Guys, I think it's almost time.
The Virginia Tech football team has beaten the University of Virginia 13 years in a row. By now we're all intimately familiar with both the streak, and the annual message board schadenfreude that comes every year in late November.
And yes, last year's 52-10 blowout may make a lot of you feel comfortable going into Charlottesville on Saturday. But let's talk about what's happened in this rivalry over the last five years, specifically what happened in the time before Justin Fuente took the reigns in Blacksburg.
In 2012, Tech won 17-14 on a last second field goal from Dorenzo Hudson nemesis Cody Journell. This game is more infamous for insane clock management than the fact that the Hoos had the ball with four minutes left and a chance to win.
The Hokies failed to score in the second half of 2013's game, and could only muster a touchdown and three Eric Kristensen field goals (remember that guy?). UVA still couldn't capitalize, and Tech won 16-6.
The 2014 Black Friday game was one that was best described as "two drunk guys throwing rocks at each other and missing for three hours." The two schools combined for 17 penalties,16 punts, four turnovers and a blocked punt, with only the last part counting as anything positive.
But the one part of that game that often gets forgotten? Greyson Lambert threw a touchdown with just under three minutes left to give the Cavaliers a lead. After taking a series of absolutely brutal hits, Michael Brewer came through with two of the most clutch passes I've ever seen from a Tech quarterback.
The Hokies escaped with a win.
In my mind, 2015's contest came down to one play:
Somehow, the UVA defense left the best receiver on the field wide open on a 3rd and 15. And Wahoo-killer Michael Brewer made them pay to give Frank Beamer one last win in Charlottesville.
That's a lot of one-sided fortune, which some people would say isn't sustainable. And this year is the first time both teams have been legitimately competitive since 2011. If there was ever a year for the Hoos to capitalize on their chances and break the streak, it might be this one.
Anyway, enough existential dread. Let's talk fake gambling.
Over/Under 5.5 times the ESPN broadcast teams tells us how good a job Bronco Mendenhall has done "in such a short time."
Brian: When making this line, I was debating between this and how many times they say that Mendenhall has a "sleeping giant" in his hands. Because both would hit the over.
Let's get this out of the way. I think Bronco has done a really commendable job after inheriting the equivalent of vomit in a wire trash can from Mike London. He took a team that only won twice against a relatively weak schedule in 2016, and brought them to bowl eligibility in just a year. But here's the thing, you know who else did that?
All I'm saying is cool the jets. There's still a lot of work to do in Hooville before we can talk about how amazing this turnaround has really been, because again, anyone can make a bowl once. (And I mean anyone. John Bunting went bowling twice for Christ sake). I'm fascinated by how hostile the crowd will be on Friday night, because those fans have shown that they'll show up to a successful program (just ask Tony Bennett), and it'd be another step in the right direction for them. Which is good, because the only thing more annoying than UVA fans pretending like they don't care about football when their team loses, is national people telling us how good the UVA job should be.
And that, my friends, is how you come full circle.
Pierson: This line irritates me for two reasons:
- Aside from recruiting like dog doodoo and coming up with overly contrived motivation tactics that likely have little-to-no measurable impact, the man hasn't accomplished much since taking over for Mike London; and
- If we're talking about doing good jobs in a short period of time, look across the sideline and heap your praise on Justin Fuente. You know, the guy that won 10 games and narrowly lost an ACC Championship Game in his first year and is on the verge of a second straight double digit win season.
No doubt UVa has been a much improved team this season compared to years past, but praising Bronco is grading on a curve, a concept that is unacceptable at a school with the resources UVa has. I'm not suggesting Bronco is undeserving of any credit, for what he's managed to accomplish this season is remarkable when you consider the dumpster fire that was UVa football. But when you consider how mediocre the Coastal is this season, is it that hard to believe that they've won the games they have? It seems perfectly reasonable that an improved Kurt Benkert plus London's recruits is a 6-7 win team.
When you keep recruiting average classes and aren't viewed as an offensive or defensive savant, how will you fare in a P5 conference over time? Bronco deserves a pat on the back, but let's pump the brakes on the high praise. I'm taking the under and preparing to drink every time the announcing crew fawns over the Hoos' "resurgence."
Which is greater: number of pass attempts by Kurt Benkert, or number of rushing yards for Jalen Holston?
Brian: I'm sure Pierson will make fun of this line, but there's a legitimate reason behind it. We're getting to the point in the season where the stakes are relatively low. Yes, it'd be nice if the Hokies won out for their second straight 10-win season under Fuente. It'd be great if they capitalized on their long shot path to the Orange Bowl and finished 2017 with a high profile victory.
But in all actuality, it's time to start looking ahead. With the injuries on defense, Bud Foster will get a chance to see how some of the younger players (Khalil Ladler, Houshun Gaines, Emmanuel Belmar) look when given extended playing time. And on offense, it might be time to do the same thing.
