WEST VIRGINIA MOUNTAINEERS (0-0)
vs VIRGINIA TECH HOKIES (0-0)
FedEx Field – Landover, MD
Kickoff: Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET
Line: Virginia Tech -4.0, Total: 51.5
#21 Virginia Tech and #22 West Virginia debut new starting quarterbacks in an opening weekend duel of Top 25 teams.
West Virginia went 10-3 last season, with losses to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Miami (in the Russell Athletic Bowl). Head coach Dana Holgorsen has plenty of talent on offense, including former Florida QB Will Grier taking over under center. The Mountaineers defense held nine opponents to 21 points or fewer last season, and returns a great deal of experience in the linebacking and secondary units. Virginia Tech won ten games in Justin Fuente’s first season. The Hokies fell seven points short against eventual national champions Clemson in the ACC Championship Game, and came back from a 24-0 deficit to defeat Arkansas 35-24 in the Belk Bowl. Virginia Tech has work to do on offense after losing star players at QB, WR and TE. The defense may be able to pick up some of the offense’s slack with a solid linebacking group and one of the best secondaries in the ACC. These teams were both in the Big East from 1991 to 2003, and last met in 2005 when Virginia Tech won 34-17 as 10-point road underdogs. West Virginia is 0-5 SU & ATS as an underdog over the past two seasons, and the Mountaineers are 3-5 SU & 1-7 ATS on neutral fields since 2012. Virginia Tech was 5-0 SU & 4-1 ATS as a single-digit favorite last year.
West Virginia averaged 486 yards per game (17th in FBS) last season, but only 31.2 points (50th). Part of the discrepancy was their red-zone inefficiency, as the Mountaineers managed only 4.16 points per red-zone possession (91st in FBS). QB Will Grier is ready to take the reins after transferring from Florida and sitting out last season. In 2015, he won all five of his starts and threw for 1,202 yards, 10 TD and three INT while running for 116 yards and two TD with Florida, but got suspended for PED use halfway through the season. WR Ka’Raun White (48 receptions, 583 yards, 5 TD), brother of former WVU star and 2015 first-round NFL draft pick WR Kevin White, is the top receiving option. RB Justin Crawford (1,252 yards from scrimmage, 5 TD, 7.3 yards per carry) was a stud in his first year in Morgantown and may get even more use in 2017, though the offensive line looks shaky. The Mountaineers defense held opponents to 24.0 points per game (35th in FBS) last season, but has to replace its entire starting defensive line. LBs Al-Rasheed Benton (80 total tackles) and David Long (65 total tackles, 4.5 TFL) are key returning pieces in the second level. Safety Dravon Askew-Henry started every game of his freshman and sophomore years, but missed all of 2016 with a knee injury. He’s the quarterback of the defense and forms a strong tandem with S Kyzir White (3 sacks, 7 TFL), brother of Kevin and Ka’Raun.
Virginia Tech has a lot of talent to replace on offense, and dual-threat QB Josh Jackson will take the starting gig as a redshirt freshman. The running game produced only 4.0 yards per carry (96th in the nation) last season, and while top RB Travon McMillian (796 yards from scrimmage, 10 TD) is back, he’ll face competition for touches. The offensive line should be a strength. WR Isaiah Ford and TE Bucky Hodges, who combined for 1,860 yards from scrimmage and 14 TD last year, are gone. WR Cam Phillips (76 receptions, 983 yards, 5 TD) will be Jackson’s top target with little experience behind him. The Hokies’ 18th-ranked defense returns a wealth of talent. The secondary held opponents to 6.5 yards per pass attempt (20th in FBS) last year and will again be great with the CB trio of Brandon Facyson (11 passes defender), Adonis Alexander (9 passes defended) and Greg Stroman (3 INT) on the outside and S Terrell Edmunds (4 INT) in centerfield. The linebacking unit looks stout with the return of last year’s two top tacklers, Andrew Motuapuaka (114 total tackles, 3 INT, 5.5 TFL) and Tremaine Edmunds (106 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 18.5 TFL). DE Vinny Mihota (2.5 sacks, 7 TFL) is the lone returning starter on the defensive line, though DTs Ricky Walker (6.5 TFL, 4 pass breakups) and Tim Settle (7 TFL) thrived in part-time roles last season.