Yesterday, we kicked off our season preview by breaking down our team's bold predictions for the Virginia Tech football team. Today, we take a look at the schedule and the toughest game on it.
Well maybe the second toughest game on it since I think everybody can agree Clemson will be the Hokies' toughest opponent by far this season.
So with that said, here's our staff's picks for the Hokies' toughest non-Clemson game.
Tim Thomas: North Carolina
I was close to going with Miami, but there is a rivalry of sorts that may be brewing between Virginia Tech and North Carolina given their close proximity and how often they are in recruiting battles. Of course, that's the only time UNC has had success so far against Justin Fuente with the Hokies being 4-0 under Fuente against UNC including last year's thrilling 6 OT win that saw VT use three different QBs.
However, North Carolina is loaded with talent especially on the offensive talent with every conversation about the Tar Heels having to start with Sam Howell. However, it goes beyond that to the myriad of playmakers he has including Michael Carter, Dyami Brown, and Dazz Newsome who is a nightmare matchup in the slot and will force Tech to likely have a true cornerback on him after the struggles they had last year containing him.
UNC's defense still also has plenty of talent and Jay Bateman is one of the fastest-rising stars among defensive coaches in the business. However, UNC's secondary did see multiple players opt out and is definitely an area that the Hokies can take advantage with the playmakers they have at WR in Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson.
It's close between UNC and Miami with my original pick Louisville dropping behind these two after their loss to Miami, but I have to go with the Tar Heels at this point.
Jawhar Ali: Miami
As of this week, Miami looks to be the most dangerous non-Clemson team in the ACC and one of the toughest games on Tech's schedule.
Coming off a convincing 47-34 win against Louisville, the Hurricanes showed the ability to be explosive on offense with D'Eriq King at quarterback. They have a legitimately tough running game to stop that is more diverse than general zone read plays due to the presence of bruiser Cam'Ron Harris.
Over the past few years, that's exactly who Virginia Tech's defense has struggled against - just ask Kentucky from last year's bowl game. I expect Miami to tally 200 yards on the ground in this year's matchup unless Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield have the best games of their careers.
Defensively, Miami showed that they were capable of pressuring the quarterback and moving him off his spot against Louisville. Micale Cunningham may not be as gifted of a thrower as Hooker, but he struggled mightily with accuracy when Miami got pressure early in the down, even without All-American caliber defensive end Gregory Rosseau. Still, the Hokies should have the firepower to keep up with the Hurricanes offense. Whoever blinks first will lose, and those games are always tough to win.
Andy Loce: North Carolina
Let’s face it, Clemson is one of the best teams in the nation and will provide Virginia Tech with the most headaches.
But outside of that matchup, there’s another team that the Hokies will have a difficult time overcoming: The North Carolina Tar Heels.
Last season, these two programs provided an absolute thrilling matchup that saw the Hokies squeeze pass the Tar Heels 43-41 in six overtimes. That game provided Virginia Tech with another spark that allowed them to play great football for the rest of the season and rebuild confidence in the fan base after a shaky 2-2 start to the campaign.
In any other year, this would’ve been the ACC Coastal matchup of the season with the two programs looking really strong heading into 2020.
With the matchup taking place relatively early in the schedule, this will be a true first test for both programs as they look to battle on top of the ACC standings in this strange season.
Another aspect of this matchup is that it will play a key role in the future of recruiting and demonstrating which team holds the better future in its result.
With the rise of sophomore QB Sam Howell and Mack Brown entering his second season at the helm as the Tar Heels’ head coach, North Carolina looks to be a program on the rise and could threaten the likes of Clemson in the near future.
If the Hokies want to keep their name in ACC Championship consideration for 2020 and years beyond, this matchup plays a critical role in stating to the rest of the conference and the nation that Virginia Tech is still truly among the best of the ACC.
Fortunately for the Hokies, this year’s matchup was already scheduled to take place on the road but North Carolina has announced that only families will be allowed to attend the games, ruling out any home-field advantage for the Tar Heels.
This may not be the toughest matchup or the most hated opponent on the Hokies schedule this season, but in the perspective of the ACC standings in 2020 and what lies ahead in the future of recruiting, this will be the most significant matchup for the Hokies.
Jack Brizendine: Virginia
I was really tempted to put the North Carolina game in this spot, but after watching Sam Howell and the Tar Heels struggle to get going early against a subpar Syracuse squad, I decided to defer to the Commonwealth Cup.
I picked this game for a number of reasons, but I think there’s a couple that stand out to me.
First, this is the last game of the season and it follows the Clemson game. There’s a pretty likely chance the Hokies will be coming into the Virginia game off a loss against the mighty Tigers, possibly a blowout, so I can’t imagine team morale will be very high.
Secondly, this game is being played in mid-December, the latest this game has ever been played in the history of the series. It’s going to be extremely cold, there likely still won’t be any fans in attendance, and it will be around exam time. So there are a couple of factors that could hurt both teams.
Third, there’s a lot on the line here. There’s always pressure heading into the great Commonwealth Cup rivalry game, but this year is different. The Hokies are trying to prevent the Cavaliers from winning the cup for a second straight year for the first time since they attempted in 2004. This game is never easy, but after having a 15 game winning streak against Virginia snapped last year, there's going to be that much more pressure on the team to bring the Commonwealth Cup back to Blacksburg.