There is no easing into the schedule for Virginia Tech and Boston College. Like their ACC mates at Virginia, Pittsburgh, Georgia Tech and Clemson, these two programs dive right into conference play by squaring off in Chestnut Hill this Saturday.
Virginia Tech’s disappointing 2018 season fed into an offseason of turmoil that saw several Hokies leave the program. Then, on Aug. 1, longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster announced that he would retire following this season. But things have settled in Blacksburg, and the coming season provides an opportunity to put the past in the past.
For Boston College, there were changes as well, especially on defense. Gone from a unit that was 70th nationally in total defense are stars Zach Allen, Wyatt Ray, Hamp Cheevers, Lukas Denis and Will Harris. Also, head coach Steve Addazio will have new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
The Hokies and the Eagles play in the crossover game every year. Virginia Tech holds an 18-9 series lead, but BC won at Lane Stadium last November.
Virginia Tech at Boston College
Kickoff: Saturday, Aug. 31 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Virginia Tech -4.5
When Virginia Tech Has the Ball
Virginia Tech averaged 4.36 yards per rush last season, its best number since 2011 but still only good enough for 67th nationally. Leading rusher Steven Peoples is gone, but Deshawn McClease is back, and he will split time with Jalen Holston, a player who ended 2018 strong. The Eagles lost a bunch off the defensive front, Allen and Ray in particular, and the Hokies may have an opportunity to establish a little something on the ground.
If they do, it will make a dangerous passing attack even more lethal. BC will have three new starters in the secondary supporting returnee Brandon Sebastian, and they will have to contain the Hokie receiver trio of Damon Hazelton, Tre Turner, and Hezekiah Grimsley as well as All-ACC tight end candidate Dalton Keene. Quarterback Ryan Willis remains in place after a 24-touchdown, 2,700-yard passing season in 2018.
The strength of the BC defense lies with its linebackers. Max Richardson, Isaiah McDuffie and John Lamont will look to shut down the Tech rushing attack and put pressure on Willis. With youthfulness in the defensive backfield, pressure from the front seven will be key to controlling the Virginia Tech offense.
When Boston College Has the Ball
Everything for the Eagles starts with All-ACC running back AJ Dillon. The junior has rushed for 2,697 yards and 24 touchdowns in his two seasons on the Heights and will attempt to take advantage of a Virginia Tech group that finished 106th in the nation in rush defense last fall and will be missing Ricky Walker’s huge presence at defensive tackle. To contain Dillon, Foster will be asking a lot of his second level of Rayshard Ashby, Dax Hollifield and Khalil Ladler, who are all returning starters.
While Virginia Tech's offense is hoping that their strong passing game will open things up for the run, BC is expecting that the threat of Dillon will force Virginia Tech to put more defenders in the box, creating space for quarterback Anthony Brown and the passing game. Brown improved as a sophomore but still completed just 55% of his throws. Kobay White can make plays out wide, and running back Travis Levy can catch the ball as well, but the Eagles need other options to develop.
Boston College will have three new starters on the line and will open with redshirt freshman Tyler Vrabel — son of Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel — at left tackle. Addazio has said that he feels good about the development of this group, and their play will be important as Dillon will need lanes to run through and Brown has to have time to throw.
When looking at the schedules of both teams, it’s easy to see why this game is so important. Virginia Tech is in the wide-open Coastal, and a division title is in play for the Hokies. A loss in Week 1 would leave the Hokies little wiggle room the rest of the way. For Boston College, the Eagles need to win games early, as the last six games of the year are absolutely brutal. So expect a high-energy, physical game with both teams knowing what’s at stake. Virginia Tech will run the ball enough, and Willis will be able to throw to open receivers. Dillon will get his yards, but Foster has been concocting a plan for the Eagles all summer and will make life difficult for the BC offensive line and in turn, Brown as well. In a close game, Virginia Tech goes into Alumni Stadium and gets a win.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 24
— 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.