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Virginia Tech jumps out to early lead at halftime to quiet Florida State

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It’s been six years since Virginia Tech last played Florida State and it’s safe to say that Justin Fuente is a bit of a difference maker in the latest meeting between the ACC rivals. The Hokies’ head coach was masterful calling plays early as his team jumped out to a 17-3 lead against the Seminoles in a fun, offensive-filled first half at Doak Campbell Stadium.

Tech needed 10 plays on their opening drive to cover 75 yards before finding the end zone, opening the season as about as well as possible. While the Hokies mixed in three different tailbacks, it was Deshawm McClease who really seemed to surprise the defense with several nice runs to the outside and went into the locker room with 66 yards on the ground. That strong run game opened things up for quarterback Josh Jackson, who looked solid in the pocket and on the move while recording 102 yards and a touchdown through the air.

Not to be outdone, there was a bit of BeamerBall as well as Virginia Tech’s Chris Cunningham blocked a punt just before the end of the second quarter that was recovered in the end zone by Eric Kumah. That extended the team’s lead to two scores and sapped whatever momentum the home team might have had and quieted the crowd on the road (an ensuing interception by Caleb Farley didn’t hurt either).

While Bud Foster’s defense did look a lot better than anticipated for such a young group, Florida State was still able to move the ball early. Making his first start since being injured in the team’s opener against Alabama a year ago, Deondre Francois was sharp passing the ball and was already up to 214 yards and nearly had a touchdown throw of his own too. It was a good thing he was on point because the much vaunted rushing attack for the Seminoles was kept in check for the most part. Sophomore Cam Akers only had seven on the ground and Jacques Patrick wasn’t terribly better but did manage 43 yards.

FSU still managed nearly six yards per play and moved the ball well on their drives but simply lost momentum when they entered the red zone and also missed a field goal early.

It’s all is trending toward a fun second half as playmakers on both sides are really stepping up. It’s not often you have a key conference game to open the season but this one is certainly shaping up to have a fun finish in Tallahassee.

Record number of players on NFL’s official early-entry list for 2018 draft

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If it seemed to you like there were an inordinate number of early cannonballers jumping into the draft pool, you were correct.

Four days after the Jan. 15 deadline, the NFL Friday announced that 106 players have been granted special eligibility for the April draft.  That sets a new record for early entrants, breaking the mark of 98 set in 2014.  The past two seasons, there were 95 and 96 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.  In 2015, there were just 74.

The SEC was hit hardest by attrition with 26 players leaving early, although the ACC wasn’t far behind at 24.  The Pac-12 was next among the Power Five conferences with 17, followed by the Big 12’s 13 and the Big Ten’s 11.

Among Group of Five leagues, Conference USA lost the most with four.  The Mountain West saw three go early, with the AAC (two), MAC (one) and Sun Belt (one) coming next in line.  There were also two non-FBS players who left early, as well as two from Notre Dame.

As far as individual schools go, there were three that lost six apiece — Florida State, LSU and Texas.  Alabama lost five, while Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma, UCLA, and USC all lost four apiece.  Clemson, Florida, Louisville, Stanford and Tennessee were on the losing end of three players each.

In addition to the 106 granted special eligibility — they’ll be listed at the end — the NFL also granted eligibility to 13 players who the league writes “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements.” Those players are listed below:

» Jordan Akins, TE, UCF
» Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
» Kyle Allen, QB, Houston
» Will Clapp, C, LSU
» Terrell Edmunds, DB, Virginia Tech
» Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson
» Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
» Sam Jones, G, Arizona State
» Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
» Brian O’Neill, T, Pittsburgh
» Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
» Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
» Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Courtesy of the NFL, below is the complete list of 106 players who have been granted special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft:

» Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
» Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, DE, Toledo
» Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville
» Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
» Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas
» Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
» Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
» Jessie Bates, DB, Wake Forest
» Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
» Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
» Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
» Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
» Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
» Geron Christian, T, Louisville
» Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
» Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
» Vosean Crumbie, DB, Nevada
» J.J. Dallas, DB, Louisiana-Monroe
» James Daniels, C, Iowa
» Sam Darnold, QB, USC
» Carlton Davis, DB, Auburn
» Michael Dickson, P, Texas
» Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
» DeShon Elliott, DB, Texas
» Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
» Matt Fleming, WR, Benedictine
» Nick Gates, T, Nebraska
» Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee
» Frank Ginda, LB, San Jose State
» Rasheem Green, DT, USC
» Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
» Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
» Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
» Holton Hill, DB, Texas
» Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
» Jeff Holland, LB, Auburn
» Mike Hughes, DB UCF
» Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
» Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
» Ryan Izzo, TE, FSU
» Donte Jackson, DB, LSU
» J.C. Jackson, DB, Maryland
» Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa
» Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
» Derwin James, DB, FSU
» Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee
» Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
» Courtel Jenkins, DT, Miami
» Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
» Ronald Jones, RB, USC
» John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
» Arden Key, LB, LSU
» Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
» Du’Vonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
» Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
» Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
» Tavares Martin, WR, Washington State
» Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State
» Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson
» Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
» R.J. McIntosh, DT, Miami
» Reginald McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
» Quenton Meeks, DB, Stanford
» Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
» D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
» Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State
» Nick Nelson, DB, Wisconsin
» Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
» Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
» Dwayne Orso-Bacchus, T, Oklahoma
» Da’Ron Payne, NT, Alabama
» Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
» Eddy Pineiro, K, Florida
» Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
» D.J. Reed, DB, Kansas State
» Justin Reid, DB, Stanford
» Will Richardson, T, NC State
» Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
» Austin Roberts, TE, UCLA
» Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Miss
» Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
» Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
» Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
» Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
» Andre Smith, LB, UNC
» Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
» Van Smith, DB, Clemson
» Breeland Speaks, DE, Ole Miss
» Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
» Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
» Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
» Maea Teuhema, T, Southeastern Louisiana
» Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
» Kevin Toliver, DB, LSU
» Travonte Valentine, NT, LSU
» Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
» Vita Vea, NT, Washington
» Mark Walton, RB, Miami
» Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
» Chris Warren, RB, Texas
» Toby Weathersby, T, LSU
» Jordan Whitehead, DB, Pittsburgh
» JoJo Wicker, DT, Arizona State
» Jalen Wilkerson, DE, Florida State
» Connor Williams, T, Texas
» Eddy Wilson, DT, Purdue

