Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina Predictions:
Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina Tar Heels
Point Spread: UNC -5.5
Game time: Friday, 6:00 P.M ET
Virginia Tech vs. UNC Prediction
Running Out Of The Tunnel:
They scoffed and laughed when Mack Brown announced he was returning to North Carolina. Another coaching retread hanging on too long, another guy passed his prime picking up a paycheck in a young man’s game. Welcome, everyone, to the definition of elite coaching.
The man who just turned 70 begins the third season of his second stint in Chapel Hill, and just like the first time in the early- to mid-1990s, the Tar Heels are among the elite of college football.
Brown is also known as, the CEO coach, and what exactly is wrong with this idea? Brown made two critical coordinator hires when he came back for Round 2 with UNC (offensive coordinator Phil Longo and defensive coordinator Jay Bateman), and they immediately paid off.
The season before Brown arrived at UNC; they won just two games. In his first season, they improved to seven wins and then eight wins last year. Their season ended with a gutted roster from opt-outs losing to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl.
This year begins with Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback Sam Howell and enough firepower on offense and speed and size in the defensive front seven to give the Tar Heels a legitimate chance to snap Clemson’s six-year hold on the ACC title.
On the other end of the spectrum sits Virginia Tech. Once the elite of the ACC, the Hokies have become inconsistent and unpredictable under coach Justin Fuente, who begins this season with his job squarely on the line.
Let’s count the ways this Hokies program is nothing like the ACC power of the past:
The quarterback position is a mess and has been since Fuente arrived in 2016.
Once a staple under legendary defensive coordinator Bud Foster, the defense can’t get pressure and gives up far too many big plays.
The Hokies don’t win close games, losing six one-score games in the last two seasons.
When UNC Has The Ball:
Longo is one of the best OC’s in college football at scheming ways for receivers to get open and putting his quarterback in a position to succeed. It also helps that he has Howell, a talented and tough junior (with a heaping helping of bravado) who can make every throw and has the leadership magnetism to fortify the locker room. Or, as one NFL scout told me, “He’s a carbon copy of Baker Mayfield.”
Overlooked in the proficiency of the passing game is UNC’s ability to run. The Tar Heels run considerably more than they throw (357 pass attempts in 2020, 492 rushes), and despite the loss of their two top tailbacks to the NFL, this team will still focus on the run game with Tennessee transfer Ty Chandler and freshman Caleb Hood – a 230-pound rock of a runner who has wowed the staff in fall camp.
The key to the offense will be the emergence of wide receivers Khafre Brown and Emery Simmons. The duo combined to catch all 15 passes last season, but Brown insists they’ll be good. Really good.
Sophomore Josh Downs played well in last year’s Orange Bowl when forced into action because of opt-outs and will be a significant third option for Howell.
When Virginia Tech Has The Ball:
The offense, frankly, is in transition. Quarterback Hendon Hooker, who accounted for 1,659 yards and 18 TDs (9 rush) last season, transferred to Tennessee. Tailback Khalil Herbert, the most consistent player on the offense, is now in the NFL. The offensive line lost two projected starters, who transferred out after the end of last season.
The staff believes QB Braxton Burmeister, an undersized but elite athlete, can do enough in the passing game to keep defenses from loading the box and making the Hokies predictable. There’s potential in the receiving corps with WRs Tre Turner and Tayvion Robinson, but look for TE James Mitchell to be Burmeister’s top target. He led ACC tight ends last year in yards per catch (16.7).
The Hokies could use another season of surprise production from the tailback spot. Last year it was Herbert; this time around, it could be Raheem Blackshear, who transferred from Rutgers as the key to the offense – only to struggle and eventually give way to 1,000-yard rusher Herbert.
The Bottom Line:
UNC has too much firepower for a VT defense that was 103rd nationally last year in total defense and 107th in pass defense. Good luck trying to slow down one of the best offenses in college football.
Virginia Tech vs. UNC Prediction & Pick:
Prediction: UNC, 31-17
Pick: UNC -5.5 (-110)