Justin Fuente has set the bar high for this program. In his first 2 seasons, he’s won 10 and 9 games, and now a lot of the team is comprised of his recruits. He has a returning quarterback that played a lot as a freshman. He has a relatively manageable schedule. If Bud Foster can figure out a way to take just 5 returning defensive starters and find some talent on the depth chart, they can retool and reload and be right back at that level again. A vote for the over here is really a vote for Fuente and to a lesser extent, Foster, that you think their culture of winning can supersede the loss of so many important pieces on both sides of the ball. With Miami lurking in the division as a potentially elite team, it will be interesting to see if the Hokies have the horses.
The market has Virginia Tech’s win total this season at 7.5 -165/+145 (BOL), 8.5 +110/-140 (5D), and 8.5 +115/-145 (DSI), so there is a strong belief the Fuente can continue this level of success, although maybe they’ll be a tiny notch below the previous 2 seasons.
|9/3 (M)||@ Florida State||+7.5|
|9/8||William & Mary||N/A|
|9/22||@ Old Dominion||-21.5|
|10/13||@ North Carolina||-4.5|
|10/25 (Th)||Georgia Tech||-8.5|
OC Brad Cornelsen has been with Fuente through this whole process, and this is a season that will test the power of their recruiting. Josh Jackson should take a step forward at quarterback, but their approach to running back-by-committee caused leading rusher Trayvon McMillian to transfer (to Colorado), and now it’s on the group, which is comprised almost entirely of Fuente recruits who will split the load. Cam Phillips is gone at receiver, and now we’re going find out a lot about the rest of the depth chart, all of whom are back. Offensive line is less experienced, so again, depth will be tested. They had the #25 recruiting class for 2017, and the #39 class for 2016. The incoming class is #22 for this year. There is talent here, and although it’s not among the elite, it’s good enough to be in the top-end of the conference. They just need to figure out continuity and roles.
Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has his work cut out for him this year. 2 players went to the NFL (including first-rounder Tremaine Edmunds), and several other key contributors are gone from the linebacking and secondary corps. The defensive line returns the most and will be relied on the most to create havoc since there are 3 new starters on the back end. One name to keep in mind: Devon Hunter, a big-time defensive back recruit (who turned down Alabama and Clemson) now entering his sophomore year who should be ready to contribute. He suffered a concussion in preseason last year that didn’t allow him to get up to speed in order to contribute. He mainly played special teams. This year he is projected to play the nickel.
No trouble spots to speak of, really. They get the open week right before Georgia Tech to prepare for the option, they have only 1 back-to-back road spot and it’s Old Dominion/Duke, which is almost laughably easy. They have 3 ultra-easy non-conference games, and draw Boston College and Florida State (in the opener) from the Atlantic, which is a little rough but not Clemson, so can’t really complain there. It’s a very beatable slate, if you like what they have talent-wise.
Win/Total pick: Over 7.5 -165 (BOL)
I trust Fuente, and this schedule can be beat. I get 3 wins in the first 4 weeks, and maybe 4. I catch Florida State in the opener when they’re adjusting to brand new coaches and coordinators and a ton of new defensive starters. The Seminoles are only going to get better as the season goes along, so a good win there schedule-wise. 4 of the last 5 games at home, and an extra week to prepare for the option with Georgia Tech. The only road trip is to Pitt and they’ll be awful by then. This team has so many unknowns on the depth chart that I am really honestly just curious to see what emerges.
-END OF 2018 PREVIEW-
ACC – Coastal
2016 record: 10-4 SU & 8-6 ATS
Head Coach: Justin Fuente – Head Coaching Experience: 6 years (2nd with Va Tech)
Season Over/Under Win Total: 9 Over -105; Under -125
Odds to win 2017 College Football Championship game: 66/1 (18th Best odds)
Returning Starters: 12 (Offense: 5 Defense: 7)
Rivals 2017 Recruiting ranking: #28th (total recruits: 26, 5-star: 0)
Sep. 3 West Virginia (Landover, MD)
Sep. 9 Delaware
Sep. 16 @ East Carolina
Sep. 23 Old Dominion
Sep. 30 Clemson
Oct. 7 @ Boston College
Oct. 14 Bye
Oct. 21 North Carolina
Oct. 28 Duke
Nov. 4 @ Miami FL
Nov. 11 @ Georgia Tech
Nov. 18 Pittsburgh
Nov. 24 @ Virginia
Averaging 35 points per game in Justin Fuente’s first year replacing the legendary Frank Beamer, the Virginia Tech offense was better than expected under 1st year Offensive Coordinator Brad Cornelsen. Much of that success could also be attributed to the play of QB Jerrod Evans, who surprisingly left early for the NFL; throwing for 3546 YDS, with a 63.5% Completion Percentage, 29 TD, and 8 INT while rushing for 846 YDS and 12 TD. Now with only 5 starters returning and a Redshirt Freshman potentially taking over for Evans, one has to wonder whether this Hokie offense can continue to be as efficient or if it will take a step back in 2017.
The Redshirt Freshman expected to take over is the top 50 High School prospect Joshua Jackson; but his job is far from secure with Jr. Nebraska/JUCO transfer AJ Bush in the mix, as well as true Freshman prospect Hendon Hooker. Whoever ends up starting will likely be a step down from what Jerrod Evans was for Virginia Tech last year, but the Hokies will hope that among the three they have a diamond in the rough.
