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Teel Time: Forecasting marked improvement for Virginia Tech, U.Va.

By David Teel

10:56 AM EDT, August 30, 2013

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Rare is the football season in which Virginia Tech and Virginia open with top-flight opponents. When the Cavaliers played No. 2 Notre Dame in 1989, the Hokies scheduled Akron. When Tech faced No. 1 Southern California in 2004, Virginia settled for Temple.

There are many other examples, but you get the picture. 

Saturday is a welcome exception as the Hokies and Cavaliers face No. 1 Alabama and Brigham Young, respectively. Indeed, this marks only the fourth time in the last 30 years that both state programs open against opponents that won a bowl the previous season.

The others: In 1987 Tech faced Clemson, while Virginia played Georgia. In 1995 it was Michigan for the Cavaliers, Boston College for the Hokies. Five years ago, Virginia hosted Southern California, with Tech playing East Carolina.

Entering two of the aforementioned years, 1995 and 2008, the Cavaliers and Hokies were coming off bowl seasons themselves. So by that measure, and considering Virginia’s 4-8 record in 2012, Saturday does not rate.

But given the myriad staff changes Tech coach Frank Beamer and his U.Va. counterpart, Mike London, made during the offseason, and with  both set to debut five-star recruits — Hokies cornerback Kendall Fuller and Cavaliers tailback Taquan Mizzell — this ranks among the most curious of my 30 kickoff weekends with the DP.

(The best year yet could be 2015. Virginia is scheduled to open Sept. 5 in the Rose Bowl against UCLA, with Virginia Tech hosting Ohio State two days later.)

Among the pressing questions surrounding Tech, for Saturday and beyond: How does Josh Trimble fare in place of injured whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke? Can left offensive tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, a true freshman, adequately protect quarterback Logan Thomas’ backside? Does Thomas mesh well enough with his inexperienced receivers and new coordinator Scot Loeffler to rediscover his 2011 accuracy?

And for Virginia: Will the Cavaliers’ running game be productive enough to ease the burdens on quarterback David Watford, a first-time starter? How quickly does the defense learn new coordinator Jon Tenuta’s pressures? Will the special teams, coordinated by new staff member Larry Lewis, improve upon last season’s poor results?

Here’s a week-by-week forecast at what answers may emerge:

AUG. 31: Alabama’s defense smothers Tech, and the Hokies fade late in a 30-10 loss. Watford, Mizzell and receiver Tim Smith make just enough plays for Virginia to win its fourth consecutive opener – the others were against Championship Subdivision outfits -- under London 28-24.

SEPT. 7: De’Anthony Thomas and friends exploit the Cavaliers early and often as No. 3 Oregon cruises 45-17. Virginia Tech dusts Western Carolina 55-7.

SEPT. 14: In their most revealing test to date, the Hokies score late to win 24-21 at defensively challenged East Carolina. Virginia takes the week off to prepare for …

SEPT. 21: London has too much respect for VMI to embarrass the Keydets, so he shuts down the offense early in a 42-3 victory. James Gayle, J.R. Collins and crew pressure quarterback Rakeem Cato frequently enough to help Tech defeat better-than-you-think Marshall 30-17.

SEPT. 26/28: After chasing the pass-happy Thundering Herd, the Hokies have little prep time for a Thursday night road encounter against Georgia Tech’s triple option. The short week shows as Virginia Tech drops its ACC opener 28-27. Similarly, Virginia opens league play on the road, where Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald is too much for the interior of the Cavaliers’ line. Panthers win 21-17.

OCT. 5: Much like Louisiana Tech in 2012 and Southern Mississippi in ’11, Ball State, 9-4 last year, has the firepower to challenge Virginia. This is where new coordinator Steve Fairchild’s offense shows its mettle as the Cavs survive 31-30. In an XXL home game, Virginia Tech stifles North Carolina’s rushing attack – before exiting to the NFL, Gio Bernard gashed the Hokies for 262 yards last season – and wins 20-16.

OCT. 12: With freshman tailback Trey Edmunds grinding out clutch yards, Tech snaps a four-game series losing streak against Pitt that dates to the programs’ Big East days, 23-10. Virginia ventures to Big Ten-bound Maryland – the teams have clashed every year since 1957 – for the last time in the foreseeable future and exposes the Terps’ suspect offense, 17-10.

OCT. 19: While the Hokies enjoy a bye week, the Cavaliers face, strange as this sounds, nemesis Duke, against which they’ve lost four of the last five. But the visiting Blue Devils aren’t quite as good on offense as in the recent past, and Virginia wins 30-24 to improve to 5-2, one victory shy of bowl eligibility.

OCT. 26: That sixth W will prove elusive, starting with a home date against Georgia Tech. The Cavaliers’ inexperience at linebacker shows against the option, and the Yellow Jackets win 34-28. Virginia Tech becomes bowl-eligible by besting Duke for the 10th straight year, 27-13.

NOV. 2: The Hokies were beyond lucky to escape in overtime at Boston College last November. This matchup is equally taut as Cody Journell kicks Tech to a 24-21 victory. Clemson and quarterback Tajh Boyd remain unbeaten with a 31-17 win at Virginia.

NOV. 9: Two years ago, the Cavaliers earned postseason eligibility with a victory at Maryland. Similar plot here as Virginia upsets North Carolina 28-24. With the Coastal Division title on the line, Tech is unable to handle Duke Johnson and falls at Miami for the second consecutive season, 30-20.

NOV. 16: The Hokies return home and smack Maryland 23-7, while the Cavaliers are idle.

NOV. 23: Miami avenges last year’s 1-point loss at Virginia with a more convincing 31-17 victory. Tech enjoys two weeks off prior to the Virginia game for the first time since 2005.

NOV. 30: No, this isn’t the year. Bud Foster’s defense takes advantage of the extra prep time and slows the Cavaliers’ improved offense. Tech wins the Commonwealth for the 10th straight time, 24-16.

The final tally: The Hokies go 9-3, 6-2 in the ACC, the Cavaliers 6-6, 3-5. I think fans of both schools would take those records, and it’s easy to envision 7-5 for Tech and/or 4-8 for Virginia.

Feel free to demur, vehemently or otherwise. You just might be right.

I can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. Follow me at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP

Here’s a link to my Daily Press print columns.