Looking forward to real, live football, NoleNation takes a run through Florida State’s 2012 schedule, going game-by-game to find the best storylines and matchups of the upcoming season.
Virginia Tech Hokies
Thursday, Nov. 8: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Va.
2011 record: 11-3 (7-1 ACC). Virginia Tech lost three games last season, and twice to Clemson. After falling to the Tigers 23-3 in early October, the Hokies were crushed again in the ACC title game, 38-10, before losing in overtime to Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
Coach: Frank Beamer (209-98-2, 26th season)
Series record: 36th meeting, Florida State leads 22-12-1.
Players to watch: Logan Thomas (QB, Jr.) passed for 3,013 yards and 19 touchdowns while rushing for 11 more last season; Marcus Davis (WR, Sr.) had 30 catches for 510 yards and five touchdowns; Antone Exum (DB, Jr.) had 85 tackles, an interception and two forced fumbles in 2011; Kyle Fuller (CB, Jr.) picked off two passes and recorded 14.5 tackles for a loss last season; James Gayle (DE, Jr.) finished last season with seven sacks to lead the team.
Previewing the ACC championship game. FSU and Virginia Tech are the favorites to win their respective divisions by most of the preseason prognosticators, which means there will be plenty of hype when the two teams get together for a nationally televised Thursday night game. A loss, of course, won't necessarily prevent either team from making it to the championship game. It certainly will set the precedent should the Seminoles and Hokies face off again in December.
Battle of the defensive lines. Not only do the Noles and Hokies feature two of the best defensive fronts in the ACC, they might be the two best in the country. FSU brings back all four of its starters from last year's unit that finished No. 2 in the nation against the run while adding impressive freshmen such as Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards Jr. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, brings back its entire two deep from last season's front four, including James Gayle (seven sacks) and J.R. Collins (six sacks).
Battle of the QBs. Logan Thomas remains one of the elite playmakers in the ACC, and he's shown he can be dangerous with his arm or his legs. That will put plenty of pressure on the Seminoles defense, particularly the relatively thin linebacking corps. On the flip side, the Hokies love to torment QBs, and they'll come from all angles, as evidenced by Kyle Fuller's 14.5 TFLs from the cornerback position last season. Virginia Tech is stout against the run, too, which means there will be plenty of pressure on EJ Manuel to turn in a signature performance. It certainly won't hurt the hype either that Manuel will be playing his first career game in Blacksburg after growing up about five hours away in Virginia Beach.
Fun fact: Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is the longest tenured head coach in the football bowl subdivision. He's been at the helm for the Hokies for the past 25 seasons entering 2012. The other 11 coaches in the ACC have just 36 combined seasons at their respective schools.
Key matchup: Virginia Tech's corners vs. FSU's receiving corps. The Hokies finished fourth in the ACC in pass defense last season, but they lost their best cover corner, Jayron Hosley, to the NFL. That leaves Fuller and Exum, a converted safety, as the top starting corners. Both are exceptional players, but their best assets are their physical play, meaning FSU's deep corps of receivers, led by Rashad Greene and Rodney Smith, should be able to find some room downfield. Whether or not Manuel can find them -- or has the time to do so -- might be the bigger question.
Virginia Tech will win if: Thomas doesn't have to do it alone. While Virginia Tech returns the bulk of a stout defense, there are plenty of questions about the offensive firepower as the Hokies prep for 2012. Gone are last year's leading rusher and top two receivers, along with four starting offensive linemen. That could be bad news against a particularly tough FSU defense. At this point, the Hokies figure to use three freshmen out of the backfield, and a handful of first-time starters to round out the offensive line. Thomas has the potential to be a difference-maker at QB, but against a defense like FSU's, he'll need some help.
Noles will win if: They get the running game going and hold Thomas in check. That, of course, is a tall order. While FSU's stout defense led the ACC against the run, Virginia Tech wasn't far behind. Given the Hokies' proclivity for finding opposing QBs in the backfield, Manuel will need some help from his run game to buy him time in the pocket. That will be even more crucial if Thomas solves the FSU defense and turns the game into a shootout.