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Ohio State at Virginia Tech
By Brian Edwards
Virginia Tech hasn’t been a double-digit home underdog in more than a decade. The Hokies have been double-digit home ‘dogs just three times in the last 25 years. Nevertheless, Frank Beamer’s team will be in that role Monday night when it takes on the defending national champions at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.
As of Saturday afternoon, most betting shops had Ohio State installed as a 14-point favorite with a total of 53.5 for ‘over/under’ wagers. The Westgate opened the Buckeyes as 13-point ‘chalk’ and the number was down to 11.5 on Tuesday. However, the line was back to 13 by Wednesday night and got as high as 14.5 late Friday.
Urban Meyer has yet to name a starting quarterback, but most think it will be J.T. Barrett. The sophomore earned third-team All-American honors last season despite going down with a season-ending injury in the regular-season finale. Barrett finished the year with a 34/10 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 11 rushing TDs. He threw for 2,834 yards and rushed for 938, averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
With Barrett out of the lineup, Ohio State didn’t miss a beat. In fact, Meyer’s team played its three best games of the season with Cardale Jones under center. However, Jones was admitted to the hospital briefly this week due to migraine headache issues. That development is why I say Barrett is most likely going to start against Virginia Tech.
Jones led Ohio State to wins over Wisconsin (59-0), Alabama (42-35) and Oregon (42-20). He completed 60.9 percent of his throws for 860 yards with a 7/2 TD-INT ratio. He also ran for 296 yards and one TD.
Ohio State returns seven starters on offense and seven on defense. However, the leader of the defense, All-American DE Joey Bosa, won’t be in uniform Monday night while serving a one-game suspension. Bosa had 53 tackles and 13.5 sacks in 2014.
Virginia Tech finished last season with a 7-6 straight-up record and a 6-7 against-the-spread ledger. The Hokies lost five one-possession games, but they beat Cincinnati 33-17 at the Military Bowl and also went into The ‘Shoe and took out Ohio State by a 35-21 count in Week 2. They pulled the outright upset over the Buckeyes as 11.5-point road underdogs.
Virginia Tech’s secondary intercepted Barrett three times, including Donovan Riley’s 63-yard pick-six with 46 seconds remaining to put the game on ice. Michael Brewer threw for 199 yards and a pair of TDs, including a 10-yard scoring strike TE Bucky Hodges to put the Hokies in front for good with 8:44 left in the fourth quarter.
Virginia Tech’s roster was decimated by injuries last year, including a season-ender for Luther Maddy. The senior DT was an All-ACC performer in 2013 when he had 55 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss and 16 QB hurries.
Michael Brewer, playing in his first season for Virginia Tech after transferring in from Texas Tech, struggled for the most part last year. He had 18 TD passes but was intercepted 15 times. Those turnovers are going to have to be trimmed down for the Hokies to have a shot Monday night and to contend for an ACC title.
Brewer has weapons on offense returning, including WR Isaiah Ford, who had 56 receptions for 709 yards and six TDs in 2014. Also, Hodges is back after making 45 catches for 526 yards and seven TDs.
Bud Foster’s VT defense only allowed 20.2 points per game last season. So clearly, that unit wasn’t the issue. A pedestrian offense, one that scored at a meager 24.1 PPG clip, was the downfall of another disappointing team. The Hokies posted eight consecutive double-digit win seasons from 2004-2011, but they’ve gone 7-6, 8-5 and 7-6 over the last three years.
This year, however, I feel like Virginia Tech will have its best squad since 2011. If Brewer can just cut down on the turnovers, the Hokies are my picks to win the ACC Coastal.
Dadi Nicolas, Kendall Fuller and Ken Ekanem are potential All-American candidates on the defensive side of the ball, along with Maddy. Nicolas had 72 tackles and nine sacks in 2014, while Fuller had a pair of interceptions and 15 passes broken up. Ekanem finished the year with 9.5 sacks and 19 QB hurries. If Virginia Tech can bring lots of pressure to Barrett, it should have an excellent opportunity to hang around and potentially have a chance to win at crunch time.
During Meyer’s tenure, Ohio State has been a road favorite nine times, compiling a 4-5 spread record. Virginia Tech is 4-2 ATS in six games as a home underdog going back to 2005.
Kickoff on ABC is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. Eastern.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
— Since Georgia’s 51-14 win over ULM saw the game called with 9:54 remaining due to lightning, all wagers on the side and total became no-plays. Games have to be played 55 minutes to become official per Nevada sports betting rules.
— After back-to-back disappointing seasons, Northwestern got off to a great start to 2015 with Saturday’s 16-6 home win over Stanford as a 12-point home underdog. Stanford QB Kevin Hogan remains an enigma. He was awful and didn’t get much help. Hogan was terrible in a number of games last season, but he came on strong late in the year and had appeared to have put those struggles behind him.
— Temple ended the longest active losing streak in college football by snapping a 31-game losing streak with Saturday’s 27-10 win over Penn State at Lincoln Financial Field. The Owls won outright as seven-point underdogs, cashing money-line tickets at a tune of +220ish (risk $100 to win $220). Who saw this coming? Oh, wait, I was calling for this outright upset all summer on radio waves from coast to coaState That’s right.
— Now that Temple is out from under Penn State’s foot, it is Florida that owns the longest active winning streak over another opponent with its 28-game stranglehold over Kentucky. However, the Gators have to go to Lexington in Week 3.