Get Phil Patterson out there as much as possible. See how Chris Cunningham looks when given a little more action. If Yosh Nijman is still banged up, give T.J. Jackson or Tyrell Smith a look at tackle. And at running back, it's clear that for whatever reason the staff isn't in love with Travon McMillian. And—again, for whatever reason—they seem to be fond of Holston. He already looked nice in the first half against Pitt, where he did fun things like this:
So why not expect him to get some burn in Charlottesville?
Oh what's that? It's because 11 of his 12 carries came in the first half, and then was never seen again? And it's because Deshawn McClease completely replaced him after intermission? And it's also because we have no idea how the running back rotation is managed?
Damn, you're right. I'll take Benkert, because I'm confident he'll throw more than 40 times, and Holston's only hit that rushing yardage total once.
Pierson: This feels like a return to everyone's favorite part of September: The Tailback Wheel of Destiny!!!
[Cue Dramatic Movie Trailer Voice Guy]
"From the program that brought you 'Thunder & Lightning', a boxing glove on a stick, and 'The Joel Train.' Just when you thought it was safe to look at the tailback depth chart...deception confronts you at every turn...a mystery so deep, even the coaches are unsure what's to come. Zohn Burden is: The Rotator."
Listen, you might think you know what the running back rotation will be Friday night, but you don't. I wouldn't put it past the offensive staff to start Coleman Fox just to troll everyone (I mean, he is fourth on the team in rushing yards). Holston has 22 combined carries for 84 yards over the last two weeks, which probably means he's destined for a precipitous decline in his carries against the Hoos, because Zohn gon' Zohn. Justin Fuente made positive comments about Holston's contributions earlier this week, so who knows...maybe his role will stick for the rest of the season, provided he is able to move the football?
The Hoos are below average against the run, giving up 176 yards per game (#70 nationally), and Josh Jackson has been driving the Strugglebus all the way to Struggleville these last few weeks so expect Tech to run run run. Benkert is averaging 40 passing attempts per game, but that number dips to just under 34 against FBS teams with winning records. I think Holston is able to grind out some yards, so I'll take him.
Which wide out finishes with more receiving yards: Cam Phillips or UVA wideout Olamide Zaccheaus?
Brian: Zaccheaus is one of the few Cavalier skill players who really scare me. Sure, Doni Dowling or Joe Reed could shake loose, but Zaccheus has real breakaway potential both out of the backfield and split out wide. Even if Adonis Alexander is back healthy, the junior seems primed to take advantage both of Tech's safety issues, and their occasional tendency to lose someone out of the backfield in coverage.
But on the other hand, the emergency of Patterson and Eric Kumah freed Phillips to work out of the slot last week, which lead to a very Cam-like seven catches for 117 yards and a score. Though UVA's pass defense has been very solid this season (they're actually two spots ahead of DBU in passing yards allowed per game) I'll take Phillips to be schemed open for a ton of targets.
Pierson: Zaccheaus feels like the guy who could carve up the Tech secondary on Friday. We've established how often Benkert throws the football, so the volume will be there. But here's the thing: I think Cam wants to go off on the Hoos in his final Commonwealth Cup tilt.
Sure, there is a growing supporting cast around Phillips, but Friday's game has the makings of an explosive performance from him. These are the types of games where Tech's star receivers shine, with the opener against WVU as a prime example. I can't bet against Cam in a game like this. I'm taking the Hokie.
Over/Under 3.5 times Greg Stroman will make you think "damn, I'm going to miss that guy."
Brian:I thought Stroman was having a really good all-around year in September. He ran a punt back against Delaware, had another one that set up a score vs Clemson, and seemed strong in coverage. But then I started following Pro Football Focus (College Football) on Twitter, and started to see these tweets:
Greg Stroman averages 39.2 snaps in coverage, per reception he's allowed.That figure is good enough to lead the entire nation's CBs. pic.twitter.com/s4L8vS8kqb— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) November 10, 2017
And then he became the singular reason that the Hokies had any chance to win against Georgia Tech:
And then he set up the winning score against Pitt:
All the while, I realized how much he's done for the Hokies during his career. Remember the Stroman-on-jet-sweeps phase of the Scot Loeffler era? The dude gave up half a season to work on a struggling offense. He's been the man, and this number will reach double digits for me.
Pierson: This is in-game only, right? Because I've already thought that twice since I read this line. Think back two years, during Frank's last season at the helm. Stroman was a defensive back, then a receiver, then he played both ways, and finally just a DB again.
I remember attending the BC game in Chestnut Hill and seeing him line up at corner in the second half and being equal parts excited and terrified for him. His speed and athleticism had always been off the charts, but watching him learn the nuances of playing in the secondary on the fly was like watching a baby deer learn to walk. His natural talent helped him survive, but there was a long way to go. Less than a year later he had a highlight reel game against Liberty to open up his junior campaign and the rest was history.
You notice his relatively small stature — by modern cornerback standards — and then you watch him play with a quiet confidence and crazy athleticism. He is crazy good and, to be honest, surprisingly under appreciated when you consider how steady he's been. I think we'll look back on his career and wish we enjoyed the weekly clinical display more. So if you're reading this and having a moment of remorse, consider this an opportunity. I'll take the over.
