Power Ranking Virginia Tech's 2014 Schedule from Easiest to Toughest
Much like last season, the Virginia Tech Hokies have been graced with a relatively easy ACC schedule with one absurdly tough nonconference opponent, but there are plenty of ways the landscape has changed since 2013.
Unlike last year, the Hokies will get one game to warm up before traveling to face a college football powerhouse when they head to Columbus to battle Ohio State this time around.
However, what has stayed the same is the Hokies' good fortune to duck major ACC Atlantic foes like Florida State and Clemson, instead drawing Wake Forest and Boston College from the other division.
But Tech couldn't do a whole lot with an easy schedule last season, dropping a series of winnable games.
To make matters worse, some teams in the Coastal division have made significant improvements since 2013, meaning that the race for a spot in the ACC title game should be even tighter than it was last year.
Read on to find out which games should be a cakewalk for the Hokies next season and which ones could really challenge them, rated from easiest to toughest.
William and Mary
Look, it's no surprise that the lone FCS team on Tech's schedule is the team's first game of the year.
The Tribe are a pretty decent squad, but the Hokies should have little trouble handling a team that's mostly out of its league.
But that doesn't mean that the Hokies can disregard this game entirely, however. Memories of the team's embarrassing loss to James Madison in 2010 are likely still fresh with many in the program, and it could be tempting for the team to overlook this game with the Buckeyes looming one week later.
As David Teel of the Daily Press points out, the Tribe have also been competitive in their previous games against FBS opponents.
William and Mary went 1-9 versus Football Bowl Subdivision opponents during the last 10 seasons, but don't for a moment believe that the Tribe was overwhelmed. Seven of those setbacks were by less than two touchdowns, three by a combined 11 points.
Catch a routine pass here, make a tackle there and William and Mary adds North Carolina (21-17 loss in 2010), Maryland (7-6 in 2012) and West Virginia (24-17 last year) to its 2009 conquest of Virginia.
While the Hokies can't let their guard down against William and Mary, this is still the team's easiest game by a long shot.
The Western Michigan Broncos of the MAC are only slightly more intimidating opponents than the Tribe.
The program is coming off a 1-11 finish from 2013, and although the Broncos seem to have signed a large and formidable recruiting class, it likely won't have much of an effect on the team's fortunes in 2014.
Nevertheless, Phil Steele has named eight of the team's starters to his preseason All-MAC team, and the Hokies will play the Broncos one week before a very meaningful road matchup with North Carolina.
There perhaps isn't as much of a danger of Tech's players looking past this game as there is with the matchup with the Tribe, but the increase in talent level means this game should be a little bit tougher than the Hokies' opener.
At Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons were among the worst teams in the conference last season, and the Hokies are fortunate to face off with them in their first year with a new head coach to boot.
But new coach Dave Clawson truly has his work cut out for him on offense. The Demon Deacons lose their top players at quarterback, running back and wide receiver heading into 2014, making it a tall task for the unit to find a way to move the ball.
Tech certainly has its own offensive woes to consider, but if the defense is as stifling as it was last year, then the Hokies should have no trouble handling this game.
The Hokies melted down against the Eagles last year, essentially costing them the Coastal division title, so there's no doubt they're looking for redemption this time around.
In 2013, Tech was plagued by running back Andre Williams and defensive end Kasim Edebali, yet both have departed for greener pastures.
Nevertheless, the Eagles will still be tough even as they break in new quarterback Tyler Murphy and new running back Myles Willis.
While this new pair will be a drop-off from the seasoned Chase Rettig and Williams, respectively, each has some experience to lean on. Willis ran for 346 yards last year while Murphy got some time starting with Florida in the SEC in 2013.
However, it's the defense that really will suffer. Edebali and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis were crucial pieces of the unit that are now gone while the dismal secondary from last season remains mostly intact.
But while the Eagles may slip a bit from last year, coach Steve Addazio seems to be particularly adept at coaching up his squad, so the Hokies would be wise not to overlook BC once again.
It'll be an odd setting with the Hokies facing the hated Hoos on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but this game will likely produce a familiar result.
It's impossible to deny that Virginia's defense will be better this year with the addition of 5-star recruits Andrew Brown and Quin Blanding.
However, the problem is that this team is positively full of holes at almost every position, and a pair of freshmen can only do so much.
