With quarterback Logan Thomas and a defense that should be one of the best in the country, it would be a shock if Virginia Tech didn’t earn its 20th straight appearance in a bowl game. In fact, if the Hokies don’t add to their national-best eight-year streak of winning 10 or more games, it would be viewed as a disappointment.
But at this point, Coach Frank Beamer’s success isn’t measured in bowl games. Instead, the focus is on ACC championships and earning a return trip to the BCS title game.
But what exactly stands in the Hokies way as far as getting over that hump? Here’s a look at what this beat writer feels will be the most important games for Virginia Tech this season.
Virginia Tech at Clemson, Oct. 20
Virginia Tech at Miami, Nov. 1
Virginia Tech vs. Florida State, Nov. 8
This three-game stretch will define what sort of season Virginia Tech will have this year. Win all three and the Hokies will not just be the front-runner in the ACC, they’ll be in the national championship picture. That, though, is no easy task.
Clemson beat Virginia Tech twice last year and returns offensive weapons like quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins. Not to mention the Hokies never could solve the Tigers’ defense, which might get a boost with new defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
Florida State is the preseason favorite in the ACC, and might feature the only defensive line with more talent than Virginia Tech. Combine that with a quarterback battle between future NFL first-round draft picks Thomas and E.J. Manuel and the national spotlight of a Thursday night game in Blacksburg, and this could be the game of the year in the ACC.
The fact that a trip to Miami falls in between these two games says everything. Though the Hurricanes aren’t likely to challenge for an ACC title this year, they’ve got enough talent to pull an upset if the Hokies are overlooking them.
Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech, Sep. 3
The winner of this game has gone on to capture the ACC’s Coastal Division title every year since 2005. So unlike recent marquee season openers against Alabama and Boise State, Virginia Tech will be in a hole right from the start should it come out sluggish in this one. As always, the ability to slow down Georgia Tech Coach Paul Johnson’s flexbone offense will be crucial.
Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh, Sep. 15
Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati at FedEx Field, Sep. 29
Last year, the Hokies faced a cavalcade of non-BCS teams as part of their nonconference schedule. This year, they’ll get tested with a pair of games away from Lane Stadium against Big East foes. Facing new Pittsburgh Coach Paul Chryst, formerly the offensive coordinator at Wisconsin, the key will be whether running back Ray Graham will be at full strength. In eight games last year, he rushed for 958 yards and nine touchdowns before tearing his ACL.
Cincinnati won 10 or more games for the fourth time in five years last season, and the Bearcats are the highest-ranked team Virginia Tech will face in nonconference play. But Cincinnati has to replace its quarterback, running back and several important cogs on defense. Add in what is likely to be a pro-Hokies crowd in Landover, and this should be a Virginia Tech win.
Virginia Tech at North Carolina, Oct. 6
Outside of its trip to Clemson, Virginia Tech’s visit to Chapel Hill, N.C., might be its toughest road game of the year. Though North Carolina is ineligible for the postseason this year, the Tar Heels return weapons like quarterback Bryn Renner and running back Gio Bernard. The Hokies have lost just once to North Carolina since joining the ACC in 2004.
Virginia Tech vs. Virginia, Nov. 24
Though Virginia Tech has won this rivalry game eight years in a row, the inroads Virginia Coach Mike London has achieved on the recruiting trail and on the field have made the battle for the Commonwealth Cup more relevant than ever. In 2011, the Hokies walloped the Cavaliers, 38-0, with the ACC’s Coastal Division title on the line. Virginia Tech fans would like nothing more than another blowout.