sept. 8 - vs. Austin Peay
What We Learned: The Governors have a team that head coach Rick Christophel thinks will be better than the 3-9 unit in 2011. Senior quarterback Jake Ryan had a decent spring and anytime you have a returning senior start under center, there will be a solid amount of confidence in him. Free safety Antwaun Majors made his abilities throughout the spring, especially in the second scrimmage they held when he returned an interception 80 yards for a score. Lookout for Majors on Sept. 8, he's the Govs best player.
What We Don't Know: There is a major drop-off at the FCS from the top tier (teams like JMU, Richmond, Delaware) to the tiers below (including Austin Peay). However, the teams in those tiers tend to shift much more freely than in the FBS. It is easier to make a jump for a year or two in the lower division than it is at college football's peak. Whether the Govs can make that leap from 3-9 to a really quality FCS program in one offseason will determine whether they have any shot of pulling off a monumental upset.
What To Expect: A blowout, even with the short rest for the Hokies.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 35 - Austin Peay 7
Sept. 15 - at Pittsburgh
What We Learned: There is a sense of stability returning to Pittsburgh after Paul Chryst was hired to take over the program. He's a perfect fit in Pittsburgh where he can use the power running game he perfected at Wisconsin to control the clock and grind games out. Chryst is going to have a number of options at running back, as Isaac Bennett proved himself with a 23-carry, 121-yard performance in the spring game, but will have to battle returning starter Ray Graham in the fall (once he returns from injury) and star freshman Russell Shell. This year will be all about instilling and perfecting the right attitude and aggressiveness in Chryst's program.
What We Don't Know: How reliable is quarterback Tino Sunseri? He maintained his hold on the starting job this spring, but he's always been a bit shaky and erratic throwing the football. Sunseri was 13 of 27 with a pick in the spring game, which has become a typical Sunseri performance over the years. Under Chryst at Wisconsin, the Badgers were always able to produce a confident, secure quarterback who could manage the game downfield when need be. Is Sunseri the right guy this season? That's the biggest question for the Panthers.
What to Expect: This will be Virginia Tech's first road test and those are almost always close encounters for the Hokies. Last year's first test resulted in 17-10 slugfest at East Carolina. I don't expect much different this year when Tech travels north to face a former Big East, and future ACC, foe.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 23 - Pittsburgh 17
Sept. 22 - vs. Bowling Green
What We Learned: This is a make-or-break year for Dave Clawson at Bowling Green, but luckily he has a solid returning quarterback in Matt Schilz to help him out. He has five offensive linemen returning with starting experience and 10 starts back defensively, so there shouldn't be any issues with age and maturity on the Falcons. This is a team that depth-wise is built to have a solid season in the MAC.
What We Don't Know: Yes, there are five returning linemen with starting experience. But the offensive line allowed 23 sacks last year, so whether that is a good thing remains to be seen. Yes, there are ten starters returning defensively, but that unit was No. 104 in the country in run defense last year, so whether that is a good thing remains to be seen. Finally, MAC freshman of the year Anthon Samuel, a very talented running back who adds a whole new element to the Bowling Green attack, missed the spring session with a wrist injury and needs to return in the fall at 100% or else BGSU will be missing a key cog in their offense.
What to Expect: I see this game unfolding either similarly to the Arkansas State game last year or the Western Kentucky game a few years prior. The Falcons have experience and some good individual pieces and Tech will be coming off a hard-fought road trip to Pittsburgh the week before, so this game could be one of those ugly blowouts that weren't played flawlessly, but it got the job done.
Early Prediction: Virginia Tech 31 - Bowling Green 13
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