Schedule Preview – Last Four

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Welcome back to our 2019 Football Season Preview. To view our preview table of contents and read already-completed pieces, click here or on the Series button above.

 

Counting down the days until the season kicks off, we’re ready to start breaking down the schedule game-by-game, with summaries of each team we’ll face and our confidence level in the Hoos to get that win. Today, we’ll tackle the last four games of the 12 game slate. 

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Date: Saturday, November 2nd; time TBD

NORTH CAROLINA

Location: Kenan Memorial Stadium; Chapel Hill, NC

2018 Record:  2-9 (1-7)

Last Meeting:  UNC 21 – 31 Virginia, 10/27/18 @ UVA

 Athlon Preseason Ranking: 68th (6th in the Coastal) 

Athlon team preview: Link

CFN Preseason Ranking: 67th (7th in the Coastal)

CFN team preview: Link

 

Strengths: It starts with true freshman QB Sam Howell, who may not be the starting quarterback to begin the season, but likely will by the end of it.  Howell was recruited by everyone and ended up choosing UNC over no less a program than Florida State.  He’s a legit blue-chip recruit and the foundation of the Mack Brown future at UNC.  Carolina also has an excellent pair of running backs in Michael Carter and Antonio Williams, and the performance of the offensive line last year in both run blocking and pass protection was far above what you’d expect for a two-win team.  UNC allowed only ten sacks all season in 2018.  Only three teams were better, and two were run-it-all-the-time service academies.  UNC also won’t suffer much of a transition hangover on offense, having hired a high-tempo OC to replace Larry Fedora’s already-high tempo offense.

Weaknesses: The defense.  All of it.  Especially against the run.  UNC failed to get third-down stops in 2018 and hardly ever came up with an interception.  They lose their top three tacklers, as well as the one player (Malik Carney) who could consistently get a sack.  Their inability to close out close games last year was directly related to the defense’s inability to stop teams from grinding out the clock or get a third-down stop.  Their new defensive coordinator comes from Army, and while he did good things with service-academy talent, he was also used to an offense that stayed on the field for long stretches at a time.  Here, he’ll have to get used to some rapid three-and-outs at times.

Summary Thoughts: Mack Brown knows what he’s doing, and this team will be better than its meager two wins.  There’s a chance they’ll serve notice to the Coastal by winning their opener against South Carolina.  But not a big one.  This is a four or five win team that effectively is in Year One of its offensive rebuild and Year Zero on defense.  They’ll come up with a high-scoring upset somewhere along the line, but overall they’ll struggle to achieve postseason eligibility.

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 7.5

 

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Date: Saturday, November 9th; time TBD

GEORGIA TECH

Location: Scott Stadium; Charlottesville, VA

2018 Record:  7-6 (5-3)

Last Meeting:  GT 30 – 27 Virginia, 11/17/18 @ GT

 Athlon Preseason Ranking: 75th (7th in the Coastal) 

Athlon team preview: Link

CFN Preseason Ranking: 50th (4th in the Coastal)

CFN team preview: Link

 

Strengths: Uh….hmm.  You know that Paul Johnson retired and all.  Which means a well-publicized band-aid-rip season in changing from the triple option to a normal offense.  And that means strengths are few and far between.  Well, this being Georgia Tech, there are running backs upon running backs on this roster.  It’s a start.  GT also has a few quality pieces in the secondary, particularly Tre Swilling, who has the bloodlines as the son of Saints (and Georgia Tech) all-pro linebacker Pat Swilling.  There’s also a very solid kicking and punting game, and sophomore safety Juanyeh Thomas brought two kicks to the house last year; special teams, at least, are still special teams.

Weaknesses: Everything from quarterback to offensive line to wide receiver to tight end (or near-complete lack thereof) is built for an offense Georgia Tech isn’t running anymore.  There’s only two tight ends: one a grad transfer from UConn and the other a true freshman.  What GT doesn’t have is any slot or possesion receivers (outside of their incoming recruiting class), and the offensive line will need to learn how to block without chopping people down all the time.  The coaches are making happy noises about how well their option quarterbacks are learning their preferred throwing motion, which, I mean, that’s great but it’s not going to translate to much of a passing game this year when their quarterbacks are all still in QB 101.  Just as ominously, the defense, outside of the secondary, is full of newcomers, particularly on the defensive line, so much so that GT has been trying O-linemen on the other side since spring camp.

Summary Thoughts: Forget the square peg and round hole.  Geoff Collins brought his square-peg offense from Temple and found a hole shaped roughly like a brontosaurus eating a pizza.  Athlon and CFN have some interestingly divergent takes, and the CFN preview includes a hell of a lot of hand-waving and sums up basically as “they’re still football players, they’ll all be fine.”  Yes, it’s still football, but GT will face off against teams with a lot of continuity, talent, or both.  Duke players are still football players, too, and they’ve been coached in the same system since GT’s freshmen were still eating Play-Doh.  I’m more inclined to believe Athlon’s ranking of 75.  If even that high.  GT might be pretty good in 2021 or 22….but not this year.

