2006 Game Projection: Virginia Tech vs. Northeastern (and Others)

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While Northeastern is not likely to provide much of a test for the Hokies, at
least the team will get a chance to hit someone else after an excellent
preseason of scrimmaging themselves. Basically, this game serves as little more
than another scrimmage, but a lot of questions can begin to be answered as
numerous players will have their first chance to perform before a raucous Lane
Stadium crowd. Is Sean Glennon the answer at quarterback? Will Branden Ore be the
next great Hokie back? How will the offensive line perform? Will this year’s
defense be as dominant as last year’s? These questions and many more will begin
to be answered on Saturday.

Northeastern plays in the Atlantic 10, which is easily the best 1-AA football
conference. I actually rate the A-10 higher than the Sun Belt Conference in 1-A.
Northeastern is basically the equivalent of a low-end MAC school, such as Kent
State, and I would rate the Huskies as better than two of the 1-A teams that
played last night — Buffalo and Temple. Northeastern has been a respectable
1-AA program in the past, but they lost a number of close games last year and
finished 2-9.

Northeastern’s best offensive weapon is running back Maurice Murray (#11, 6-0
220, Jr.) who gained 998 yards last season. Quarterback Anthony Orio (#10, 6-1
230, r-So.) struggled in his freshman season and his improvement will be key for
the Huskies this season. Northeastern averaged 22.5 points per game (11th in the
12-team A-10), but the real problem for the Huskies was on defense.

Northeastern allowed 30.9 points per game last year and gave up an average of
405.7 total yards per contest. Seven starters return, but Virginia Tech should
have little difficulty moving the ball on the Huskies. The strength of the
defense are the linebackers, led by Jamil Young (#56, 5-11 225, Sr.) and Joe
Mele (#47, 6-2 225, Jr.).

I don’t have a statistical projection for this game, but I will make a
prediction on the final score. I see Tech playing conservatively and focusing on
fundamentals to slowly wear down Northeastern. The Hokies will give their
quarterbacks some work, but most of the yardage will come on the ground. In the
end, the defense will be stifling and Virginia Tech wins easily 49-3.

Around the ACC

Virginia Tech enters its third season in the ACC and the Hokies should be in
contention for the championship once again. My statistical projections have Tech
finishing second in the Coastal Division to Miami, with the Hokies’ only loss
coming to the Hurricanes. I have Virginia Tech favored to win 11 of the 12
games, with the closest contest coming against Boston College. The schedule is
extremely favorable this year and the Hokies should have time to break in some
new talent early in the season. I expect Tech to surprise many prognosticators
and VT will have another top 10 season and possibly a BCS bowl.

On to this week’s games. I’ve included my statistical projection of each
team’s record just to provide another opinion to debate (conference record
first; total record second). Note that these projected records are based on a
determination of the favorite in each game and not the statistical probability
of obtaining that record. In other words, the probability that an upset will
occur during the season is not factored into the projections.

Florida State (7-1; 11-1) at Miami (8-0; 11-1)

The two premier programs in the ACC will open the season once again on Monday
night before a national audience on every conceivable ESPN station. Last year
was a defensive slugfest and this year should not be much different. The one ACC
team that may have a stronger defense than Virginia Tech is Miami, and the
Hurricanes’ defense should be the story in this game. Florida State will be
improved on offense, but a questionable offensive line will not be able to
handle the Hurricanes’ defensive front and Drew Weatherford will have a tough
opener. FSU will have a strong defense as well, but not as good as Miami’s, and
the Hurricanes will have some success moving the ball through the air. Despite
the suspensions to key players for the opener, Miami simply has better talent
than Florida State and will win this game more easily than most project. Miami
by 14 (24-10).

Notre Dame (10-2) at Georgia Tech (5-3; 7-5)

The second biggest game of the opening weekend pits the high-powered offense
of Notre Dame against the stingy defense of Georgia Tech. Reggie Ball needs to
play mistake free to give the Yellow Jackets a chance. Two of the college game’s
best wide receivers will be showcased in this game — Calvin Johnson for GT and
Jeff Samardzija for ND — but the overall play of the quarterbacks will probably
be the key for this game. I see Brady Quinn and the Irish prevailing on the road
in a good game. Notre Dame by 13 (23-10).

Virginia (4-4; 7-5) at Pittsburgh (4-3; 9-3)

Virginia has a big road test to open the season, taking on the Panthers in
Pittsburgh. UVA has plenty of questions, but a solid offensive line should lead
a good running attack to allow excitable Christian Olsen to settle in at
quarterback. Tyler Palko’s experience at quarterback may be the key factor in
this game which will likely be decided late. I see Pittsburgh winning this game
at home, but it could easily go either way. Pittsburgh by 1 (24-23).

