At least on paper, the schedule makers saved the best of college football opening weekend for last as Boise State takes on Virginia Tech in a “neutral” site game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., that’s rife with national championship implications.
Boise State comes into the opener ranked No. 3 in the country, and a win Monday night — coupled with the same outcome against Oregon State — would have the Broncos well on their way to yet another undefeated regular season and a legitimate shot at playing in the BcS title game.
Starting at No. 10 in the Associated Press preseason rankings, Virginia Tech could receive a huge bump from voters by knocking off a Top-Five team and put themselves in right in the thick of the title discussion.
So, yeah, this is kind of an important game, and the perfect bow to place on the first weekend of the 2010 season. With that said, here’s CFT’s mini-look at what both schools need to do to come away with a win, a win whose importance cannot be overstated..
John Taylor: Boise State wins if…
1.) They limit the damage of Tech’s two-headed ground assaultThere’s little doubt what the overriding key to the Broncos coming out of Maryland with a “W” will be. Somehow, some way they need to find a way to, at minimum, slow down running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, as well as dual-threat quarterback Tyrod Taylor (no relation). While BSU was 28th in the nation against the run in 2009, there were a couple of occasions last year where teams with quality running games — Nevada especially, and Fresno State to some degree — ran roughshod over them. It’s a must for the Broncos defense to put the clamps on both backs, if for nothing more than giving their potent offense more opportunities with the ball in their possession.
2.) Kellen Moore doesn’t play like Dudley MooreThe outstanding senior quarterback took very good care of the ball in 2009, throwing just three interceptions against 39 touchdowns. The Hokies lost several defensive starters following the ’09 season, but they always seem to find a way to quickly reload year after year, thanks in large part to the genius that is coordinator Bud Foster. Rattling Moore will be key, but Foster’s young defense will face a huge challenge getting to the All-American candidate as Boise’s offensive line gave up just three sacks last season. That total was tops in the nation. Keep Moore clean and avoid the turnover? The Broncos would have to like their chances if both those things came to fruition.
3.) The Hokies are, well, the Hokies in big gamesAll-time, Tech is a staggering 1-25 against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top Five. The most recent example of that inexplicable big-game drought came in the opener last year when the then-No. 7 Hokies fell to No. 5 Alabama 34-24 in the Georgia Dome. If the Broncos can keep their composure in the face of what will be a decidedly pro-Hokie crowd — Blacksburg is less than 300 miles from Landover — and keep the game close throughout, they would have to feel like they’re in good shape given the type of big game the Hokies usually come out on the short end of, at least based on their history.
Prediction: Boise State 34, Virginia Tech 31.
Ben Kercheval: Virginia Tech wins if…
1.) Running backs Darren Evens and Ryan Williams are both effective
Okay, so this may not seem like much of a stretch, but if both backs have great games then it does two things. First, it wears down Boise’s defense and keeps both backs fresh. Second, it takes the pressure off Tyrod Taylor. Sure, Taylor can beat you with his legs, but if the Hokies are going to improve on one of the worst passing offenses of 2009, then they’ll need all the play action help they can get. This could be especially true if Boise State runs a man coverage defense with a quarterback spy to keep an eye on Taylor.
2.) Bud Foster is, well, Bud Foster
Replacing eight defensive starters? Child’s play. Foster has proved time and time again that he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. Kellen Moore threw just three interceptions last year for the Broncos. If Foster’s defense can force Boise into more than one turnover, then they have a great shot to win. Get your lunch pail ready.
3.) It’s a low scoring game
If the Hokies are going to win, they might have to do it by beating Boise at their own game. When given time to prepare, Boise’s defense gave up 18 total points last year between their season opener against Oregon, who went on to average 36 points per game last year, and the Fiesta Bowl against TCU, who averaged 40 points per game before falling to the Broncos.
Prediction: Virginia Tech 20, Boise State 17.