2012 Fearless Predictions
Week 1 - GT vs. VT
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Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech
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GAME OF THE WEEK
Georgia Tech (0-0) at Virginia Tech (0-0) Sept. 3, 8:00, ESPN
Here's The Deal: No auditions. No rehearsals. No easing into a new season with a visit from some anonymous team out of the FCS. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech will meet on Labor Day night in an opener that will have major implications in the ACC title chase.
There are six teams in the Coastal Division. North Carolina is ineligible. Virginia and Miami are a year away, with the latter facing possible NCAA sanctions. Duke is, well, Duke. It's not a two-team race to Charlotte, but then again it sort of is when the fluff is stripped away. Whoever survives at Lane Stadium is going to have an enormous leg up on one spot in the ACC championship game more than two months before it happens.
The Hokies are the favorite in the division, a familiar position for one of the country's most consistent programs. Under venerable head coach Frank Beamer, they've now strung together eight straight 10-win seasons with no end in sight. At a base level, Tech enters every year expecting to win the Coastal, compete for an ACC crown and, with a break or two, could get in the discussion for a national title. The 2012 edition, ranked No. 20 in the preseason coaches' poll, will be led by a dynamic quarterback, Logan Thomas, and a defense that could be as nasty as any in the conference.
Since taking the league by storm in 2009, Georgia Tech and its architect, Paul Johnson, have hit a lull. Yeah, the Yellow Jackets haven't missed the postseason since 1996, but they've been unable to get back to the higher bar established two years ago. Since opening 10-1 in 2009, Tech is just 15-14, tanking in the second half of last year. The program is hoping to recapture the swagger that not long ago had it looking like one of the rising stars of the ACC. A night win at Lane Stadium could do the trick.
For Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, there'll be pushovers in the opener. That'll have to wait until Week 2 when Austin Peay and Presbyterian, respectively, visit. In Blacksburg, the season will start with suddenness and with ramifications that'll have a ripple effect right through the month of November.
Why Georgia Tech Might Win: The ground game will always be prolific as long as Johnson is in Atlanta. It could be even better this season, with the return of last year's top three rushers. QB Tevin Washington is closer to having the system down to a science, and backs David Sims and Orwin Smith form a terrific complement. Sims is the power runner, while Smith is one of the game's most dangerous homerun hitters. Together, the trio will test a brittle collection of Virginia Tech linebackers that needs to prove it can remain healthy.
The Hokies offense will stride forward in the passing game, but who runs the ball? And how well will the rebuilt line block for redshirt freshman Michael Holmes and the rest of the team's unproven backs? The Yellow Jackets are going to be underrated in the secondary, bringing back four starters from a pass defense that ranked 28th nationally in 2011. If Holmes & Co. are slow out of the gates, it'll allow linebackers Jeremiah Attaochu and Quayshawn Nealy to spend more time pinning back their ears and dropping into coverage.
Why Virginia Tech Might Win: Thomas is not just any quarterback. He's a game-changer who's liable to turn this season into his own personal campaign into the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. He's enormous, improving all the time and like a locomotive when he takes off and runs. Thomas will be a handful for an Al Groh D that underachieved a year ago. The junior will also have access to a bunch of athletic targets at wide receiver, led by freakish senior Marcus Davis.
No, it's not easy preparing for the Georgia Tech option, but unlike regular season games, Virginia Tech has had an entire offseason to get ready for this one. Plus, there's enough talent on hand for this to be coordinator Bud Foster's best unit in years. Yeah, the linebackers need to remain upright, but the first and final lines of the D are very quick and very good in the open field. Since the Yellow Jackets no longer have WR Stephen Hill to stretch the defense, everyone in Chicago maroon jerseys will be flowing to the backs. All of the linemen slide seamlessly, and corners Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum will step up and fill lanes like undersized linebackers.
What To Watch Out For: Holmes has had a terrific offseason, to be sure, but it remains to be seen how he'll handle being the feature back … in primetime … in the very first game of his college career. He's not David Wilson, his predecessor in the backfield, relying more on his toughness and vision than any explosive tendencies. While Thomas will pick up some of the slack on the ground, the Hokies still need someone to handle the ball effectively at least 20 times a game. Georgia Tech is vulnerable to opposing running games, especially if the new Hokies linemen are able to throw their weight around. And if Holmes is snapping off big gains, Thomas will torch that talented Jackets defensive backfield on play-action.
What Will Happen: A night game with a division rival at the tail of a holiday weekend? Enter the sandman.
This would be a tough spot for Georgia Tech on the Flats. In Blacksburg, the Yellow Jackets will be fighting an uphill battle all evening. Virginia Tech has holes, especially on offense, but Georgia Tech won't be able to fully expose them. Plus, the Jackets are losing a key edge since the Hokies will have so much time to prepare for the triple-option running game. Thomas will be the show-stopper of the night, producing three touchdowns while making an early statement for Heisman contention. Georgia Tech will pile up its usual yards on the ground, but will stall in the red zone against a Hokies defense that becomes exponentially tougher and harder to beat in tight spaces.
CFN Prediction: Virginia Tech 34 … Georgia Tech 23
ATS Consultants Line (Click for more lines and picks) Virginia Tech -7.5; O/U: 48.5
Must Watch Rating (5 – Boss, 1 - Married To Jonas): 5