Leading up to Week 1 season openers, SDS’ Brad Crawford breaks down the opponents battling SEC squads and what makes them click in marquee out-of-conference matchups.
Aug. 20: TCU (vs. LSU, Aug. 31, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Aug. 21: Washington State (at Auburn, Aug. 31, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
TODAY: North Carolina (at South Carolina, Aug. 29, 6 p.m., ESPN)
FRIDAY: Clemson (vs. Georgia, Aug. 31, 8 p.m., ABC)
SATURDAY: Virginia Tech (vs. Alabama, Aug. 31, 5:30 p.m., ESPN)
SUNDAY: Oklahoma State (vs. Mississippi St., Aug. 31, 3:30 p.m., ABC)
VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES
Opens Aug. 31 vs. Alabama (Atlanta)
THE SKINNY: Seven wins and six losses isn’t the norm in Blacksburg, Va. Last season’s mediocre campaign for Virginia Tech snapped the Hokies’ eight-year streak of reaching double-digit wins. Since falling to Peter Warrick and Florida State in the 1999 national championship, Virginia Tech has appeared in five BCS bowl games and has won the ACC four times. What will it take to regain the swagger? It’ll start with senior quarterback Logan Thomas and a veteran-laded defense that returns nine starters. The departure of All-ACC linebacker Bruce Taylor leaves a major gap in the center of Virginia Tech’s front seven that will be tested early by T.J. Yeldon and the Crimson Tide. Will the Hokies defense be able to slow down the A.J. McCarron to Amari Cooper combo on the outside should passing containment fail? Defensive coordinator Bud Foster’s had the last couple of weeks to figure that out.
KEY PLAYER: There’s Thomas and a bunch of unknowns. That’s the 2013 Hokies in a nutshell. Thomas’ top three receivers — Marcus Davis, Dyrell Roberts and Corey Fuller — are gone, so that leaves sophomore Demetri Knowles as his top returning threat. Poised to have an ACC player of the year caliber season as a junior, Thomas was average with 18 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards but completed just over 50 percent of his passes and struggled down the stretch in big games against Clemson, Florida State and Miami. Thomas took a beating on the ground with 103 carries over his last six games, but managed to accumulate 295 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Making plays with his feet outside of the pocket will be key against Alabama.
Related: What’s going to stop Alabama?
WHAT TO WATCH: Beamer Ball. You’ve heard the phrase during every telecast of a Virginia Tech football game over the last 25 years. Under longtime coach Frank Beamer, the Hokies believe they can score with any unit on the field — offense, defense or special teams. Blocking punts for touchdowns is second nature and Virginia Tech’s blocking scheme during an interception or fumble return is an art. To upset the top-ranked Crimson Tide, an overwhelming favorite to win their third straight BCS title, the Hokies will need a few momentum-changing ‘Beamer Ball’ plays.
FINAL SAY: Virginia Tech doesn’t have the personnel on offense to consistently move the football against what’s projected to be the nation’s top defense. C.J. Mosley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and others will make Thomas’ outing a nightmare inside the Georgia Dome, finishing off a dominating performance close to what Nick Saban’s group accomplished in last year’s kickoff game against Michigan.
Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports