On the first Sunday of September, football fans will get a treat in an exciting game between former longtime rivals the #22 ranked West Virginia Mountaineers and the #21 ranked Virginia Tech Hokies. This neutral site game takes place in Landover, Maryland, at the FedEx Field. Game time is at 7:30 P.M. ET.
Last year, both West Virginia and Virginia Tech put up 10 win seasons in tough conferences. However, with some of the roster departures on each squad, they both might find it challenging to hit the same win total from 2016.
For the Mountaineers, they were the 3rd best team in the Big 12 last year. However, this season’s schedule did them no favors with tough games on the road against high quality opponents. A win over the Hokies and West Virginia could still make a run for top 4 in the Big 12. A loss, and their season will be a long one.
Virginia Tech has most of their tough ACC conference games at home, which bodes well for a squad looking to win their conference division. They do have some big games on the horizon, which places more emphasis on winning this week versus the Mountaineers.
The spread opened at West Virginia getting 4 points, but has gone up to +5 for the Mountaineers. The Over/Under has seen a slight drop from 54.5 to 53 total points.
Despite both teams averaging over 30 points a game last season, there are some key departures that will really impact the early season success for both offenses. Namely, the quarterback positions. For the Hokies, the loss of Jerod Evans could be catastrophic unless freshman Josh Jackson or one of the other QB options can step in to fill the void.
Evans made up for deficiencies on the offense and tallied some impressive numbers including being the leading rusher on the team with 846 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. If that weren’t enough to overcome, the offense is also without two of its top receiving targets. Basically, the entire passing game has been overhauled and has a lot to prove.
West Virginia is also replacing their quarterback as Skyler Howard is gone. But they do have Florida transfer Will Grier, who sat out the last 1 ½ due to PEDs. In his half season at Florida, Grier did go 6-0 with some solid numbers. He’s expected to thrive in this passing attack, once the offense can get on the same page and if they also find some new receivers since last year’s top threats are gone.
For the Mountaineers, they do have a stud running back in Justin Crawford who can carry the offense all by himself. He had a coming out party last year against Oklahoma with 331 yards on the ground. The explosive back should easily eclipse his 1,184 yards and 4 touchdowns from last year.
Unlike the Mountaineers, the Hokies don’t have as explosive of a run game. In fact, they need some backs to really step up and take pressure off of their inexperienced quarterback. If they can’t, then Virginia Tech is in for a long game against West Virginia.
One thing that the Hokies do have in their favor is an excellent defense that finished 18th in the nation. Although they lost three starters in their front 7, they are loaded with talent on all three levels including one of the best defensive backfields that West Virginia will see all season. Expect them to give Grier and the Mountaineer passing game a lot of problems.
Throw out the head-to-head numbers between the two teams as they last played each other in 2005. Also, the 2016 ATS and O/U records should be taken lightly due to both teams starting new quarterbacks.
In statement games like this, it comes down to defense and running the football. Virginia Tech has a great defense, but were torched on the ground in big games last year, which ended up being their Achilles Heel. West Virginia has an explosive back that will give the Hokies problems all game long and should limit the team from being in long passing downs where the VT defense is at its best. Additionally, Grier is more of a proven commodity than any Hokies quarterback, which should also bring some poise and balance to the WVU offense.
Conversely, VT has an unproven run game and an inexperienced quarterback leading their offense. As long as WVU can contain the quarterback and prevent any broken plays, the Mountaineers have a great chance to cover the spread in route to a victory.