And now we come to the end. The final game of the 2016 Virginia Tech football season, played in an NFL stadium sponsored by a company that promotes "Modern. Southern. Style." Pretty ironic, considering both Justin Fuente and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema's sense of modern southern style involves wearing pants that are the same color as their shirts.
Sad but true story about my interaction with modern southern style. I was once in a Belk, and saw a pair of burnt orange pants. Not only did they fit perfectly, but they were also the only pair left in the store, and were on sale for $10. Somehow, despite both the perfect timing of the find and my proclivity towards ridiculous clothes that embarrass my fiance, I didn't pull the trigger.
It's something I've regretted every day for the last three years.
Anyway, enough about my problems and how the Belk Bowl is really a massive trigger to one of my most traumatic memories. This'll be a fun game between two teams worth watching and— who am I kidding?
I can't shake the ghost of orange pants. Let's just move on to the imaginary gambling lines.
Over/Under: 65% Hokie fans in attendance.
Brian: A week and a half before the game, Virginia Tech sold nearly double the amount of allotted tickets as the Razorbacks. It makes sense for a ton of reasons —Charlotte is within driving distance of the majority of Tech's fanbase, and an 11-hour drive or $300 flight from Little Rock being the biggest one.
That's not to mention the number of people buying tickets on the secondary market, which are cheaper than ones directly from the school. Bank of America Stadium has a capacity of just over 75,000, and last year's game between NC State and Mississippi State drew a crowd just over 46,000. I think this crowd will be big time pro-Tech, and I'll be interested to see how many people talk themselves into a long weekend starting that Thursday.
Pierson: Over. Forget about the lower tier bowl that the Hokies fell into after winning the ACC Coastal. Tech still gets a quality opponent in their own backyard, with a solid chance of reaching the ten-win mark for the first time since 2011. This game will not sell out, so the secondary ticket market should be ripe for the pickin' after everyone opens Grandma's holiday card with a crisp $20 bill in it. Advantage: Hokies.
True or False? Rawleigh Williams III will rush for over 100 yards
Brian: After having to prepare for spread offenses in their last four games (whatever Virginia and Bronco Mendenhall ran technically counts as a spread, right?), Bud Foster must be licking his lips to get back to an offensive style he knows so well. Bret Bielema uses a run heavy pro-style, which challenges defenses up front.
Expect Foster and the rest of the Hokie defense to bring a ton of pressure, geared to stop Williams III at the line of scrimmage, and dare quarterback Austin Allen to beat them over the top. Allen's done relatively well this year, (he averages 286 yards and completes 59.3 percent of his passes in SEC play,) but isn't the man in the backfield who scares you.
However, using what I like to call the "James Conner rule" (sometimes regardless of scheme, a dude's just going to get his yards), I'll say Williams III breaks the century mark. It still wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if it came on a ton of carries.
Pierson: As Rawleigh goes, so do the Razorbacks. Williams has hit triple digits on the ground in six out of Arkansas' seven wins, including a gaudy 205 yards against Mississippi State on 16 carries. In their five losses, Williams has hit the century mark only once — in their dud of a season finale against SEC bottom feeder Mizzou.
Similar to his days at Wisconsin, Bret Bielema continues to lean on a pro-style system that attempts to use beef up front to punish teams on the ground. Williams has been Bielema's workhouse this season, averaging 110 yards per game on just over 19 carries. He's a stout, sturdy back that reminds me a little bit of Georgia Tech's Marcus Marshall (who, I'm sure you've erased from your memory, ran for 143 yards against the Hokies earlier this year). He's not exceptionally fast or quick, but he's fast and quick enough. He shows patience, allowing holes to develop, and then uses his strength to fend off opponents and extend plays. He's a talented kid, but I think he tops this line based purely on volume. Give me the over.
Does Virginia Tech pass or rush for more yardage against Arkansas?
Brian: The Razorbacks give up 6.16 yards a carry this season, which is less than ideal in a conference known for running the ball down a defense's throat. However despite the porous defense in front of them, the Hokies have only run for more yards than they threw twice in 2016. Once was against Duke, in possibly the offense's least inspiring performance of the year. The other also happened in North Carolina's Research Triangle, in a game most Tar Heel fans claim to have not happened.
The ball will be in Jerod Evans' hands as much as ever against Arkansas, but will it be in a rushing or throwing capacity? If I had to guess, he'll throw for about 260, which'll be just more than the number of yards the team gathers on the ground.
Pierson: Have we done this line before? Why haven't we done this line before?! This is a great line, especially against a Jeckyl & Hyde defense like the Razorbacks. Opposing offenses have gained more yards on the ground against Arkansas than through the air on four occasions. Bielema's squad ranks 94th in the nation in rush defense, but that figure is buoyed by seemingly impressive performances against Florida (#113 nationally) and Texas State (dead last nationally).
Tech has only outrun their passing game twice this season, BUT both games occurred in the great state of North Carolina (and only one was in a hurricane). Coincidence? Probably. I'll still take rushing over passing, because weird game plans are a bowl game thing.
