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THURSDAY NIGHT IS ALL RIGHT FOR FIGHTING: ACC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW

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Tonight is supposed to be about Boston College, and whether the Eagles are "for real" as the number two team in all the relevant polls, but I dunno, is Virginia Tech established enough to serve as a championship litmus test? It's not the Eagles, after all, about whom the following facts are all true:

• The Hokie is the least productive in the ACC and 112th in the nation in total yards at 298 per game - Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina, even Florida State have all moved the ball more effectively. The offense has been held under 300 total yards in five of seven games, understandable against LSU (149) and maybe Clemson (219), but not so much against East Carolina (278), William & Mary (287) and North Carolina (241).

• On top of that, Tech's quarterback options are a potentially gimpy true freshman completing barely 50 percent of his passes despite a conservative, dumpoff-heavy strategy, and an underwhelming junior who has already been benched once, during the Hokies' first "big game" of the year, an unmitigated disaster in which he completed two of his first ten passes and prompted this very blog to memoralize his career via the following video montage:

For the record, the Eagles have intercepted more passes than any other defense in the country.

• In last year's game at Boston College, Glennon completed a lot of passes (23 of 34) but for virtually nothing (148 yards, or 6.4 yards per completion), failing to challenge the Eagles in any way downfield, throwing two interceptions and leading to such general frustration in the waning moments of 22-3 loss that cameras caught Hokie defenders going after one another on the bench.

• Tech's offense is one-dimensional at best and more realistically no-dimensional - against decent defenses, anyway. A year after averaging a scant 3.2 per carry over an entire season, the Hokies are managing just 3.3 per carry through the first seven games, inflated to a degree by Tyrod Taylor's scrambling ability. Five teams - including East Carolina, William & Mary and Duke - have held VT under four yards per carry this season, and starter/all-ACC projection Branden Ore currently checks in at an astonishingly low 2.98. Boston College, for the record, leads the nation in run defense, both in yards per carry and, by a relatively huge margin, yards per game. This despite missing its best defensive linemen (huge, ineligible tackle B.J. Raji) and linebacker (injured/redshirting Brian Toal).

Naturally, Virginia Tech is the favorite.

I can't fudge a single indicator from this year's Hokie team that might lead me to believe it's on Boston College's level - Tech struggled consistently against weak teams last year and has continued to wallow around for most of the afternoon with the likes of East Carolina (10-7 entering the fourth quarter) and Ohio U. (14-7 entering the fourth quarter) and North Carolina (UNC had the ball just into VT territory with a chance to tie in the final minute) even the one really impressive win was the once-in-a-blue-moon result of three defensive/special teams touchdowns in the first half at Clemson - Tech's offense, while admittedly not holding the ball for very long, averaged just under four yards per snap, generated one touchdown on its own accord and was outgained by almost 180 yards.

Then, with Virginia Tech, you have to question at this point whether that barrage against the Tigers really was that anomalous - the Hokies have been doing this for a long time. They've been playing top five teams after being left for dead for a long time, too, most memorably recovering from a 28-7 loss to 2-4 West Virginia in 2003 by trouncing undefeated, third-ranked Miami 31-7 in Blacksburg the very next week, and similarly wrecking Clemson's apparent locomotive to the ACC title on a Thursday night last year, just two weeks after the above-mentioned meltdown in Boston. Clemson came into that game hyping its sleek running back duo after it spectacularly ran for 300-plus on national television against Georgia Tech the previous week, and the Hokies stifled James Davis and C.J. Spiller for 71 yards between them, with a long run of thirteen. Both upsets were pinnacles of the classic "Beamer Ball" mentality, at night, in Blacksburg, and must be what Vegas has in mind when it tabs Tech a three-point favorite here.

The analogy to that game is not perfect with Matt Ryan, because Will Proctor's complete inability to challenge Virginia Tech's secondary made Clemson far more susceptible to falling apart than Boston College should be with its veteran, workmanlike running complementing Ryan tonight. But no one can look at the Hokie defense, especially in the nearly unparalleled secondary, and not imagine Ryan suffering through the longest night of his career at the center of the frenzied, shrieking madhouse we've come to expect from Lane Stadium.


The best player on the field, but only if he doesn't have to be.
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All of that is fundamentally intangible, and relies heavily on Tech's ability to force mistakes and create big plays outside of its offense to keep the game competitive, because even the best case circumstance calls for a patient, grinding approach from the Hokie offense that will generate somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 points. Considering the track record of Boston College's defense and Tech's quarterbacks and offensive line, I don't think it's reasonable to expect even that - all available evidence from this season suggests Virginia Tech will try to run Ore, be completely stuffed, and either dump it off short of the sticks on third downs or fall prey to one of the most aggressive, turnover-hungry defenses in the country (I should note here that the Eagles' success with takeaways is not new: essentially the same personnel finished second in the nation in turnover margin under the same coordinator last year). The great variable in that equation is Tyrod Taylor: is he healthy, and if so, how much will his improvisational ability be able to keep the sticks moving, the crowd in the game, and Ryan off the field?

As for Ryan, he'll be by far the best quarterback the Hokies have seen this year, and he doesn't have to put on some H*i*m*n worthy show to win here; he just has to avoid Glennon-like mistakes and take advantage of his opportunities when they come, because the Eagles will not be playing catch-up unless they are careless with the ball or with their fundamental blocking/coverage on special teams, a la Clemson. Virginia Tech's offense is too talented to be quite as incompetent as the horriffic numbers suggest, but still simply not enough of a threat to pull away from anyone on its own.

So, despite the dubious recent history of highly-ranked teams facing wounded Hokies, I think there is no way to avoid picking Boston College to win tonight. That said, I will have to be convinced Boston College has the offensive line to protect Ryan and open the running game consistently enough to imagine the Eagles running the table over another half dozen games against good competition. Virginia Tech is pretty clearly the peak of the schedule here: if BC can handle the Hokies in this environment, they can handle anything else they're going to see through December.

That doesn't mean they will, of course, but for any ambitions beyond winning the Atlantic Division, yeah, this is the definition of must-win.
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Boston College 23 Virginia Tech 18