Hernia surgery knocks Virginia Tech’s top receiver out of bowl game

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Virginia Tech will finish off its 2017 season without its top threat in the passing game.

Tech confirmed Tuesday afternoon that Cam Phillips will not play in the Dec. 28 Camping World Bowl game against Oklahoma State.  Per the school, the wide receiver recently underwent successful sports hernia surgery in Philadelphia.

“While we’re disappointed that Cam won’t be able to compete in the bowl game, hopefully he enjoys a speedy recovery as he prepares for the next step of his football journey,” head coach Justin Fuente said in a statement. “We appreciate Cam’s many contributions and accomplishments during his career at Virginia Tech and wish him the very best.”

A senior, the surgery and subsequent rehab mean his collegiate playing career is over.  Invited to play in the East-West Shrine game next month, Phillips’ status for that postseason all-star game is still to be determined.

This past season, Phillips led the Hokies in receptions (71), receiving yards (964) and receiving touchdowns (seven).  The year before, he was second on the team in all three categories (76-983-5).  All told, he finished with 236 catches, 3,027 yards and 17 touchdowns in his four seasons.

Travon McMillian, Virginia Tech’s leading rusher, leaving Hokies as graduate transfer

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This one might raise an eyebrow or two.

Earlier this week, rumors began circulating that Travon McMillian was considering a transfer from Virginia Tech.  Friday afternoon, the speculation came to fruition as the running back announced that, after talking with his parents, he has decided to transfer from the Hokies.

McMillian will be leaving Tech as a graduate transfer.

McMillian led the Hokies in rushing this season with 439 yards.  However, 2017 continued a trend in which his production decreased every year, going from 1.042 yards as a redshirt freshman to 671 last season.  He finishes his Tech career with 16 rushing touchdowns, as well as 35 catches and another seven touchdowns through the air.

A four-star member of Tech’s 2014 recruiting class, McMillian rated as the No. 8 dual-purpose back in the country.

No. 2 Clemson stays perfect, gets by big ACC road test at No. 12 Virginia Tech

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Clemson and Virginia Tech played a fun, back-and-forth ACC title game last season that send both off to big postseason wins. While there were a lot of new faces on the field for their rematch on Saturday night, there wasn’t much of a back-and-forth between the two top 15 teams this time around.

As a result, Clemson looked every bit of a national title contender once again in passing their biggest road test of the young season to beat the Hokies 31-17 in a game that the Tigers controlled throughout.

Quarterback Kelly Bryant started off hot in the passing game before cooling down in just his second road start, eventually throwing for 186 yards and a touchdown. Where he really made an impact though was with his legs, weaving through Bud Foster’s defense to record 109 yards rushing. His budding stars in the backfield, sophomore Tavien Feaster and freshman Travis Etienne, were limited to fewer than 60 yards combined however as things were tough going outside of scrambles.

While the offense’s effort was notable, the story of the night was once again Clemson’s defense. They didn’t let Tech cross midfield until late in the first half  and were swarming on nearly every play, recording eight tackles for loss and two sacks. Even when the Hokies looked like the could put points on the board, Brent Venables’ unit stuffed out a fake field goal in the third quarter and pulled down two interceptions (one of the pick-six variety) in the fourth to put an exclamation point on the victory.

Things were not all bad for Virginia Tech despite the rather lopsided final score. Young QB Josh Jackson topped the 250 mark passing (with a touchdown) and used his ability to take off and run to avoid dozens of sacks that seemed like he could have had on every one of his 44 dropbacks. Tailback Travon McMillian did break off a big 29 yard run in the first half but was otherwise kept in check with 30 yards and the nation’s leading receiver, Cam Phillips, was held to just 74 yards. For a very young team that remains in the running to win the division, it wasn’t a night they were hoping for but could be a solid building block against one of the nation’s best despite the loss.

Given Alabama’s dominance in the SEC so far in 2017 and what Clemson has shown so far in early ACC play, one still gets the feeling that no matter what happens with teams over the next few weeks that we’re headed for a rubber-match rematch between the two superpowers and everybody else could just be playing out the string until then.