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 8.5

 

 

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Date: Saturday, November 23rd; time TBD

LIBERTY

Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

2018 Record:  6-6

Last Meeting:  LU 24 – 45 Virginia, 11/10/18 @ UVA

Athlon Preseason Ranking: 110th (N/A in the Coastal) 

Athlon team preview: Link

CFN Preseason Ranking: 116th (N/A in the Coastal)

CFN team preview: Link

 

Strengths: The Flames’ offense can be dangerous, maybe even more dangerous than a couple ACC squads.  Quarterback Buckshot Calvert** is in his fourth year as the starting QB, and Liberty returns both a 1,000-yard receiver (Antonio Gandy-Golden) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Frankie Hickson).  Liberty also brings in a slew of juco transfers on both sides of the ball who should help bolster the talent level; this is the work of new coach Hugh Freeze and his Ole Miss connections.

**often listed as Stephen Calvert by boring people who don’t know his nickname-slash-middle name.

Weaknesses: The defense was atrocious last year, finishing barely inside the top 120 in scoring defense and against the pass.  A lot of players return on defense, but is that a good thing?  Depth is also a problem, and higher-level FBS teams will still be able to overwhelm the Flames as players wear down over the season.

Summary Thoughts: The combination of noted escort-hiring, rule-flouting scumbag Hugh Freeze, and a university that barely allows students of the opposite sex to look at each other, is….interesting.  The question is, is Freeze even that good a coach without the torrent of bagman money and “recruiting girls” that flowed through Oxford like the Amazon?  He’s been able to bolster the depth at Liberty by bringing in scores of juco and FCS transfers, and the offensive skill positions are talented and experienced.  But, overall, particularly in the trenches, this is still a rising FCS team, and the talent gap is still large.  UVA must avoid looking ahead to the following week’s game, and remember that the high-scoring Flames were able to keep it close for two and a half quarters last year. 

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 9

 

 

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Date: Friday, November 29th; time TBD

VIRGINIA TECH

Location: Scott Stadium, Charlottesville, VA

2018 Record:  6-7 (4-4)

Last Meeting:  VT 34 – 31 Virginia, 11/23/18 @ VT

Athlon Preseason Ranking: 26th (3rd in the Coastal) 

Athlon team preview: Link

CFN Preseason Ranking: 37th (3rd in the Coastal)

CFN team preview: Link

 

Strengths: This Tech team is awfully experienced compared to last year.  Most of the defense returns, notably linebacker Rayshard Ashby, who had 105 tackles last year.  The whole secondary returns.  And on the offensive side, Ryan Willis settled in nicely under center as the season went on, eventually throwing for an efficient 24 touchdowns against only nine picks.  Tech also has a few dangerous weapons for Willis to throw to: Damon Hazleton nosed over 800 receiving yards last year and Tre Turner should improve on his 535 yards after averaging over 20 yards a catch.

Weaknesses: The returning experience on defense is a double-edged sword, because Tech’s defense was awful last year, and not just by Bud Foster standards.  They were repeatedly gashed against the run, giving up five and a half yards a carry.  Only Georgia State and Connecticut gave up more plays of 30 yards or greater.  And they only managed seven interceptions last year.  And it must be said that the program just bleeds talent.  Something is not right in the relationship between the players and coaching staff, because quality players keep leaving.  One example: receiver Eric Kumah, Tech’s second-leading receiver in 2018, grad-transferred to ODU.  This was not a guy who was facing a loss of playing time or opportunity.  Justin Fuente’s inability to keep his players motivated to stay in Blacksburg is becoming a real trend.

Summary Thoughts: On paper, Tech is a contender for the division title.  They have the pieces on offense and an experienced, if not highly-accomplished, defense.  If it all comes together, they could win just about any game on their schedule, and be favored in nine of their first eleven games.  But there are no really great players either; nobody to keep a coordinator up at night wondering how to stop them.  It took about ten plays in last year’s heartbreaker all bouncing perfectly Tech’s way, to allow them to keep their win streak alive against UVA and their bowl streak as well.  And all that attrition not only puts a huge dent in the depth, but also makes you wonder how the atmosphere is in the locker room.  They travel to Boston College to start the season; would a loss there start to fracture the team’s psyche?  There’s still a little fear factor, because after all it’s Virginia Tech and they still have Bud Foster, who didn’t forget how to coach, an expectation of success, and a great deal more talent than your average Duke or Liberty.  But they’re a very hard team to read here in August, and this season for them could be four wins as easily as nine.

 

Win Confidence (1 to 10): 6