Virginia Tech Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule

Alex Koma@AlexKomaVTContributor IIIMarch 17, 2014

Virginia Tech Football: Ranking the Hardest Games of the 2014 Schedule

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    The Virginia Tech football team is dealing with some major changes up and down the roster, and the 2014 season could very well hinge on how some of the new starters perform in just a handful of big games. 

    The ACC’s Coastal Division is slowly improving, thanks to the resurgence of Miami and the emergence of Duke, but the Hokies still very nearly won the division in 2013 during a mediocre season.

    Tech just happened to falter in all of the wrong games, as crushing losses to Duke, Boston College and Maryland essentially ended the team’s season.

    If the Hokies can reverse that trend in 2014, then they have a chance to make a big splash with a very young roster.

    It’ll all come down to how the Hokies handle a handful of tough ACC matchups and one very important non-conference showdown.

At North Carolina, Oct. 4

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    The Hokies narrowly won over the UNC Tar Heels last year at home, 27-17, but the squad should present an even greater challenge in 2014. 

    The road game will be Tech’s first conference game of the season, and it’ll be important to set the tone early for the season.

    Larry Fedora’s offense really started to come together in the back half of 2013 under quarterback Marquise Williams, and while he has had to replace his offensive coordinator, it should, once again, be tough to stop for Tech.

    Williams threw for 277 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 56 yards against the Hokies the first time around, and he’ll have a lot more experience under his belt next year.

    The key will be how the Heels improve on their unconventional 4-2-5 defense, as Athlon Sports’ Mark Ross explains.

    This side of the ball has lost some key players, notably first-team All-ACC defensive end Kareem Martin and secondary stalwarts Tre Boston and Jabari Price. However, seven starters and a host of key contributors return along with some additional reinforcements for the defensive line in the form of several redshirt freshmen and a pair of intriguing, incoming prospects. The linebackers could be pretty deep and the secondary boasts some talent and experience of its own. There appear to be plenty of pieces for (Vic) Koenning, (Ron) West and the rest of the defensive staff to work with and the spring will allow them to get a head start on putting the complicated puzzle that is the 4-2-5 together.

    The Heels should be an early test for Tech’s defense, and a win over an in-division foe is always crucial early in the season.

    However, there’s another road matchup in North Carolina that could be an even bigger issue for Tech.

At Duke, Nov. 15

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    The Blue Devils really embarrassed Tech at home last season, and the Hokies will have even tougher matchup with David Cutcliffe’s squad when they travel to Durham, N.C., late in the season. 

    Duke’s quarterback tandem of Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette befuddled Tech’s defense last year. Neither put up gaudy numbers, but they averaged a combined nine yards per carry on the ground and gashed the run defense at all the worst possible moments. 

    Both signal-callers return in 2014, to the Hokies’ detriment. However, Duke is also replacing its offensive coordinator, promoting former passing game coordinator Scottie Montgomery to the top job.

    But while the change could cause some early turbulence, players seem comfortable with the move.

    "It will be a great thing for our team," wide receiver Jamison Crowder told Laura Keeley of the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer. "He has a lot of experience, both playing football at the next level, the highest level, and coaching on the highest level. It’s just going to be a great thing, great experience for the players and the coaches to have his schemes and strategies going into a ballgame. I can’t wait."

    Where the Hokies might benefit from some turmoil is against Duke’s defense. The unit only returns six starters, as compared to the nine starters the offense brings back.

    But Cutcliffe was fond of rotating in his reserves with some frequency, so the new starters won’t be totally green.

    In either case, the Blue Devils held the Hokies to just 10 points in 2013, a result they’ll need to reverse if they want to win and seize control of the Coastal next year.

    Duke isn’t going anywhere in the division, and it’ll be a tall order for the Hokies to go into North Carolina and come out with a late season win if they can’t use their offensive experience to disrupt Duke’s younger defense.

    But while this game might be a challenge, there’s one team at the very top of the schedule that will be a huge hurdle for the Hokies.

At Ohio State, Sept. 6

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    The Hokies’ first ever matchup with the Buckeyes will be a huge one, and an enormous test for Tech.

    Frank Beamer and company haven’t traveled to an arena as imposing as the Horseshoe in some time, and this game will be similar in both importance and difficulty to last year’s opening date with Alabama.

    Urban Meyer’s bunch should spend a lot of time at the top of the polls once more, returning star quarterback Braxton Miller and eight starters on defense.

    While the offense does lose some big playmakers, like running back Carlos Hyde, Miller’s continued development has to give Bud Foster nightmares heading into 2014.

    It’s helpful that the Hokies once again have nearly the whole offseason to prepare for such a top notch opponent—it seems unlikely Tech will spend much time focusing on its opener against William and Mary—but OSU’s offense is going to be quite the handful, nonetheless.

    The team’s one area of weakness appears to be the offensive line, as Steve Lassan of Athlon Sports explains.

    The Buckeyes had one of the best offensive lines in the nation last year. Fast forward to 2014 and this group is facing a rebuilding project. Taylor Decker is the only returning starter from last season and will likely flip from right tackle to the left side. Pat Elflein made one start in 2013 and is penciled in at one of the guard spots. The other three positions are up for grabs.

    Tech does have a deep defensive line to attack Ohio State’s more inexperienced players, but that group will have to have a lot of success early to make sure the Buckeyes don’t outscore the Hokies before the offense can get going.

    Beating the Buckeyes would be a monumental achievement for Tech.

    If the Hokies can achieve it, it will shape the whole season. There’s no doubt that this matchup, above all others, is circled on the Hokies’ calendars.