It’s always a fun day when the 2017 football schedule comes out. People make travel plans, scour Stubhub for early tickets and check AirBnb for cheap rentals. It’s also the first look at how the upcoming season will play out, despite it being over seven months away. After years of Thursday night games, coach Justin Fuente and Virginia Tech avoids losing a big recruiting week with six home games in 2017. The Hokies will also battle Virginia on the Friday after Thanksgiving, which they also did in 2014 and 1996.
Six Saturday Home Games a Boost for Recruiting
Six home games on Saturdays is huge for recruiting. Thursday night and Friday night games are simply impossible for recruits to get to. They represent the best that Lane Stadium has to offer, but the only people that can legitimately make it to Blacksburg and home in time for a high school game on Friday live in southwest Virginia. Each year Virginia Tech plays one of them, they lose a recruiting weekend. If the UVA game is in Blacksburg, some years the Hokies have just four.
Virginia Tech went from Sept. 24 to Nov. 12 without a Saturday home game. In 2015, because of rain and the schedule, the Hokies went from Sept. 12 to Oct. 24 without a decent Saturday home game. That makes it difficult to maintain momentum as prospects visit elsewhere for games. Even if VT had a prospect that wanted to visit in October this year, they had no game to offer.
I fully expect Virginia Tech to play Thursday night games in the future - part of the brand was built on them. But if you want the best recruiting setup...this is it.
A Tough November
It’s rare that anyone has an “easy” November. Conferences love to stack November with pivotal inter-division games, and this year is no different. the Hokies will travel to Miami and Georgia Tech on back-to-back weekends before hosting Pitt on Senior Day. That’s a tough three game stretch. The ‘Canes lost a lot off this year’s average squad, but Mark Richt is a good coach. They could be much better despite those losses this year. And Tech never blows out Pittsburgh. If you want to back into October, Virginia Tech plays the entire Coastal Division their final six games of the year.
September 2: vs. West Virginia (FedEx Field)
This one will be fun. The Hokies and Mountaineers haven’t played for the Black Diamond Trophy since 2005 (11 seasons), but the rivalry is still ripe. They’ll play this one in front of 80,000+ at FedEx Field, a place the Hokies have struggled on the field (losses to USC, Boise St and Cincinnati), but a place that will be absolutely rocking with maroon and orange. D.C and NoVa is just a massive alumni that will fill that joint easily. The Mountaineers had a nice 2016 (10-3) and figure to be ranked along with the Hokies heading into this one. WVU, like the Big 12, isn’t a great defensive team, so despite this being whoever-the-VT-starter-is’ first game, points should be plenty. I don’t think this one gets an 8:00 p.m. start with Florida State/Alabama on the docket as well, but ESPN loves to be the place to be throughout the first weekend of college football, so I could see something like a 3:30 or a 5:00 kick.
September 9: vs. Delaware
The Blue Hens have good program history, but they fired their coach this season after a disappointing year and replaced him with former University of Richmond head coach Danny Rocco (also the former Liberty coach, so he’s familiar with the Hokies). Virginia Tech should roll here.
September 16: at East Carolina
Ah, the annual trap game against the Pirates. The decision to fire Ruffin McNeill and replace him with former Duke assistant @Scottie Montgomery didn’t go great in year one, as they went 3-9 and lost nine out of 10 down the stretch. Will ECU be better in 2017? Maybe. Or they could be tanking and Montgomery will likely be out. That said, they’ll get up for this game. If you google “East Carolina Football”, the little synopsis on the google results page lists the Hokies as their number one rival.
September 23: vs. Old Dominion
If ECU is really heading down the tube, Old Dominion may be the team inching up as an ACC giant killer. They’ll play the Hokies a lot over the next several years, including in Norfolk, but will start at Lane in 2017. Head coach Bobby Wilder has done a great job transitioning that program fielding no team to the FCS to the FBS in a short amount of time. They love to play offense, but they are 0-7 against Power-5 teams.
September 30: vs. Clemson
The schedule came out on Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. This one was circled on the calendar by just about everyone at 2:01 p.m. A rematch of the ACC Championship game featuring teams that will look dramatically different, particularly on offense. Virginia Tech loses Jérod Evans, Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges. Clemson loses Watson, Gallman and Williams. The Tigers will be formidable, as they have recruited at a national championship level for about the last five years, so they won’t be short on talent. This will probably be the most anticipated ACC home game the Hokies have played since they hosted the Tigers (and got stomped, 23-3) in 2011.
October 7: at Boston College
The Eagles got better in 2016 under Steve Addazio, especially after they limped home from Blacksburg after a 49-0 drubbing in September. They finished 7-6 on the year, but those wins came against UMass, Wagner, Buffalo, NC State, Connecticut, Wake Forest and Maryland, aka not very good competition. Tech should still win this game, although this game has sleepy noon start written all over it, which can be tricky in Chestnut Hill.
