The ACC and SEC will battle in four postseason games and the Belk Bowl looks like it could be one of the more intriguing matchups of the season. Virginia Tech and Arkansas both come into the game off of losses, but those defeats were far from similar.
The Hokies, after squashing Virginia 52-10 in their regular season finale, hung with College Football Playoff-bound Clemson until the final moments of the ACC Championship Game. After a midseason lull, Virginia Tech rebounded and is playing solid football entering the Belk Bowl.
On the other hand, Arkansas has been up and down for much of 2016. There were big wins over then-No. 12 Ole Miss and SEC East champ Florida. But in between there was a humiliating 56-3 loss at Auburn. The Razorbacks closed out the season by suffering a 28-24 loss to 4-8 Missouri.
This will be the first-ever meeting of the Hokies and the Hogs.
Belk Bowl: Arkansas vs. Virginia Tech (Charlotte, N.C.)
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 29 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Where: Bank of America Stadium (Charlotte)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Virginia Tech -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Containing Rawleigh Williams
The Arkansas sophomore running back had a huge breakout season, rushing for 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns after recovering from last year's neck injury. One of the most unheralded stars of 2016, Williams’ success mirrored that of the rest of the team. In the seven Arkansas wins, Williams averaged 145 yards on the ground. In the five Razorbacks losses, he ran for just 63 yards per game. Virginia Tech is 42nd in rushing defense and Williams will have the Hokies’ full attention.
2. Containing Jerod Evans
For the Arkansas defense, priority No. 1 is to slow down the Virginia Tech quarterback. Evans was not perfect this year as he had some fumbling issues during the course of the season. But his numbers were spectacular, throwing for 3,303 yards with a 27:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and leading Virginia Tech with 759 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Mississippi State quarterback Nick Fitzgerald gave Arkansas fits both throwing and running in the Razorbacks’ 58-42 victory and Evans is probably more of a challenge than Fitzgerald.
3. Protecting the Quarterbacks
Like Evans, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen also is very dangerous. And like the running of Williams, Allen’s protection has been a big factor in the outcome of Razorback games this season. In their five losses, the offensive line allowed 19 sacks. In their seven wins, Allen was taken down just 10 times. Similarly, Virginia Tech (28 sacks allowed) has had trouble keeping Evans upright. In both cases, the pressure has not only led to lost yardage but also turnovers. The quarterback that has the most time will be able to put his team in a better position to win.
Statistically on offense, these teams are essentially the same. Virginia Tech averaged just 10 more yards a game offensively than Arkansas and in terms of passing offense, the two teams both threw for 263 yards per game. But defensively, Virginia Tech holds a sizeable advantage, ranking 19th in total defense compared to Arkansas at No. 75.
The Razorbacks had trouble stopping the run all year, but in recent weeks they were exposed through the air with Missouri’s Drew Lock and Fitzgerald of Mississippi State putting together their best SEC games against Arkansas. Though the Razorbacks played a rugged SEC West schedule, Virginia Tech comes in with much more momentum and will win the 2016 Belk Bowl.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, Arkansas 24
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Photos courtesy of www.hokiesports.com)