Another fall camp shrouded in mystery; it is rapidly becoming a tradition unlike any other. Year Two under Justin Fuente feels a lot like a second season at the helm of the Hokies in NCAA Football (**excuse me while I pour one out for our fallen friend**). You figured out a way to put up gaudy stats and surprise some people in Year One [despite some criminally underrated players...thanks EA]. You fared well on the recruiting trail, picking up some highly rated recruits from across the country [that you've never seen play]. And now it's time to unveil — nay, unleash — these mysterious newcomers, and you're equal parts excited and terrified of what's to come.
It's an exhilarating time for Virginia Tech fans, but the considerable unknowns are sure to lead to some uneasy bets. Join Brian and me as we repeatedly press the "Ask Corso" button to a gambling national championship. On to the (fake) lines!
Over/Under 309.5 total yards for WVU QB Will Grier
Brian: Here's what we know about the Mountaineers' starting quarterback: He's a former four-star U.S. Army All-American who committed to Florida. He led the Gators to a 6-0 start as a redshirt freshman starter, completed 66 percent of his passes and threw 10 touchdowns. He was then suspended for one year after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs, lost his starting job, and transferred to Morgantown.
When Grier played, he played well. But after serving his suspension and sitting out due to transfer rules, it's been nearly two years since he took a competitive snap. How accurate will he be under pressure? How will he respond the first time Tremaine Edmunds hits him in the open field?
On the flip side, how much has he improved? Considering we've only seen him play as a true freshman, it's not crazy to assume he's gotten better since his brief time in Gainesville. But I'll go under, and assume we see some sort of rust after all the time off. I'll say this, though: If Grier's slinging it on Bud Foster's defense, Josh Jackson will have to respond in-kind — which should make Tech fans everywhere super uncomfortable.
Pierson: I remember watching Grier during his freshman year in Gainesville and thinking the Gators had finally solved their QB conundrum. He's an athletic kid that seems like a solid fit for Dana Holgorsen's spread attack. Grier sniffed this line once in his six games under center at Florida — a 42-23 win over the Vols in 2015 — but Holgo's system is much better suited for gaudy stats than Jim McElwain's. Grier will be taking over for two-year starter Skylar Howard who, against sub-par (is that too kind?) Big12 defenses, averaged 279 total yards in conference play. Against a Miami defense that is probably the closest comp to Bud Foster's group talent-wise, Howard was limited to 197 total yards in a 31-14 Russell Athletic Bowl loss.
Grier is a more talented quarterback than Howard. Plus, he's got a solid backfield to lean on, which should open things up for him. With all that being said, I'm expecting some rust, not to mention a fearsome Tech defense in his ear all night long. I'll take the under.
Over/Under 1.5 total touchdowns for VT QB Josh Jackson
Brian: Easiest "over" of the column. Last year, Jerod Evans was held to under two touchdowns twice (against Tennessee and Duke), and if not for the fumble-fest that occurred in Bristol, he'd have scored a second one against the Vols. No matter how much confidence Fuente and Cornelsen say they have in their stable of backs, you know that Jackson will have plenty of chances to make plays should the offense get to the redzone.
The only thing I'm worried will hold him back is the potential for mistakes by the young receiving corps. But even still, the opportunity for one passing and one rushing score are far too high to pass up.
Pierson: Spring Games and Snapchats. That's all we've got. We know Jackson isn't the bruising rusher Jerod Evans was. We also know that he won the job because of the head on his shoulders and his ability to execute the offense. After he was named the starter, OC Brad Cornelsen noted, "[Jackson] executed, he took care of the ball. Ultimately, at that position, being able to play well and give our team a chance to win is what is kind of at the top of the list for us." Seems simple enough.
Fuente finally has the makings of a dynamic offense. The question is, are the kids ready to shine under the bright lights? Or may we be faced with another drop-laden opener on the big stage, a la 2013? My gut tells me to expect the staff to keep things simple for the offense early, with the intent to get the ball in the hands of the playmakers in space. By the end of the night, I think Jackson finishes with at least 2 total touchdowns. Gimme the over.
Rank 'Em: Total number of carries between Travon McMillian, Steven Peoples, Deshawn McClease, Jalen Holston, Josh Jackson, AJ Bush, Cam Phillips, James Clark and Henri Murphy
Brian: I don't know what Travon did to this coaching staff, but good lord is he in the dog house. You'd think that a former one-thousand yard rusher would stand out to the roster evaluators, but he failed to break through in 2016.
He showed flashes. A 69-yard score against Tennessee. 131 yards on just 18 carries against Miami. A Logan Thomas-esq TD versus Duke. But between those performances, he struggled mightily. Nine carries for 10 yards against ECU. Six for negative three at Pittsburgh. Only a single attempt in the win over Notre Dame in South Bend.
In fact here are his stats after the Duke game:
32 attempts, 144 yards, 4.5 YPC, three TDs. Three receptions, 50 yards, one TD.
Yes, the Hokies were trailing badly in four of the five (which meant more passing), but 32 carries over five games? Yikes.
And what has he done in the offseason for me to think Fuente and Zohn Burden break that trend? I think Peoples will have the most carries, followed by Jackson (due to scheme, if nothing else), Travon, McClease, Phillips, Clark, and the rest of them tied for last with zero.
Pierson: The sheer breadth of this list proves how little we know about the staff's plans for Sunday night. Or maybe it's a reflection of the plethora of options. The crazy thing is there are plenty of names that could be added to this list — CJ Carroll, Sean Savoy, Dalton Keene and Khalil Pimpleton are just a few that could steal a carry against the Mountaineers.
Steven Peoples' role in the run game remains an enigma. Jalen Holston could be headed for a redshirt. AJ Bush may not see the field. James Clark is fast — that has been established — but that's about all we know. Henri Murphy didn't crack the opening two-deep, but he has proven to be a jet sweep extraordinaire.
