The Hokies face two huge non-conference foes during an important 2021 season
In 2011, Virginia Tech was 11-1 before losing to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game and Michigan in the Sugar Bowl. Despite the two setbacks to close out the year, the Hokies posted their eighth straight double-digit win season and 13th in 17 years.
But since then, Virginia Tech has won 10 games in a season just once and has lost at least four games every year. After a nice start to his time in Blacksburg, head coach Justin Fuente desperately needs to get the Hokies back into Coastal Division contention in the worst way.
The good news as it relates to competing in the ACC is that the schedule sets up pretty well with two of the biggest division games slated for Lane Stadium. The bad news, from a big picture perspective, is the Hokies' two non-conference contests against major Power 5 competitors.
Here's a breakdown of the Hokies 2021 opponents.
Bye: Week 5
Week 1 – Sept. 2 or 3 vs. North Carolina (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Hokies will start the season with their biggest Coastal Division game of the year. The Tar Heels lose several of their talented offensive skill players but return most of the defense and the entire offensive line. Plus, quarterback Sam Howell will be shooting for All-American honors in his third year as the starter.
Week 2 – Sept. 11 vs. Middle Tennessee (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Blue Raiders are looking to rebound after a pair of subpar seasons. They also will have a new quarterback following Asher O'Hara's decision to transfer after leading the team in both passing and rushing last fall. This will be the first-ever meeting between MTSU and Virginia Tech.
Week 3 – Sept. 18 at West Virginia (Morgantown, W.Va.)
This will be the 54th meeting between the longtime Big East (and eastern independent) rivals, but just the second matchup since 2005. The Mountaineers hope for a big jump in head coach Neal Brown's third year on the job and will be led by quarterback Jarrett Doege and 1,000-yard rusher Leddie Brown.
Week 4 – Sept. 25 vs. Richmond (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Spiders are currently 3-0 and No. 16 in Athlon's current FCS Power Poll. But as it will be for many FCS programs, there will be a short turnaround to get ready for the fall season. Richmond is 8-38-4 all-time versus Virginia Tech, though the schools haven't played since 1986.
Week 6 – Oct. 9 vs. Notre Dame (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Irish and the Hokies will get together for the fourth time in six years. On their way to the College Football Playoff in 2018, Notre Dame ran away from Virginia Tech in the second half of a 45-23 victory in the only meeting at Lane Stadium. Despite losing a good chunk of their offensive production along with Butkus Award-winning linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame will have its sights on the playoff once again.
Week 7 – Oct. 16 vs. Pittsburgh (Blacksburg, Va.)
Pat Narduzzi's aggressive Panther defense will look considerably different in 2020. With linemen Patrick Jones II and Rashad Weaver off to the next level along with defensive backs Paris Ford, Damar Hamlin, and Jason Pinnock, new playmakers have to be found on that side of the ball. Kenny Pickett will return at quarterback but Pitt has to run the ball more effectively this coming season.
Week 8 – Oct. 23 vs. Syracuse (Blacksburg, Va.)
The Hokies play six of the first seven games at home and that run concludes with a game against the Orange. As big as 2021 is for Justin Fuente, it is equally as important for Syracuse head coach Dino Babers. The Cuse followed up a 10-win 2018 campaign by backsliding to 5-7 in 2019 and then 1-10 last fall. If the Orange don't contend for a bowl game this year, Babers could be out of a job.
Week 9 – Oct. 30 at Georgia Tech (Atlanta)
Marquette basketball coach Al McGuire once said that the best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores. If that statement is true, Georgia Tech could be a dangerous team in 2021 as quarterback Jeff Sims and running back Jahmyr Gibbs enter their second years.
Week 10 – Nov. 5 at Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Ma.)
The Eagles are the Hokies' annual crossover opponent and therefore the programs are very well acquainted with each other. Virginia Tech played perhaps their best game of 2020 in beating Boston College 40-14 in mid-October. The quarterback Phil Jurkovec-to-wide receiver Zay Flowers connection should make the Eagles explosive this coming season.
Week 11 – Nov. 13 vs. Duke (Blacksburg, Va.)
In the final home game of the season, the Hokies will take on what should be a rebuilding Duke squad. Head coach David Cutcliffe's Blue Devils were 2-9 last fall and will have to replace several key contributors on both offense and defense.
Week 12 – Nov. 20 at Miami (Miami Gardens, Fla.)
This game at Hard Rock Stadium will be the biggest road ACC challenge for the Hokies. Quarterback D'Eriq King is reportedly recovering well from ACL surgery and the team as a whole should be more comfortable with third-year head coach Manny Diaz.
Week 13 – Nov. 27 at Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.)
After falling to the Cavaliers for the first time in 15 years to close out the 2019 season, the Hokies got back to their winning ways against UVA in their last game of 2020. Virginia opted out of a bowl game last fall and will be looking to get to the postseason for the fourth time under head coach Bronco Mendenhall.
— 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)