Following a difficult 2018 campaign that resulted in a 6-7 record, Virginia Tech had a bounce-back season of sorts last fall. Unfortunately, the Hokies couldn't close the deal.
Justin Fuente's team went into their regular-season finale against Virginia with a chance to claim the ACC Coastal Division title. But for the first time since George W. Bush's first term, the Hokies fell to the Cavaliers, giving the guys from Charlottesville the division crown. A month later, Tech dropped a New Year's Eve heartbreaker to Kentucky in the Belk Bowl to finish an unfulfilled 8-5.
With Hendon Hooker seemingly entrenched as the starting quarterback and Rayshard Ashby leading the defense, another step forward is hoped for in 2020. Here's a look at the opponents the Hokies will be facing when the next season gets started.
Bye: Week 7
Week 1 — Sept. 5 vs. Liberty (Blacksburg, Va.)
Hugh Freeze's first year in Lynchburg resulted in a Cure Bowl victory over Georgia Southern. But Buckshot Calvert is gone at quarterback after a sensational career at Liberty and the cancellation of spring drills cost Auburn transfer Malik Willis valuable reps.
Week 2 — Sept. 12 vs. Penn State (Blacksburg, Va.)
It seems inconceivable that the two former eastern independents have never battled on the gridiron, but such is the case. In one of the most interesting early-season games, James Franklin will bring his highly ranked Nittany Lions to Lane Stadium in week two.
Week 3 — Sept. 19 at Middle Tennessee (Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
The last time Virginia Tech went on the road to face a Conference USA team, the Hokies lost at Old Dominion. Rick Stockstill's Blue Raiders missed a bowl game for the first time in five years in 2019, but a more seasoned Asher O'Hara will be back to guide the ship.
Week 4 — Sept. 26 vs. North Alabama (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Lions became an FCS member in 2018 and have never faced an FBS opponent, let alone one from the Power 5. UNA finished 4-7 in 2019, its first as a member of the Big South Conference.
Week 5 — Oct. 3 vs. Georgia Tech (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Hokies open ACC play by welcoming in Geoff Collins and Georgia Tech. The Jackets made strides at the end of last season but need to get better play out of James Graham at the quarterback position and the defense has to improve their rush defense.
Week 6 — Oct. 10 at North Carolina (Chapel Hill, N.C.)
In one of the most memorable games of the 2019 season, Virginia Tech outlasted Carolina 43-41 in a six-overtime marathon. The 2020 Tar Heels have their sights set on a division title with Sam Howell throwing to a talented receiving corps and All-ACC linebacker Chazz Surratt anchoring the defense.
Week 8 — Oct. 22 vs. Boston College (Blacksburg, Va.)
Much of the Eagles' defense returns and running back David Bailey is coming off an 800-yard season. But that defense was the worst in the ACC last season and Bailey will have to shoulder the entire load with AJ Dillon seeking NFL riches.
Week 9 — Oct. 31 at Louisville (Louisville, Ky.)
The Hokies' other league crossover game is against Scott Satterfield's surging Cardinals. Running back Javian Hawkins ran for more than 1,500 yards as a freshman and Tutu Atwell went over 1,200 receiving yards. If Satterfield can find a way to improve the nation's 102nd-ranked defense, the Cards may become Clemson's biggest threat in the ACC.
Week 10 — Nov. 6 at Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh)
Head coach Pat Narduzzi brings back a nasty, aggressive defense, spearheaded by defensive linemen Jalen Twyman, Patrick Jones, and Deslin Alexandre. The questions are on the other side of the ball, where a running game needs to be developed and quarterback Kenny Pickett needs to push the ball downfield more effectively.
Week 11 — Nov. 14 vs. Miami (Blacksburg, Va.)
Miami was similar to Pittsburgh in 2019 in that the Hurricanes had a solid defense with offensive deficiencies. Houston transfer D'Eriq King should give the offense a shot in the arm, though the defense may take a hit with the losses of linebackers Shaq Quarterman and Michael Pinckney, defensive tackle Jonathan Garvin, and corner Trajan Bandy.
Week 12 — Nov. 21 at Duke (Durham, N.C.)
Duke has some emerging stars on defense in Chris Rumph and Shaka Heyward to go along with veteran edge presence Victor Dimukeje. The offensive line will be young and the quarterback will be new, but there are exciting options at running back and receiver.
Week 13 — Nov. 28 vs. Virginia (Blacksburg, Va.)
Now that the Cavaliers have gotten the Hokie monkey off their back, it will be interesting to see how this series plays out going forward. Do-it-all quarterback Bryce Perkins is gone and head coach Bronco Mendenhall is going to have to create some type of running game. But a winning culture has been established in Charlottesville and it begins with rugged defense.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.
(Top photo courtesy of hokiesports.com)