Oct. 14: BYE
The Hokies get treated with a nice bye week right at the midweek point in the season. It’ll be a great opportunity to heal up and look at what’s going on to this point in the season. Ideally, I’m sure Fuente would love to play Georgia Tech after the bye, but alas, you can’t always get what you want.
Oct. 21: vs. North Carolina
Check the weather forecast here (zing), as the Tar Heels will need to travel to Blacksburg and show up for the 2017 edition of this game. The Heels got clobbered in a hurricane last year, but they’ll be a much different team without QB Mitch Trubisky and RB Elijah Hood. You have to like the Hokies chances coming off a bye in what could be a pivotal coastal division clash.
Oct. 28: vs. Duke
Duke is the only team without huge questions at quarterback heading into spring practice. Well, that’s not entirely true. Duke must decide between Thomas Sirk, who was supposed to start in 2016, and Daniel Jones, who actually did. One thing is for certain - David Cutcliffe is going to have a darn good quarterback in 2017, which means the Blue Devils could be a contender, and this could be a sneaky important game.
Nov. 4: at Miami
November is going to be a tough stretch for the Hokies. They start in Coral Gables, travel to Atlanta the next week before finishing with Pitt at home and UVA on a short week. The ‘Canes, like everyone else, have questions entering this offseason, but by November we should know who they are. This will be either a locked and loaded Miami team that’s playing well, or the same Miami team who limps through the second half of the season. If I had to bet, given Mark Richt’s coaching ability, year two will be a much stronger season for the ‘Canes.
Nov. 11: at Georgia Tech
It’s the revenge game of 2017, as the Yellow Jackets are the only team on the schedule that the Hokies lost to in 2016 (save for the ACC Championship). Quarterback Matthew Jordan replaces Justin Thomas full-time in 2017 and he looked pretty good in his start in Blacksburg during GT’s 30-20 victory. If he plays that well in 2017, GT should be right in the thick of it by this point in the season, which means Bobby Dodd will be a tough place to play, particularly against the triple-option.
Nov. 18: vs. Pittsburgh
These two teams played a 39-36 thriller in the Steel City last year, and Pat Narduzzi made no fans out of Hokie Nation, so this should be an interesting atmosphere. The Panthers lose their quarterback and running back James Conner, so who knows what they’ll look like on offense, especially since their coordinator, Matt Canada, left for the same job at LSU over the offseason. Pitt has played the Hokies tough dating back to the Michael Vick era, so I expect this one to be no different.
Nov. 24 (Friday) vs. Virginia
The Hokies will travel to UVA on a short week, but they’ll at least be at home against Pitt on the 18th. UVA will be at Miami. Bronco Mendenhall has a lot of work to do to replenish the talent in that program, and who knows what the state of the team will be like at this point in the season. I think the ‘Hoos could pick up some early wins against the likes of W&M, UCONN, Indiana and BC and be fighting for maybe a bowl berth, but they could also be 2-9 again entering this one, at which point this might just be another Virginia Tech home game and a game which would firmly place Mendenhall on the hot seat entering 2018.
Obligatory Rant about the ACC Schedule
This happens often, but can someone figure out a creative way to get more common matchups between ACC teams. Jameis Winston won a Heisman at Florida State - Virginia Tech didn’t come close to playing him. DeShaun Watson was one of the top quarterbacks in college football history - Virginia Tech only played him because of the ACC Championship. Lamar Jackson won the Heisman this year and has one more left - the only hope is to play them in the ACC Championship this year. The ACC had a phenomenal bowl year and knocked off the King of the SEC in the National Championship game. But half the league rarely plays half the other league.
Virginia Tech played Florida State in Blacksburg in 2012. They will welcome them back to town in 2023. The true freshmen that take the field that day in 2023 will have been seven years when the ‘Noles won 28-22. There’s a creative solution out there somewhere. Dear Mr. Swofford, let’s do this.
Way Too Early Prediction: 8-4 (5-3)
I think the schedule sets up well for Virginia Tech. But with probably a freshman or redshirt freshman starting at quarterback, a running back who was in-and-out of the rotation and one good receiver coming back, I think there could be some growing pains. I have confidence in Fuente, Brad Cornelson and Bud Foster in terms of knocking off lesser teams like Boston College, Duke, UVA, etc, but I think they’ll lose to Clemson, I think they’ll lose to Miami and/or GT and I think they’ll get surprised one place else. You’re looking at team once again in the 7-5, 8-4, 9-3 range. Anything less isn’t giving Fuente enough credit. Anything more is giving them too much credit.