Over/Under: 0.5 total non-offensive touchdowns scored by both teams.
Brian: So when I was talking to my dad on the phone about how nervous we both were for this game, he said "well you know the thing about Benkert, he throws a lot of pick-sixes." And to be honest, I just thought it was something he said arbitrarily, like he saw one pick-six and it just stuck with him.
Nope. Benkert's thrown eight interceptions this year, and three of them have gone back the other way for touchdowns. That's a stunning percentage that even pick-six master Matt Schaub would find impressive.
(And Schaub's a UVA grad too! Coincidence???????? Okay, yeah, probably.)
But let's get back to Stroman. He needs one more pick to have 10 for his career. He reached the end zone for the first time off an interception against Georgia Tech. Why can't it happen again? Give me the over!
Pierson: Brian, I want the Pick Six to happen, I really do. I too am scared about this game. So why, Mr. Marcolini, are you throwing out solid statistics and getting our hopes up?!
If there's going to be a non-offensive touchdown, statistically a Benk-hurtz Pick Six is the strongest candidate. However, because it's #HateWeek, I would love nothing more than to see a Tim Settle Fat Guy touchdown that not only throws a dagger into Hoo hearts but also wins the man a Piesman. A gif of that celebratory hop dance would make my 2017. PLEASE FOOTBALL GODS MAKE THIS HAPPEN!
(I'll take the over)
Matchup Over/Under: 50
Brian: Over the course of the win streak, the two teams have beaten this total only four times. In each of those occasions, the Hokies broke 33. In 2017 the Tech offense hasn't broken 33 since the ODU game on September 23rd. (Remember, the offense only scored 31 in the 59-7 destruction of UNC, which may seem trivial, but it helps highlight Jackson's struggles post-Clemson.) It's the under all the way for me.
Pierson: Under. Outside of the UNC bloodbath, the Tech offense has been underwhelming in ACC play. The UVa offense is capable, but hardly exceptional. Sprinkle in the fact that these games are traditionally low scoring affairs and you've got a recipe for an under. Honestly, a 20-17 game would hardly surprise me.
Spread: Virginia Tech (-7)
Brian: I expected this line to plummet after the Hokies opened as a touchdown favorite on Sunday, but it has stayed put all week. The more I think about it, the more I feel like it's probably right. The offense has struggled, and the defense has given up some giant plays, but they're still more talented than this Wahoo team.
That doesn't mean Tech'll win, of course. It just means in a perfect world they're about a touchdown better than their rival. Would I wager on this game? No way in hell, this is a very very very very VERY hard stay away for me, because it basically rests on the shoulders of Jackson. Can he be the better quarterback, and engineer more scoring drives than Benkert? Considering the defenses that both QBs are going up against, you'd hope that Jackson could win that battle. But his 17-37, 217 yard, one blind-luck touchdown performance against Pitt didn't exactly inspire confidence.
And like I said in the opening, it just feels like the rent's come due. It's been a great 13 years, but eventually this streak is going to end, and if it's going to end, why not have it happen in a year where there are zero things at stake? Because let's be honest, the difference in a win and a loss for the Hokies will probably be the difference between a bowl game in Jacksonville or a bowl game in Orlando.
But even if it's about time for the streak to end, I'll be damned if I actually pick it to happen. Give me Tech 24-20.
Pierson: Brian's picking Tech so that he doesn't have to endure the flames being spit at him by TKPers one more time. Oh wait, there's still a bowl game. Never mind.
I agree with Brian: The opening line felt about 3 points too high, when you consider Tech is the road team. (Or maybe Vegas is on to the fact that Scott Stadium has become Lane Stadium North...) Regardless of how you feel about the line, UVa should not be given a home field advantage and Tech is the better team. Plain and simple. Whether they're 3 or 7 points better matters in this particular argument, but in general terms Tech is better and shouldn't lose this game.
Certain intangibles are trending away from Tech and in the Wahoos' favor. Recent injuries to key players, along with potentially-significant-but-unconfirmed-or-underplayed injuries to others (Josh Jackson, Mook Reynolds and Sean Savoy) could prove pivotal in a matchup that feels tight for the first time in a while. The offense has struggled recently. The defense can't stop giving up big plays in critical moments. And UVa played #2 Miami pretty well last week on the road.
Maybe we're just used to seeing a significantly better Tech team roll into this matchup every year. Maybe we're spooked by recent performances by both teams. Maybe we're unsure how to psychologically value last week's goal line stand. Whatever it is, we're here to tell you that your fears are real. If Tech blows the doors off the Hoos, it will make everything that much sweeter. If not...welp...it wouldn't take us by surprise.
I don't have a good feeling about this game, but I can't bring myself to pick against the Hokies. From a gambling perspective, I think this game will be tighter than the line suggests. I'll take the Wahoos (+7).
Disclaimer: Some of these are real betting lines, but many of them are fake and none of this is real advice that should be taken seriously.