I'll go with Travon, Peoples, Jackson, McClease, Bush, Clark, Murphy, Phillips, Holston.
Over/Under 7.5 snaps at quarterback for A.J. Bush
Brian: Cornelsen was quick to put down any sort of idea that Bush was anything but a backup quarterback. In fact he was so quick to do so, that it makes me think there may be something up his sleeve. I'll take the under, because that's the safest route to go, but I'm intrigued to see if Bush gets any time as a more mobile threat in the backfield. Considering the youth and inexperience on the West Virginia defense, throwing a wrench into things may not be the worst idea.
Pierson: I'm intrigued by what I've heard from the coaching staff about Bush's ability to run the football. I've also been unimpressed by his film throwing the ball. So let's hope he has either dramatically improved as a passer, or his 7.5 snaps do not involve using his arm whatsoever.
With a first time, redshirt-freshman starter taking the helm on a big stage, I worry a little about breaking up any semblance of rhythm Jackson may develop for the sole purpose of "changing things up." If the offense is struggling to get things going on the ground (once again), then I suppose Fuente's got to do what he's got to do. Fingers crossed that doesn't become the case. I'll take the under.
Which true-freshman wideout finishes with the most touches: Sean Savoy, Hezekiah Grimsley or Khalil Pimpleton?
Brian: I know everyone was super hyped about Pimpleton for what he can do in the open field:
But if the true freshman is going to make an impact, he'd have to make it onto the two-deep first. And he's not. In fact, I'm not 100% sure he won't be redshirting by the time this season's over, because what's the point in burning a year of eligibility if he won't play?
I've been high on Savoy for most of the summer, and I think he ends the night with the most catches of the group. For me it's a pretty easy choice, due to simple process of elimination: he's on the two-deep (sorry Pimp), and he doesn't back up Cam Phillips (looking at you, Hezekiah). If the Hokies play two inside receivers at once, there's a good chance Savoy will be one of them, which means he'll probably see the field more than either of the other two.
Pierson: Without having seen the kid suit up in orange and maroon, I am 100% #TeamPimp. However, given his omission from the two-deep, it would be somewhat irresponsible for me to pass over two freshmen poised for big roles against WVU. The staff has showered both Savoy and Grimsley with praise during fall camp, so it's hard not to expect big things from both of them. Based on Brad Cornelsen's comments a few weeks back, it sounds like Grimsley is very much a work in progress (though who knows, it sounds like he's picking things up at a rapid pace). Savoy's athleticism and ability to make people miss make him a solid candidate for easy touches in Josh Jackson's first start. I'll take Savoy.
Over/Under 799.5 combined total yards by the Virginia Tech and West Virginia offenses
Brian: This one's tough. Both schools were in the top 40 in yards per game last year, and the Hokies routinely passed this number in 2016 games. But what this line is really asking is if I trust both offenses to be average-to-above average under the lights at FedEx Field. And to be honest, I trust neither of them, which means I'll take the under.
For reference, think of the Tennessee game again (if you can stomach it). There were big plays had by both sides, but due to turnovers and sloppy drives the two teams only combined for 724 yards. I'm thinking we'll see something similar on Sunday.
Pierson: There are so many unknowns heading into this game. When paired with the spectacle of a nationally televised opener, it's hard not to envision a lot of chaos (which I'll get to later). I agree with Brian here; turnover and mistake-laden periods will dominate this game, as both teams spend a considerable amount of time between the 30-yard lines. I'll take the under.
Matchup Over/Under: 51
Brian: Under. Tech's offense will occasionally sputter due to a lack of both experience and time to gel as a unit. The Mountaineers' offense will sputter at times due both to potential rust from their quarterback and the fact they're playing Bud Foster's defense.
I don't envision some sort of high octane, nationally televised shootout on Sunday night (if you want that, UCLA and Texas A&M will be on Fox). I expect conservative game plans from both coaches, trying to feel out the other and see what they can get away with. I'm thinking of a score along the lines of 24-21.
Pierson: Over. Two (potentially) high-powered offenses against two hyped defenses could go either way. With that being said, the Hokies don't return much on offense and the Mountaineers don't return much on defense. Ultimately, I feel like the neutral site, nationally-televised stage adds a powerful variable to the game that leads to increased mistakes. Missed tackles, busted coverages, careless fumbles and mind numbing passes...brace yourselves, they're coming.
At the end of the day, I'll take Fuente's evil genius against a green defense any day of the week.
Spread: Virginia Tech (-4.5)
Brian: I'm sorry that I have to be the one to say it, but there's no way the Hokies should be favored. West Virginia is bringing in a QB with experience to play against a Tech D that has more questions than people want to ask. The Hokies are rolling with Josh Jackson and a cadre of freshmen to see what they can do. Dana Holgorsen has had an entire summer to study what Dino Babers and Syracuse did to Foster's defense last year, so be prepared for them to score enough to make Jackson uncomfortable. I think the Mountaineers cover, and I think they win outright, 24-21.
(Don't hate me.)
Pierson: NOT SO FAST MY FRIEND! I agree that this line is a little out of whack and is probably closer to a Push than people believe. You can pencil me in as someone who, come Sunday, will #FearGrier. French's film previews have done enough to make me lose sleep over what Tony Gibson may have in store for the Hokies. I'm troubled by the lack of offensive experience out wide and along the right side of the offensive line. And I'm haunted by the ghosts of the 2013 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic and the Battle at Bristol. But at the end of the day, I have a strange, debatably irrational faith in Virginia Tech's ability to pull this one out. I'm taking the Hokies in a squeaker, but give me WVU +4.5.
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.