The Virginia Tech Hokies play the West Virginia Mountaineers on Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. It stacks up as one of the better games of college football’s Week 1.
No. 21 Virginia Tech is coming off a strong debut season under head coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies won the ACC Coastal division and put up a decent fight against eventual national champion Clemson in the conference title game. They lost a ton of production in the offseason, especially on offense. But if they can overcome a relative shortage of depth, another run to the championship game is possible.
No. 22 WVU has drawn some preseason hype, but maybe that’s not fair. The Mountaineers have a talented transfer QB in ex-Florida Gator Will Grier, but they’re at the bottom of the country in returning production. A lot of the players that built last year’s 10-win team are now gone, and Dana Holgorsen has to rebuild on the fly.
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S&P+ projects Virginia Tech to win by 10, so the computers see this as a more lopsided game than oddsmakers do. But this early in the season, it’s hard to be sure of anything.
The thing about West Virginia: The Mountaineers really are losing a ton. They have 30 percent of their offensive production back and 25 percent on defense. They’ve lost a trio of key receivers — Jovon Durante, Shelton Gibson, and Daikiel Shorts — plus a solid running back in Rushel Shell. The losses on defense are even bleaker.
Three top linemen are gone, as are the team’s best linebacker and five of its best six defensive backs from 2017. That’s a whole hell of a lot to replace, and West Virginia isn’t an elite recruiting team that can just cycle in a new group of four- and five-star players. (Think Ohio State or Alabama. That’s not the Mountaineers.) So maybe WVU will be terrific, and all of these young players will thrive immediately. But that’s a lot to ask, and a first game against Virginia Tech leaves no time for easing into it.
This is one of two major college games on Sunday night, the last Sunday before the NFL takes over the national spotlight. Texas A&M plays UCLA, also at 7:30 p.m. ET, on Fox. Both games seem good, and if one’s better than the other, everyone will flip the channel to watch that one. Landover might be the center of the CFB world for a night.
So the stage is set for a fun evening. Two teams from neighboring states, both ranked, are playing at a neutral site. Both have plenty of talent, but they’re each replacing enough that we’ll learn a little bit we don’t already know.