Quarterback is as big a mess as ever for the Cavs; last year's starter, David Watford, is out, and redshirt sophomore Greyson Lambert is in, but the talent there is still a concern.
Lambert went 33-of-75 in limited appearances last year, and while he has good size at 6'5", there's no telling how he'll perform this year.
The offensive line should be a problem area, especially with left tackle Morgan Moses now with the pros, and with top pass-catcher Jake McGee transferring, Lambert will certainly be tested under center.
Kevin Parks will provide stability at running back while Anthony Harris and Eli Harold will anchor a decent defense, but this team just has too many holes to be really competitive next season.
Combined with the fact that the Hokies will get to play in the very friendly confines of Lane Stadium, as well as Tech's sterling record against the Cavaliers recently, this game shouldn't be all that tough for the Hokies.
If Paul Johnson's triple option offense wasn't a perennial headache to scheme for, this game would fall even lower on this list.
Even though the Hokies have beaten the Yellow Jackets four straight times, Georgia Tech has consistently been a tough opponent, but that may change this year.
To start things off, the team is breaking in a new quarterback and two new running backs. Leading rushers Robert Godhigh and David Sims have both graduated while signal-caller Vad Lee transferred.
Zach Laskey seems poised to step in at one running back spot, but the team is still searching for answers at the other. At quarterback, Justin Thomas and Tim Byerly are fighting for the starting spot.
To make matters worse, the offensive line will be breaking in three new starters. All of this seems to add up to show that the offense likely won't be running at peak efficiency this season.
On defense, the team is similarly searching for answers. Most of the starting defensive line is departing, most notably accomplished pass-rusher Jeremiah Attaochu, which will really hurt a pass defense that ranked 85th in the country last year.
Defensive coordinator Ted Roof is also retooling the defensive scheme, moving to a 4-2-5 alignment. The transition could help with the Jackets' problems defending the pass, or it could just as easily compound them by confusing the players.
Overall, it's just a lot of uncertainty. The team could gel quickly and find some answers at these key spots, but at this point in time, it just looks like Georgia Tech will be beatable this year.
It helps that Hokies defensive coordinator Bud Foster has proved particularly adept at defending the Yellow Jackets recently, as the defense's performance while holding GT to just 273 total yards last season proved.
Johnson's offense is always tough to prepare for, but the Hokies have a full week to get ready and experience on their side.
The Pirates offer another intriguing offensive challenge for Foster to grapple with, thanks to their quick-hit spread offense.
Quarterback Shane Carden was superb last year, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 33 touchdowns. He's back for his senior season along with his two top pass-catchers.
The Pirates will lose running back Vintavious Cooper and three starting offensive linemen, but the offense still has the tools to pass with great efficiency once more this year.
The defense is another story. The defensive line will remain strong, with two returning starters to bolster the 3-4 defense, but the linebackers and secondary are basically starting from the ground up.
The key will be if Tech can repeat its success against ECU's offense that it achieved in 2013. Foster's bunch held the Pirates to 204 total yards in last year's matchup—a full 268 yards under their season average.
The Hokies certainly have the secondary to hold up against ECU's receivers, but questions linger about the new linebacking corps. Foster was able to scheme to limit Carden in 2013, and the offense just barely provided enough to get the narrow road win, but this should be a difficult matchup this year.
The Pittsburgh Panthers are almost certainly going to be better than they were a season ago even with quarterback Tom Savage now playing for the Houston Texans.
Pitt boasts a pair of impressive offensive playmakers in receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner to make up for the team's uncertainty under center. However, the QB battle is a cause for concern for the Panthers and a reason for the Hokies defense to starting licking their chops.
The Panthers only have two quarterbacks on the whole roster, so Chad Voytik has pretty much won the job by default, which isn't a great sign for Pitt. But much like the Hokies, the offense has plenty of playmakers and an improved offensive line to ease some of his growing pains.
On the defensive side, the Panthers will be replacing three of their four starters on the defensive line, most notably the NFL-bound Aaron Donald. The front four wreaked havoc on the Hokies' backfield the last time Tech traveled to Heinz Field, so the Hokies will surely be glad to be facing a less experienced group.
Nevertheless, a road game in Pittsburgh is a tough one, particularly when coming off a short week after a big game with UNC. The Panthers offense should be very good this year, assuming Voytik isn't a complete disaster, and the Hokies will have to stay wary of the Panthers.
The Hurricanes remain loaded on offense even if they've lost quarterback Stephen Morris.
