8:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Florida State -7, Over/Under: 55
College Football’s Opening Weekend comes to a conclusion with yet another primetime Top-25 showdown, this time featuring a key ACC brawl between the Twentieth-Ranked Virginia Tech Hokies and the Nineteenth-Ranked Florida State Seminoles from Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, Florida. Now in his third season in Blacksburg, Justin Fuente hopes that Virginia Tech (9-4, 20th in AP Poll in 2017) can replicate their scorching start to the previous campaign, in which they won all but one of their first eight outings, before slipping up down the stretch, losing three out of their final five contests including a 30-21 loss to Oklahoma State in the Camping World Bowl. The Hokies should have a good deal of continuity returning in the form of twelve Starters from their previous incarnation, including seven on Offense and another five on Defense. However, none figure to be more prominent than Josh Jackson (59.6%, 2,991 YDS, 7.6 Y/A, 20 TD, 9 INT in 2017), who looks to build upon a solid Freshman term at Quarterback. Jackson surprised with his poise early on, completing 62.3% of his Attempts for 2,032 Yards on 8.5 Yards per Attempt, while tossing Seventeen Touchdowns in comparison to just Four Interceptions throughout the first eight games, while also running for another 193 Yards and a pair of Touchdowns to boot. Granted, he did begin to tail off considerably down the stretch, completing just 55.4% for 959 Yards 6.1 Yards per Attempt, Three Touchdowns and Five Interceptions, but nevertheless managed to turn a promising performance in the aforementioned Bowl against the Cowboys, throwing for 248 Yards with a Touchdown and an Interception, while adding another pair of scores via his legs. The idea is that Fuente’s Offense will continue to develop along with his young Quarterback, looking to improve upon their 2017 performance averaging just 28.2 Points (69th Overall) despite racking up 412.8 Total Yards per Game. The issue was Turnovers, which is to be expected with a Freshman Signal-Caller at the helm, for Virginia Tech fourteen a year ago, with those mistakes coming to a head in their four defeats; they only committed five in their nine victories, only to see this dubious statistic loom rather large in their losses, committing nine. Fortunately, this unit should be afforded plenty of opportunities to get things right, for their comrades on Defense remain one of the most consistent groups in the country under venerable Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster. After serving in such in various capacities under Frank Beamer from 1987 until the Head Coach retired 2105, it was considered a major coup that Fuente managed to secure the services of the Frank Broyles Award winner (given to the nation’s top assistant) in this new regime, for his presence has continued to be pay dividends for the Program. Last season, the Hokies were arguably the best Defense in the Atlantic Coast Conference, relegating opponents to a scant 14.8 Points per Game (4th Overall) on just 319.7 Total Yards, including 199.8 Yards versus the Pass and another 119.9 Yards against the Run. Furthermore, they managed to force Nineteen Turnovers, and rack up Thirty-One Sacks, while totaling three shutouts as well. However, Foster will have to find a way to replace the presence of the Edmunds Brothers, Tremaine (108 TKL, 14.0 TFL, 5.5 SK, 2 PD, 3 FF in 2017) and Terrell (61 TKL, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 SK, 2 INT, 4 PD in 2017), who will both be plying their trade on Sundays in the NFL this year, though Ricky Walker (41 TKL, 12.5 TFL, 4.5 SK, 1 PD, 1 FR, 1 TD in 2017), a Fifth-Year Senior Defensive Tackle, figures make more than his fair share of plays on this side of the football.
Meanwhile, for just the third time since 1976, it’s the start of a new era at Florida State (7-6 in 2017) where Willie Taggart will begin his first season as the new leading man of the Program. Indeed, Taggart has some very big shoes to fill, with the only other men preceding him in that period of time being his immediate predecessor Jimbo Fisher, who bolted to Texas A&M in the Offseason, and of course, the legendary Hall of Famer Bobby Bowden. Those two Coaches set the bar extremely high in Tallahassee, racking up a slew of 10-Win Campaigns, littered with All-Americans, and most importantly a triumvirate of National Championships. However, the state of the Seminoles heading into 2018 is a precarious one, for the former Oregon Head Coach has spent a good deal of time cleaning up the mess created by the pervious regime. With that said, while Taggart may not seem like the ideal man for the job, he has an extensive history recruiting in the state of Florida, having spent four season leading the University of South Florida to success from 2013 to 2016, before heading to Eugene a year ago. So just how does one improve upon Florida State’s worst season since 2009, you ask? Well, welcoming back the services of Deondre Francois is certainly a great place to start. After turning heads as a Redshirt Freshman two years ago completing 58.8% of his Attempts for 3,350 Yards on 8.4 Yards per Attempt, with Twenty Touchdowns in comparison to Seven Interceptions, while rushing for another 198 Yards and Five Touchdowns to boot, there were nonetheless huge expectations placed upon the Quarterback heading into his Sophomore Campaign, with many in Tallahassee penciling him in as a contender for the Heisman. However, in one of the most hyped Season Openers in recent memory, Francois nearly the entirety of the term after tearing his ACL in a 24-7 loss to eventual National Champion Alabama on a meaningless play with the game well out of hand in the Fourth Quarter. Needless to say, it hasn’t been an easy road back to prominence for this kid, for in addition to his rehab he has had to compete tirelessly with teammates James Blackman (58.2%, 2,230 YDS, 7.5 Y/A, 19 TD, 11 INT in 2017), who filled in admirably last season, and Bailey Hockman, to recapture his starting role. After a lengthy competition, it wasn’t until earlier this week that Taggart proclaimed Francois the Starter for tonight’s meeting with Virginia Tech. The Junior has gone on say that the injury has “made him stronger”, for his is no doubt excited to regain the form that earned him 2016 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year honors, while leading the Seminoles to a 10-3 finish. With that said, he should have plenty of help on this side of the football, with a dynamic Backfield consisting of the likes of Cam Akers (194 CAR, 1,025 YDS, 7 TD in 2017) and Jacques Patrick (134 CAR, 748 YDS, 7 TD in 2017). The former established a new Freshman Rushing Record at Tallahassee, while the latter brings Senior leadership and experience to a unit that will likely feature a good deal of youth. Florida State has owned the all-time series with Virginia Tech on the strength of a 23-12-1 record, though tonight’s Labor Day meeting will mark their first since 2012, a 28-22 Seminoles victory in Blacksburg.