For Hokies, the 2019 schedule is as big of a yawn as it gets. It’s been a few years since Virginia Tech had a schedule like this with zero home games that will attract national attention. Clemson isn’t traveling to Blacksburg, Tech isn’t playing at a racetrack and Florida State isn’t on the schedule. Notre Dame is, but it’s in South Bend.
Even though the home slate doesn’t get the juices flowing, the 2019 schedule presents an opportunity for Virginia Tech to get back to their historic standard — an eight or nine-win season — despite finishing last season with a losing record and having many holes on the roster.
Let’s dive deep into the 2019 schedule, breaking down each opponent and what Tech faces in each matchup.
Aug. 31 at Boston College (2018 Record: 7-5)
Boston College is stuck in a rut of mediocrity. The Eagles have won seven games in five of the last six seasons, while going 3-9 in 2015. Head coach Steve Addazio has failed to return Boston College to their heights of 2004-2008, when the program won the ACC Atlantic Division in consecutive seasons under Jeff Jogodzinski.
Addazio’s crew started 2018 with a 7-2 record, thrashing Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. College GameDay made the trip to Chestnut Hill the next week, only for Boston College to lose to Clemson and lose their two remaining games to finish 7-5. The team’s bowl game vs. Boise State was then canceled due to weather.
Fast forward to now, and Boston College is undergoing change along both fronts. They return just one offensive line starter from last season but running back AJ Dillon is still the man. The junior running back battled injuries in 2018 and still finished with 1,108 rushing yards, his second consecutive season with more than 1,000 yards on the ground. Dillon is a bruising back and he’ll be the best running back the Hokies face all season. That’s the last thing Tech’s inexperienced defensive line will want to see in Week 1.
Pivotal matchup: Boston College has been known for having an excellent pass rush in recent seasons and 2019 might be a similar story. Standouts Zach Allen, Wyatt Ray and Ray Smith are all gone, leaving a large void on the defensive front. However, Clemson transfer Richard Yeargrin is back in the mix after recovering from a serious neck injury, and Brendan Barlow is poised to turn into an explosive rusher. Virginia Tech returns starting left tackle Christian Darrisaw, but there’s questions at other spots along the line.
Sep. 7 vs. Old Dominion (2018 Record: 4-8)
Yeah, you read that right. Old Dominion won just four games in 2018 and one of those was against Virginia Tech. But the Hokies get a shot at revenge early in the season inside Lane Stadium.
Old Dominion is another team undergoing some turnover. The Monarchs must find a new quarterback, star defensive end Oshane Ximines was the first Monarch ever taken in the NFL Draft and the team’s top receivers in 2018 — Travis Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart — are both playing for the Detroit Lions.
Fast forward to now, as the Monarchs face a pivotal season for the future of the program. A brand-new S.B. Ballard Stadium places the program amongst the Conference USA elite in terms of facilities, but the on-field performance has to match. Bobby Wilder might have led Old Dominion to a big win over Virginia Tech last season, but his teams have won just nine games in the last two years.
Pivotal matchup: Virginia Tech needs to impose their will on Old Dominion. After 2018’s dismal performance in Norfolk, Tech needs to put this game out of reach by halftime. Doing so requires establishing the running game, which becomes easier with Ximines off the roster. If the Hokies are going to prove they’re the real deal, stomping on the Monarch’s throat would be a good start.
Sep. 14 vs. Furman (2018 Record: 6-4)
Furman highlights Virginia Tech’s lackluster 2019 schedule, serving as one of two FCS opponents for the Hokies. The Paladins failed to win a game vs. an FBS opponent in 2018 and they shouldn’t be able to hang with the Hokies this year either.
Pivotal matchup: Here’s another game where the Hokies running game needs to take control. The offensive line must control the line of scrimmage and the running backs must show some explosiveness. If Virginia Tech can’t run all over Furman, how the heck are they going to run against the ACC?
Sep. 27 vs. Duke (2018 Record: 8-5)
This game will be the end of a three-game homestand, one that the Hokies need to sweep. Duke is always a hard out and that shouldn’t change this season. Redshirt senior quarterback Quentin Harris takes over behind center and even though he went 2-0 as a starter in 2018 with a TD-to-INT ratio of 8:1, Harris’ career completion percentage sits at 50 percent.
Pivotal matchup: Duke’s defense always seems to give the Hokies fits, and they likely will again this season. The Blue Devils will lean on standout defensive linemen Victor Dimukeje (8.5 tackles for loss in 2019) and 2018 Freshman All-American Chris Rumph II. How Virginia Tech handles these two disruptors will decide how this game plays out.
Oct. 5 at Miami (2018 Record: 7-6)
In terms of importance, this matchup sits near the top. As it does almost every season, this game might determine the outcome of the Coastal Division. Neither Miami nor Virginia Tech are elite teams, but the two will be in the Coastal discussion for at least the first several weeks.
Former Temple head coach (sorry, I had to) Manny Diaz is handing the offense to Jarren Williams. The former four-star recruit threw three passes in 2018 and is as green as it gets. He showed flashes of brilliance and ineptitude in Miami’s season-opener vs. Florida.
Pivotal matchup: Virginia Tech needs to expose Miami’s inexperienced offensive line. Williams’ struggles were in part due to his freshmen tackles, both of whom were whipped regularly by Florida’s pass rushers. Miami’s offensive line allowed 10 sacks vs. Florida and though the unit will get better over time, it’s unrealistic to expect them to become even an average unit by the midway point of the season. Even though the Hokies have questions about their D-line, they need to make a little noise in this game.