PROP BET: Who gets the most carries? Jerod Evans (Even), Travon McMillian (2-1), Steven Peoples (4-1), Sam Rogers (5-1), FIELD (10-1)
Brian: Again, the ball will be in Evans' hands as much as possible. It's harder than ever to think that McMillian will receive a lion's share of the carries, considering he only racked up 13 carries in the last three games combined.
In fact, this may be the most fascinating subplot going into 2017. Who the hell's going to run the ball? Travon hasn't been given a ton of looks as the incumbent. Marshawn Williams hurt his knee again. Deshawn McClease, Coleman Fox, and D.J. Reid have no real experience. And Shai McKenzie is, well, around for now:
Steven Peoples isn't explosive enough to be a serious candidate for carries, and Jalen Holston is a wild card coming in as a true freshman. With the probable departure of Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges, the Hokies will need to find explosion from somewhere. But so far it's unclear if that dynamic playmaking can come from the backfield.
Pierson: We meet again, seemingly-obvious-but-frustratingly-entertaining prop bet. Each time we have wagered a variation of this line, I have made the same point: Evans is the obvious choice here, but he has no value from a gambling perspective. Come on, it's the holidays. Live a little.
McMillian is the one to watch here. Sam Rogers already had his swan song. Steven Peoples is not the Next Great Hokie Tailback. And the field is who, exactly? DJ Reid? Henri Murphy? Cam Phillips?
The Belk Bowl gives TMac a great opportunity to head into the offseason with some confidence, not only in his own ability but also his role on this team. It has been a tough year for last season's leading rusher. He has always been a rhythm-type of guy, relishing continued use to settle into the game and ultimately wear down opponents with his combination of speed and power. Against a below-average run defense with almost a month to prepare, I'm taking McMillian in a surprise performance.
Over/Under: 4.5 times you talk yourself into reasons why Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges should stay in school.
Brian: Way over. Every time either of them makes a catch, or the ESPN crew talks about the NFL potential of one or the other, I'll close my eyes and try to tell myself they'll be back. Does it matter that Bucky just cracked Todd McShay's most recent top 32 prospects list? No. Does it matter that Ford would already leave as the best receiver in school history, and has no real reason to come back? No.
Just let me dream of an offense lead by an improved Jerod Evans throwing to two top-40 prospects in 2017. It's not realistic, but it's a dream.
Pierson: Hard, hard over. No matter how much I try to manipulate the facts, there is no getting around the simple, heart-wrenching logic screaming at them to go pro. Ford has not only broken every important receiving record at Tech, but he — along with Hodges and Cam Phillips — has left the receiver position in a better place than he found it. And for all of the "upside" tags being placed on Hodges, the truth is that he needs to capitalize on his size/speed combo and cross his fingers that he lands in a place that provides him with the patience and next level coaching he needs.
Listen, TKP community has beaten this topic to death, so there's no sense in getting stuck in the weeds (once again) debating the pros and cons. Would we all love to see Ford and Hodges return to shepherd along the next great crop of Tech receivers? Absolutely. But it's time for them to move on. You know it. I know it. What I keep trying to tell myself is that the receiver groups that we laud have been collectives thrown into the fire early in their careers. With the loss of Ford and Hodges, next year will see the beginnings of the next great crop of Hokie pass catchers. That thought, alone, gives me the warm-and-fuzzies.
Matchup Over/Under: 61.5
Brian: Arkansas averages 30 points a game, and give up 30 points a game. Which is about as perfect a way to describe their season as you could possibly find. The Hokies will definitely find ways to move the ball, and have been scoring consistently since the Georgia Tech debacle. The Razorbacks will have their share of chances as well, which will lead to an exciting matchup (and probably one of the best bowls of the season). I expect something along the lines of 38-35, which means Arkansas covers but also hits the over.
Pierson: These two teams combine to average 65 points per game, so chalk would easily hit the over. I feel reasonably confident in the Hokies offense to put up points against an Arkansas defense that has struggled all season to contain high-scoring teams. The X-factor will be how well Bud Foster's defense is able to scheme against Rawleigh Williams and QB Austin Allen.
I think we can all agree that the unique matchups produced during bowl season make for some truly entertaining football. Given the lack of familiarity between these two teams, the inevitable inventiveness and the 3-4 weeks off, I'm taking the over.
Spread: Virginia Tech (-7)
Brian: Arkansas isn't particularly good, until they are. They lost to a dreadful Missouri squad to end the year, had the doors blown off by Auburn, and lost to LSU even though Danny Etling threw all of 16 passes. Yet they also beat Florida, and Ole Miss when the Rebels were still trying. Even with the probable home field advantage, seven still feels like too large a number. Give me Tech to win, but the Razorbacks to cover.
Pierson: Tech has fared well against pro-style systems this season — by my count, they're undefeated — and I expect that to continue against a wildly inconsistent Arkansas team. The Hogs have defeated three Top-15 teams, though only Florida remains in the Top 25 heading into the postseason. They've also lost to Missouri, so there's that. I like the consistency of the Tech offense and defense a helluva lot more than the enigma that is Bret Bielema's team. I'm taking the Hokies and laying the points. Ho Ho Ho(kies)!
Disclaimer: Some of these are real betting lines, but many of them are fake and none of