Photo Credit: Harley Taylor
Virginia Tech has hit the home stretch of the 2019 regular season with their second bye coming right before their toughest stretch of the season not separated by a bye.
The Hokies enter this portion of their schedule with everything to gain or lose at they are in control of their own destiny in the ACC Coastal, but also aren't assured of extending their bowl streak just yet.
So what are the toughest games left for Virginia Tech? Here's our countdown of the easiest to the toughest game left.
5. at Georgia Tech
This shouldn't be a surprise to see Georgia Tech at this spot with the gap being quite significant from fifth to fourth. The Yellow Jackets did pull off the biggest surprise of the ACC this year when they upset Miami, but this is a Georgia Tech team that is in the early stages of a massive rebuild the likes of which haven't been seen in the ACC in a long time.
Geoff Collins and his team have shown fight, but this is still a 2-win team that lost at home to The Citadel, and only has wins over Miami and a South Florida team that may fire Charlie Strong after the season. Collins is trying to modernize the offense, but without a quarterback that fits what they're looking to do, the Yellow Jackets are very run-oriented without much of a pass threat to take any sort of pressure off.
This should be the one easy game for the Hokies, but Georgia Tech has shown that they can catch a team by surprise if they sleep on them. Expect Virginia Tech to use Miami's loss to (and maybe Justin Fuente's 0-3 record against the Yellow Jackets) to make sure the Hokies don't overlook this game with Pittsburgh and Virginia looming after.
4. vs. Pittsburgh
After the first month of the season, Pittsburgh looked like they may be improved from last year with a win over UCF and their only losses coming to Penn State and Virginia. Since then, Pitt, and their competition they've faced, don't look nearly as good with UCF not playing like a top 25 team, UVA looking overrated, and their Penn State performance looking more like a fluke.
Additionally, Pitt doesn't have a game-changer at quarterback. While Kenny Pickett is an okay QB that can help keep you in a game, he's not a guy that can win you a football game at this point in his career unlike the top quarterbacks for the 3 toughest opponents left for Virginia Tech.
Pittsburgh also looks inconsistent with a shocking loss against Miami that came away a pair of road victories against Duke and Syracuse, though those 2 teams are heading in the wrong direction.
Pitt's defense is definitely the stronger part of this team with safety Paris Ford emerging as a playmaker and the defensive line duo of Patrick Jones II and Jaylen Twyman each having 7 sacks. If anything, Pitt will give the Hokies a test in the trenches as you would expect for a Pat Narduzzi Pitt team.
However, this team lacks playmakers on offense while their running game is as weak as it has been in years. Unlike last year where Pitt did what they want against the Hokies' defense, this year's Pitt offense better hope that their defense can impose their will on the Hokies' offense to have a good chance at winning.
3. at Virginia
Virginia gets the slight edge over Pittsburgh because of the fact that they have a dynamic QB in Bryce Perkins who, while not having a great 2019 season, has shown the ability to be a major playmaker.
What is hurting Perkins a lot is the fact that he doesn't have much of a supporting cast, his offensive line is one of the ACC's worst, and Robert Anae is the worst Power 5 offensive coordinator in the commonwealth of Virginia (yes, Brad Cornelsen is a better OC than Anae). That's been a recipe for disaster at times for the UVA offense whether it was the debacle against Miami or a disappointing performance that led to a loss against Louisville. However, the Cavaliers have also had their good moments with a 34-point victory over Duke and a 30-14 win at Pittsburgh to start the season.
Defensively, the loss of Bryce Hall definitely hurts, but Virginia still has a quality defense highlighted by a pass rush that has 5 players with at least 3 sacks. Safety Joey Blount is emerging as a major playmakers for the Wahoos with 2 interceptions, 3.5 sacks, and 58 tackles this season while Jordan Mack is one of the ACC's best pass rushers with 7 sacks to go with 44 total tackles.
What makes this game tough for the Hokies is Virginia Tech's not so great reputation with containing mobile QBs like Perkins even if UVA's offensive line has been bad, to say it nicely. Additionally, Charlottesville may be as tough of a place to play for the Hokies as it has been for a long time in part because UVA has made donating to their athletic department a must to buy a ticket. This move is similar to what Virginia Tech did when Ohio State visited Blacksburg in 2015 and worked well at limiting the amount of Buckeye fans in Lane Stadium.
However, there's still the fact that Virginia hasn't beat the Hokies in 15 years. That may not be any sort of great football analysis, but there's the mental aspect of it that can cause a team to crumble even when they seem on the verge of actually doing what it seems like they can't do.
2. vs. Wake Forest
Only three teams in the ACC have two or fewer losses on the season to date: Clemson, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. We'll see two of those teams meet in two weeks with the Demon Deacons travelling to Blacksburg in a game where Wake can continue to establish themselves as the ACC's second-best team or the Hokies can claim hold of that spot.
The biggest question for Wake Forest is whether they'll have Jamie Newman? If they do, the Demon Deacons are a legitimate top 20 team. If not, Wake Forest is still a good team with Sam Hartman, but not the same level as they are with Newman.
Part of the reason why the floor is still so high is the presence of star receiver Sage Surratt who has almost 900 receiving yards this season with 9 touchdowns while averaging 16.6 yards per reception. The matchup between Surratt and Caleb Farley should be one of the best individual matchups of the year in the ACC, and a battle that could launch the draft stock of either player.
Wake Forest has been inconsistent at times defensively, but they have playmakers like Carlos Basham Jr, who leads Wake with 5.5 sacks, and DBs Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson who have 3 interceptions and a combined 11 pass breakups.
Overall, the biggest thing about Wake Forest is that the Demon Deacons are well-coached by Dave Clawson who is a proven program builder who should receive major Power 5 interest this offseason if those athletic directors are smart. Wake has proven to be slightly above the fray that is the mess from 3 to 13 in the ACC, pushing the Demon Deacons to second on our list.
1. at Notre Dame
There's no doubt that Notre Dame comes at the top of this list, but this game doesn't seem nearly as difficult given how the Fighting Irish have looked recently especially with their blowout loss at Michigan.
Of course, the conditions were less than ideal, but the Fighting Irish folded in the second half while QB Ian Book has not been nearly as good
ND’s QB Ian Book has good stats, but deeper dive:— Matej Sis (@MatejS247) October 30, 2019
vs. UNM & BGSU - 31-44 (70.5%) 621 yards, 10 TDs 0 INTs - 78.55 QBR
vs. Everyone Else (5 games)- 85-152 (55.9%) 871 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs - 66.02 QBR
Book's numbers, as is with most QBs, are inflated some by playing weaker competition but what is clearer is that Book isn't the top end collegiate QB he was last season. However, Book still remains a quality QB who can make plenty of plays and will be the toughest QB VT faces the rest of the season if Jamie Newman is not healthy when the Hokies play Wake Forest.
However, this is still a Notre Dame team that has many of the pieces from last year's Playoff team along with having a close loss at Georgia and wins over USC, Virginia, and Louisville. The Fighting Irish may not be as good as the top 10 team that they had been for much of this season, but they are still a quality top 25 team playing at home in what may be less than ideal conditions.
Notre Dame at home is almost always a tough home matchup as Virginia Tech saw in 2016 when a Fighting Irish team that only won 4 games nearly beat the future Coastal champion Hokies.