Oct. 12 vs. Rhode Island (2018 Record: 6-5)
After a knock-down, drag-out fight vs. Miami on the road, Tech gets a reprieve vs. FCS Rhode Island. It’s the second FCS game on the schedule for 2019, which is highlighted by the obviously poor home slate of game this season. Rhode Island went toe-to-toe with Connecticut last season and lost to FCS powerhouse James Madison 48-31.
Pivotal matchup: Here’s another matchup where Virginia Tech needs to flex their muscles in the trenches, particularly on the offensive line. The unit will have some real experience under their belts by this point and with Miami behind them, they’ll need to turn it up against an inferior opponent.
Oct. 19 vs. North Carolina (2018 Record: 2-9)
“The Mack” has returned, bringing all sorts of optimism in Chapel Hill. Fans are excited about having the best coach in school history, Mack Brown, back in the fold after a disappointing finish to the Larry Fedora era. Brown is attempting to run an Air Raid offense, one similar to the up-tempo offenses of Fedora’s tenure. True freshman Sam Howell has been named the starting quarterback, a gutsy move by Brown. While Brown returns some nice pieces from a year ago, this team still finished 2-9 last season.
Pivotal matchup: North Carolina’s leading rushers, Michael Carter and Antonio Williams, are both back for 2019. Neither of the two rushed more than 91 times, but they did averaged 7.1 yards and 5.5 yards per rush, respectively. Tech’s defensive line will be tested in this game, as Carter rushed for 165 yards in last season’s game. However, Carter’s fumble was what sparked Tech’s comeback.
Nov. 2 at Notre Dame (2018 Record: 12-1)
The Fighting Irish are clearly the best team on Virginia Tech’s schedule this season. The group made the College Football Playoff in 2018, knocking off team after team before running into the Clemson juggernaut. Ian Book returns as the starting quarterback, while the Irish are calling on a bunch of highly touted youngsters to plan big roles. Notre Dame lost several defensive starters from last season, as well as receiver Miles Boykin and running back Dexter Williams, the latter of whom had 1,128 yards from scrimmage in 2018.
Pivotal matchup: Notre Dame rushed for 167 yards vs. Virginia Tech last season and the Irish are returning four starters on the offensive line from a year ago. If replacements Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. are nearly as good as Williams was, then the Hokies defensive line is in for their biggest test of the season. If the jury is still out by this point, we’ll know exactly how good this defensive line is after the trip to South Bend.
Nov. 9 vs. Wake Forest (2018 Record: 7-6)
The Demon Deacons have been a respectable bunch under coach Dave Clawson. They’ve won three straight bowl games and return two quarterbacks with experience. Both Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman will be competing for the starting job all season, all the while without offensive star Greg Dortch. Athlon notes that Wake Forest is losing three offensive linemen with a combined 112 starts, which is a staggering number. Wake’s defense is in shambles, with cornerback Essang Bassey the only notable defender.
Pivotal matchup: Virginia Tech will hold an advantage in the trenches, as both of Wake’s starting defensive tackles in 2018 are gone. The Demon Deacons were 93rd in FBS last season against the run, allowing 22 rushes of 20 yards or more. It’s likely that the 2019 defense will struggle just as much, giving the Hokies an opportunity to control the line of scrimmage against a conference opponent.
Nov. 16 at Georgia Tech (2018 Record: 7-6)
This isn’t your dad’s Georgia Tech. The option attack orchestrated by former head coach Paul Johnson is no longer, as Geoff Collins is now tasked with fitting square pegs into round holes. Collins runs a spread offense, but most of these players are specific fits for the option scheme. While the Yellow Jackets’ offense is one big dilemma, the defense is more of a known entity. There are still young players being counted on, the secondary and linebacker corps have reliable players who have produced.
Pivotal matchup: Thankfully for Virginia Tech, this game is occurring later in the season. The Hokies will have a couple months’ worth of film to watch, leaving Georgia Tech with few potential surprises. Bud Foster should have an idea of how to attack this group, leaving Georgia Tech’s mismatched pieces with little to work with. Virginia Tech’s offense should be able to put up enough points to win this game, ending the Hokies’ three-game losing streak.
Nov. 23 vs. Pittsburgh (2018 Record: 7-7)
In the annual chaotic craziness that is the ACC Coastal Division, the 7-7 Pittsburgh Panthers somehow earned the chance to get clobbered by Clemson in the 2018 ACC Championship Game. Pittsburgh finished 6-2 in the conference, winning the conference with a shocking four-game win streak towards the end of the season.
This season, Pat Narduzzi is coaching without his two 1,000-yard running backs (Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall) and all three of his starting linebackers. However, Kenny Pickett is back for his junior season at quarterback, there are two productive seniors in the secondary (Dane Jackson and Damar Hamlin) and Pitt returns their 2018 sack leader (Rashad Weaver).
Pivotal matchup: Virginia Tech’s receivers will have their hands full in this matchup. As Athlon notes, both Hamlin and Jackson are honorable mentions on the All-ACC team, and former four-star prospect Paris Ford is ready to start at cornerback. These games vs. Pittsburgh are always physical and sometimes scrappy, and I can see happening yet again this season at Heinz Field.
Nov. 29 at Virginia (2018 Record: 8-5)
Virginia is going to be pretty good this year. Bryce Perkins is a capable quarterback who can create with his legs and make big-time throws. He’s missing star weapons Olamide Zaccheaus and Jordan Ellis, but receivers Joe Reed and Hasise Dubois are both returning. The defense that held six different opponents to 21 points or less is mostly entact, including star cornerback Bryce Hall, making the Wahoos a media favorite to win the ACC Coastal.
Pivotal matchup: As it was last season, containing Perkins must be Virginia Tech’s main priority. He’s a versatile athlete that stresses every defense he faces. Perkins finished the game with well over 300 yards from scrimmage and tossed three scores. How Virginia Tech defends him will determine the outcome of this game.