Duke Johnson and Dallas Crawford are a terrifying tandem at running back, and if Johnson can recover from his ankle injury, he should be one of the top offensive players in the country in 2014.
Stacy Coley also had an excellent year in 2013, torching the Hokies for an 81-yard score last year, and he'll be back to bolster the passing game.
However, beyond losing Morris, the Canes do have some unanswered questions at quarterback. Presumptive starter Ryan Williams tore his ACL, and although he vows to return this season, his injury throws a wrench in head coach Al Golden's plans.
Freshman Kevin Olsen and sophomore Gray Crow are left to compete for the job, with Kansas transfer Jake Heaps recently getting into the competition as well.
But whichever quarterback ends up winning the starting job will have plenty of options to work with. The real concern has to be the defense.
The Hurricanes ranked 90th in total defense last year, and although they get back important returning starters like Tracy Howard and Denzel Perryman, they'll have to be better in this area to contend for the Coastal in 2014.
The Hokies easily dismantled the Canes' dismal defense last season to the tune of 549 yards of total offense, but such a result seems unlikely as Tech retools the offense.
The key will be for the Hokies to contain the Hurricanes offense, which could certainly be a tall task.
However, given the fact that Tech has the benefit of playing at home for this big Thursday night game in front of what will surely be a raucous home crowd, the Hokies still have to feel pretty confident about this one.
It's hard to believe it, but the Blue Devils are a forced to be reckoned with in the ACC, and the Hokies' trip to North Carolina to play them late in the season will be a very tough game.
David Cutcliffe's bunch isn't losing much in the way of offensive talent headed into the year.
Quarterback Anthony Boone stays, yet his rotation partner Brandon Connette has left, meaning that it's all Boone's show now.
But Boone is helped out by the continued presence of dangerous receiver Jamison Crowder in addition to running backs Josh Snead and Shaquille Powell.
The defense will likely take a bit of a step back, as leaders Ross Cockrell and Kenny Anunike have departed. However, the unit will still likely be a decent one, as it returns several starters.
The Hokies played perhaps their worst game of the season against Duke last year, losing a heartbreaker on Senior Day. Tech will have to hope that the running game develops so the Hokies can attack Duke's dismal run defense if they want to get some revenge..
Going on the road against a solid team like the Blue Devils will be a big challenge for the Hokies, especially late in the season when the division could be on the line.
At North Carolina
North Carolina is gaining steam among college football analysts as one of the potential breakout teams of 2014, and it's no secret why.
Ending 2013 with four wins in five games is sure to get people talking, and head coach Larry Fedora's offense has the chance to be explosive once again in 2014.
However, there are some questions at quarterback. Marquise Williams played well last year, but there's growing rumblings that Mitch Trubisky could beat him out in training camp.
Williams played well against Tech's defense last year, throwing for 277 yards and two scores as well as running for 56 yards, so the Hokies would likely prefer avoiding him, but he could be the least of their worries.
T.J. Logan returns to anchor the running back rotation while receivers Quinshad Davis and Bug Howard will be tough matchups on the outside.
Like Miami, the weak spot for the Tar Heels could be the defense. Tech managed to score 27 points and wrack up 293 yards against the unit last year, but it should be better this year.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has shifted a few players around, notably moving senior Tim Scott from corner to free safety to shore up the secondary, and those moves could make all the difference.
This will be a very difficult road game for Tech to handle no matter who starts under center, and the Hokies will have to hope they can repeat the success they found through the air against the Heels' lackluster pass defense in 2013.
At Ohio State
Heading to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes, all while breaking in a new quarterback, could very well be one of the most difficult games the Hokies have ever scheduled.
Urban Meyer's bunch are widely considered to be among the best in college football next season, with Athlon Sports declaring them the third-best team overall, so it's no shock that this is the toughest game on Tech's schedule.
Sure, Ohio State has lost important players like Bradley Roby and Carlos Hyde to the NFL, but that likely won't slow the Buckeyes much, if at all.
On defense, Ohio State will once again be dominant. Cornerback Doran Grant will lead the secondary in Roby's absence while Michael Bennett will anchor the defensive line, ensuring there won't be much of a drop-off.
Simply put, if Tech were to win this game, it would be a miracle. Even staying competitive would likely count as a moral victory for Frank Beamer and company.
Make no mistake, the ACC has some tough teams, but none of them can compare to the challenge posed by OSU.