The first game between the ACC opponents in the 2021 college football season is a big game. The North Carolina No.10, the ACC Coastal preseason favorite, will travel to Virginia Tech for a Friday night game at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va., Which will have major implications. With Miami picked to finish second in the ACC Coastal Division, the Hokies could catapult themselves into the divisional race by avenging last season’s 56-45 loss to the Tar Heels.
To do so, the Hokies will need to show a clear defensive improvement after the UNC amassed 656 yards in last season’s game. As the Tar Heels return star quarterback Sam Howell, they replace their top two running backs and their top two receivers on the team 8-4 from last season. This should make the Hokies’ task more manageable this time around.
At the start of last year’s meeting, both teams were 2-0 and placed in the AP’s Top 25. However, their seasons diverged after the UNC victory; the Tar Heels climbed to No.5 and the Hokies finished 5-6. So, while it’s only Week 1, the fallout from Friday night’s showdown could be immense.
North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech: what you need to know
The new UNC playmakers: Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome are gone after combining 109 catches last season as Howell’s favorite targets. UNC 1,000-yard rushing pair Michael Carter and Javonte Williams also left. Those four players combined for 47 of UNC’s 66 offensive touchdowns last season. In a year where many programs are reporting extra experience due to relaxed eligibility rules, the Tar Heels have a ton of production to replace. But don’t be shocked if potential receivers Josh Downs and Khafre Brown approach their combined 22 career receptions by the end of this game.
Braxton Burmeister team: Quarterback development has established itself as the hallmark of Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente’s successful run in Memphis. Now in his sixth season with the Hokies, Fuente has struggled to replicate that formula in the ACC. Can Burmeister finally bring consistency to the post? It’s hope as the Hokies replace star running back Khalil Herbert and hand quarterback duties exclusively to Burmeister after splitting his time with Hendon Hooker in 2020. Burmeister, a transfer from Oregon, in is in his third season with the program and needs to take a big step forward.
Pass Rush Contest: In last season’s 101-point offensive frenzy, each team only managed one sack. Whichever pass rush can get the most pressure, she should have an advantage this time around. North Carolina has a veteran offensive line, but it’s a group that allowed 34 sacks last season – and 19 of them came in UNC’s four losses. Some of them were cover bags, but the point is, if you can put pressure on Howell, you can disrupt the Tar Heels offense.
How to watch North Carolina vs. Virginia Tech live
Dated: Friday September 3 | Time: 6 p.m. ET
Site: Lane Stadium – Blacksburg, Virginia
TV: ESPN | Direct: fuboTV (Try for free)
Prediction North Carolina vs Virginia Tech, pick
Playing a season opener road game in front of a hostile crowd for the first time since 2019 is a tough demand for the Tar Heels, especially as Howell is still gaining comfort with new running backs and receivers. Virginia Tech’s defense will be motivated to prove that last year’s problems were the product of learning a new system amid COVID-19 disruptions. The Hokies are 2-0 in the opening games of the season against opponents rated under Fuente, and the bet here is they do it 3-0. Prediction: Virginia Tech (+5.5)
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