Rutgers (4-3; 7-5) at North Carolina (2-6; 5-7)

A key early game for two teams with bowl aspirations. Greg Schiano has turned
around the Scarlet Knights program and John Bunting is looking for similar
results for the Tar Heels. Quarterback play will be critical in this game as
both teams start new QBs. Look for turnovers to be a key factor. This game is
basically a toss-up, so I will go with the home team in a nail-biter. North
Carolina by 1 (27-26).

Syracuse (2-5; 5-7) at Wake Forest (1-7; 4-8)

Another ACC/Big East match-up with both teams looking for vast improvement
and hoping for a winning season. The Orange have been too inconsistent on
offense and the Demon Deacons ground game should generate enough offense to win
a relatively low scoring contest. Wake Forest by 9 (23-14).

Clemson (6-2; 10-2) at Florida Atlantic (0-7; 0-11)

Northeastern would be favored by 2 over Florida Atlantic, so don’t expect
Clemson to get much of a test from the Owls. This game should look very similar
to the Virginia Tech opener, with Clemson pounding the ball on the ground and
playing a conservative game. Clemson wins easily by 39 (49-10).

Appalachian State at N.C. State (3-5; 7-5)

The Wolfpack host the defending 1-AA champions in a dangerous game. The
Mountaineers are a solid team and could give N.C. State some trouble. However,
the Pack’s ground game should be too much for Appy State, and the Wolfpack
should pull away in the second half. N.C. State by 15 (35-20).

William & Mary at Maryland (2-6; 5-7)

The Tribe will visit College Park in yet another ACC vs. 1-AA match-up.
William & Mary should test the Terps’ secondary, but the difference in this
game will likely be Maryland’s ground game. The Terps have a strong offensive
line with a very deep backfield which should be too much for the Tribe. Maryland
by 19 (42-23).

Richmond at Duke (0-8; 0-12)

The Spiders tied for the A-10 championship last year, and they present a
legitimate challenge for Duke. The Blue Devils look to have a decent defense,
but questions abound on the offensive side of the ball. Richmond also looks to
have a strong defense, so expect this game to be very low scoring with mistakes
likely being the difference. I see a potential upset in this game. Richmond
by 4 (14-10).

Other Big Games around the Nation

Southern Cal (9-0; 12-0) at Arkansas (6-2; 9-3)

The Razorbacks are looking for major payback for last year’s 70-17 thrashing
in Los Angeles. USC loses Matt Leinert, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, and many
other key players from their championship teams, but the Trojans still have way
too much talent for Arkansas. Arkansas is installing a new offense, so look for
the Hogs to struggle on offense against a talented Trojan defense. I see USC
winning going away. USC by 27 (41-14).

California (8-1; 11-1) at Tennessee (4-4; 7-5)

California is my dark horse team to be in the national championship game (if
they can get by USC) with a talented defense (#1 in the Pac 10 last year) and
some big-play talent on offense. The Vols badly need a win to turn around the
tailspin from the end of last season, so this game has considerable importance
for both teams. I believe that Cal is simply the more talented team, and if Nate
Longshore can handle the pressure of 100,000+ hostile fans, the Golden Bears
should win. California by 2 (23-21).

Other games involving ranked teams:

Ohio State over Northern Illinois by 30 (51-21)
Texas over North Texas by 59 (66-7)
Oklahoma over UAB by 29 (42-13)
Auburn over Washington State by 20 (34-14)
West Virginia over Marshall by 29 (49-20)
Florida over Southern Miss by 26 (49-23)
LSU over Louisiana-Lafayette by 39 (49-10)
Louisville over Kentucky by 31 (52-21)
Georgia over Western Kentucky by 45 (52-7)
Michigan over Vanderbilt by 32 (42-10)
Iowa over Montana by 34 (41-7)
Penn State over Akron by 29 (35-6)
Oregon over Stanford by 15 (35-20)
TCU over Baylor by 13 (30-17)
Nebraska over Louisiana Tech by 18 (42-24)
Alabama over Hawaii by 21 (42-21)
Texas Tech over SMU by 29 (49-20)

1-AA Games Around the State

Virginia has some of the best 1-AA programs in the country, so I will follow
these programs as well during the season. Here are my predictions for games not
listed above:

Hampton over Grambling State by 2
James Madison over Bloomsburg by 34
VMI over Davidson by 3
Virginia State over Norfolk State by 8

Have fun watching the games and be safe out there!

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