The run game may have to pick up the slack for the Hokies’ inexperience at QB, and in Fuentes fashion they will likely do it was a Running Back-By-Committee. QB Jerrod Evans actually led the team in rushing last year with 846 YDS and 12 TD on 204 ATT: followed by So. Travon McMillian with 671 YDS on 145 ATT for 7 TDS, and Sam Rogers with 283 YDS on 67 ATT for 2 TDS. McMillian was injured for the last for 4 games; only receiving 22 attempts, so carries might’ve actually been less spread out if he were healthy, but with Rogers (6th Round NFL) leaving as well as Evans, he may be thrust into more of a feature back role for 2017. Behind an experienced offensive line, we would expect the VA Tech rushing game to improve upon its 4.0 yards per carry average from a year ago.
Quite possibly the best trio of WR in VA Tech history: Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, and Bucky Hodges became the first three receivers to all top 100 yards in a single game vs. Pitt last year. Isaiah Ford became the all-time leading WR in Hokie history, finishing with 2,967 YDS receiving. Ford (7th RD) and Hodges (6th) both left early for the NFL this off-season, leaving Sr. Cam Phillips as the last remaining WR of the big three. Joined by Sr. James Clark and rFr Phil Patterson, Tech suddenly goes from all-time greatness to inexperienced at WR.
Though they will lose two 3rd team All-ACC linemen: RG Augie Conte and RT Jonathan McLaughlin, Tech will return 3 starters (72 career starts) and feature a line with 3 seniors and 2 juniors starting. For the 1st time in 4 years they will also return their offensive line coach, Vance Vice, which should only supplement the experience and continuity of this unit. Despite losing their top two players, this line should at least hold steady if not even improve upon last year’s 183 rush yards per game and 32 sacks allowed.
In his 23rd year (12th with VA Tech), Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster will bring back 7 returning starters from a defense that only surrendered 20.2 PPG, 3.8 YPC, and a 50% completion percentage in ’16. With some of the more talented and experienced linebacker and secondary units in the ACC, expect big things from Foster’s defense in 2017.
If there is a question mark on this defense, however, it is up-front where like last year they will lose 3 starters: 2nd Team All-ACC NT Woody Baron, 2x All-ACC DE Ken Ekanem, and DT Nigel Williams. They will return 125 tackles (20.5 TFL) and a couple of upperclassmen, but losing 3 starters in back-to-back years takes its toll. Expect 6-3 328 lb So. Tim Settle, a top 10 High School DT prospect, to make his presence felt and fill the gaps for the seasoned group of linebackers occupying the second level of this defense.
Featuring 3 of the top 5 tacklers for ’16, this linebacker unit will remain fully intact; anchored by Jr. 3rd Team All-American OLB Tremaine Edmunds (106 TKLs, 4.5 sacks, 14 TFL). Sr. Andrew Motuapuaka was the leading tackler on the team with 115 TKLs, while Jr. WHIP Mook Reynolds was the second leader in TFL with 7.5. With all three back this is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the best, linebacker units in the ACC.
To put into perspective how good Virginia Tech secondaries have been under Beamer, consider that in the last 13 years the Hokies have finished with a top 15 pass defense 11 times. Last year was no different under Fuente, in returning 7 DB’s with starting experience, they were worthy of top 5 consideration (50.1% 18-16 TD/INT). In ’17, they will suffer the loss of FS Chuck Clark to the NFL (6th round), but return 4 DB’s with at least a year of starting experience on their resume, while also adding a top 10 High School DB prospect in Fr. Devon Hunter at ROV. With 2 seasoned Seniors (Brandon Facyson and Greg Stroman) and a Junior (Terrell Edmunds) surrounding Hunter, this is not only one of the best secondaries in the ACC but one of the better ones in the country.
A team that had become known for Special Teams under Frank Beamer, VA Tech kept with the tradition in 2016. Jr. K Joey Slye hit 20 of 27 for a long of 47 while kicking for touchbacks on 73 of 93 attempts in ’16 and will be back as a Senior this year. Kick/Punt Returner, Greg Stroman, who will also be back for his Senior year, was the best returner in the country before getting injured, taking a 87 yard Punt Return to the house while averaging 20.9 yards per kick return! Where they were lacking last year was in the Punt game, averaging just 38.8 YPP, and this year they will break in a new Freshman Australian Punter, Oscar Bradburn. There is no reason this unit doesn’t continue with the Tech tradition, though, with the potential to be one of the better Special Teams units out there.
2017 Season Outlook
With Virginia Tech only reaching 7 wins in 3 out of the last 4 seasons (8 wins in 2013), Justin Fuente deserves some credit for churning out a 10 win season in his first year as Head Coach for the Hokies. Granted the schedule was soft, avoiding the likes of FSU, Clemson, and Louisville in the regular season, but 10 wins was still impressive for year 1. Much of the credit, however, also has to go to Jerod Evans, who carried the Hokies on his back both running and throwing the football, and his loss cannot be overstated for a team that will now rely on a redshirt Freshman to lead the team.
With the inexperience at QB, it would be impossible to back this team going over 9 wins if it wasn’t for their defense, which will return 7 starters for the legendary Bud Foster, with talent that is undeniable in the secondary and at linebacker. Additionally, the schedule is soft once again for 2017 (58th), as they should be favored in all but 2 games; vs. Clemson and @ Miami, FL. Add in the fact that 2 of their 5 road opponents had losing records last year and the schedule is more than manageable.
Though the lack of certainty at and confidence in the Quarterback position prevents a strong endorsement of VA Tech: the coaching, defense, special teams, and schedule could justify a play on the over here, especially at the discounted price.
Season Win Total Prediction: Lean Over 9