September 24, 2008
Round and round she goes, where the ball stops, nobody knows ...
This week's bet: Virginia Tech. If the wheel had a 'default' setting, it would be the Hokies, who are playing the same kind of ugly, forgettable ball they play every September en route to dominating the conference again. Saturday's game at Nebraska is a litmus test for the course of the season: back to contending for the top ten, or just hanging onto the fringes?
Let 'em Ride. Don't be fooled by the early loss to East Carolina or back-to-back 20-17 scores over Georgia Tech and North Carolina: Tech regularly starts slow, with at least one September loss now in four of the last five years since joining the ACC, all accompanied by a too-close-for-comfort win or two. The wins the last two weeks have come by the familiar defense/turnovers/special teams M.O. that keep coming out on top.
Once Tyrod Taylor settles in, this version of the Hokie offense will have a playmaking quarterback for the first time since Marcus Vick in 2005. Tech has won the last two years despite Sean Glennon most of the time, and the full-fledged switch to Taylor after the ECU debacle can only pay off in the long run. Once Taylor gets his feet under him, they'll carry him into all-ACC territory by November.
Bet the Field. As it stands after East Carolina's flop at N.C. State, the ECU loss is on Virginia Tech just not being very good, and you'd be letting Tech off light to describe the wins over Georgia Tech and UNC as "ugly." The Hokies were outgained in both and needed a couple fat turnover margins (+3 against the Jackets, +2 against the Tar Heels) to eke out a field goal margin. The difference right now between 1-3, where the only win is over Furman, and the 3-1 reality is razor thin.
The young-ish defense is nothing like its consistently killer predecessors yet, but the bigger problem is the same: the quarterbacks are struggling massively to get the ball downfield, and there are no apparent playmakers for them to get it to if they could. The off-and-on running game has been decidedly 'off.' Even the special teams let them down, on the decisive punt block against ECU. The Hokies haven't proven particularly good at anything yet except falling on fumbles, and the trip to Nebraska is an opportunity to be exposed in similar fashion to last year's de-boweling at LSU.
Payout. 6-to-1. Again, one of the better bets on the table based on past performance, which is about all there is to recommend Tech at this point aside from the schedule. With Georgia Tech and North Carolina vanquished, though, who on the remaining conference schedule would you give odds to take the Hokies down? Boston College? Florida State? Maryland? Miami? Duke? Virginia? Even if things go terribly Saturday in Lincoln, last year's team survived its disastrous letdown in Baton Rouge to win seven of eight ACC games in the regular season -- it was a few seconds and an onside kick against Boston College away from 8-0 -- and won the conference championship. Assuming the ongoing maturity of Taylor and the defense in general, I'm not sure there's anyone left to stop that from happening again.
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Photo of Tyrod Taylor via US Presswire. Last week's bet: North Carolina.