Playing in the ACC championship three out of the four years and winning it twice has set the bar high for the Virginia Tech Football program.
This year, the expectations in Blacksburg are higher than ever.
After what was expected to be a rebuilding year in 2008, the Hokies backed their way into another ACC Championship and won their first ever BCS Bowl—defeating Cincinnati 20-7 in the Orange Bowl.
Now the team exclusively belongs to quarterback Tyrod Taylor. If he can establish himself as a legit passer then Tech fans could be doing the Hokey Pokey all the way to Pasadena.
Here are the defining games and the matchup battles within those games that will determine if the fighting Gobblers will be playing for a National Championship.
1. Alabama—Sept. 5, Atlanta, Ga.
The Chick-Fil-A College Kickoff showcases two top 10 teams and starts the season off with a bang.
This game features superstars and athletes galore, two big name coaches, and defenses that are both predicted to finish in the Top 10 by the end of the year.
VT’s performance in this game will set the tempo for the remainder of the season.
Stinespring vs. Saban
Most of the Hokie Nation has been complaining about the lackluster playcalling and ball-control offense coming from Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring.
In 2008 VT finished 103rd in total offense. The mundane play selection controlled the clock, provided very few highlights but resulted in more wins than expected. That lack of imagination will not get it done against another vaunted Saban defense.
The Crimson Tide have an enormous front three on the defensive line, anchored by All-American candidate Terrence Cody.
Behind the big eaters, the Tide have perhaps the nations best linebacking core, led by all-conference performers Rolando McClain and Dont’a Hightower.
This is a perfect opportunity for Stinespring to quiet nay-sayers. By incorporating the “Wild Turkey” formation and other imaginative plays into the gameplan, Tech can spread the field, change the point of attack and get the ball to their athletes.
This will ultimately exhaust and neutralize those defensive linemen—who all weigh over 275 pounds.
Third Down: Always a Key Play
You can expect to hear the keys from the VT fans out on every third down at any game.
In this game, the ability to move the chains on third down will be the “key” indicator of a successful drive.
Bama likes to control the clock by running the ball and just like VA Tech, they will feature multiple RBs in the ground attack.
The Hokie defense is a solid mix of athletes and disciplined system players, so you can expect a lot of third down plays. This is where they can bring the blitzes against an offensive line that has allowed 25 sacks in each of their last two seasons.
As long as they can jam or contain wide receiver Julio Jones at the line of scrimmage to make first year starting QB Greg McElroy look elsewhere, the Hokies should be able to bring out the kickers—always one of the most exciting times for the VPI faithful.
2. Miami—Sept. 26, Blacksburg, Va.
This year’s edition of the rivalry that has Big East origins will not be much different than those of years past—it’s going to be a track meet.
Year in and year out, both teams always boast a roster full of athletes. Speed is all over the field and on both sides of the ball.
Who Brings the Swagg?
This year, turnovers may end up being the significant statistic in this game, but in this rivalry, the intangibles usually determine the outcome.
This game is in Blacksburg and has already been dubbed as the “Maroon Effect” game for those homes fans filling Lane. Expect tons of energy and excitement out of the home team right out of the tunnel—but can they maintain it all game?
“The U” has attitude and a knack for talking a lot before the game but often backs it up like Quadtrine Hill did in 2005, before coming to play the then No. 3 ranked Hokies in Blacksburg.
So, who brings the swagger this year?
3. Georgia Tech—Oct. 17, Atlanta, Ga.
Paul Johnson’s triple option offense produced last year’s ACC Player of the Year in Jonathan Dwyer. Now it’s year two and the Ramblin Wreck have a group at RB that is one of the deepest and most diverse in the nation.
Triple Option vs. VT Linebackers
Virginia Tech always houses one of the nation’s top run defenses, but Johnson’s triple option poses as an interesting challenge for Bud Foster’s defense.
The game will undoubtedly come down to Foster’s defense being able to maintain discipline and contain these deceptive backs sideline to sideline.
The ability to slow the GT rushing attack hinges on Cody Grimm’s ability to lead, and organize freshmen Barquelle Rivers and Jake Johnson at the second level. If they cannot hold their assignments, that will draw up the safeties in support and expose them to the deep ball.
This should be one tough assignment for the Hokie linebackers. If they do their job—take good angles, don’t over pursue and tackle—then VA Tech should triumph in a close one.
I expect defensive end Jason Worilds to be a disruptive force in this contest and have multiple tackles for a loss.
4. NC State—Nov. 21, Blacksburg, VA
The Wolfpack are led by ACC Rookie of the Year, quarterback Russell Wilson, who is equipped with a tall and aggressive receiving core.
Pass Offense vs. Pass Defense
Foster will probably throw everything and the kitchen sink at NC State's depleted offensive line, not allowing Wilson room to breath or have sufficient time to throw the ball.
If the rush is neutralized, the game will come down to Tech’s secondary and they’re ability to contain this physical pack of receivers.
Look for 6’4”, 226-pound Hokie free safety Kam Chancellor to sit back and inflict some pain on those wide receivers.
He is a game changer who has the range of a defensive back, but the size and hitting ability of a linebacker. Expect him to be in top form late in the season to raise his draft stock.
VT O-Line vs. NCSU D-Line
The NC State defense is highlighted two NFL caliber players on the line—DE Willie Young and DT Alan-Michael Cash. They are going against two future NFL O-Linemen in LT Ed Wang and G Sergio Render.
It’ll be an impressive and athletic battle in the trenches when the Hokies have the ball on offense.