ESPN's Bill Connelly Releases Virginia Tech Football Season Prediction

Mike McDaniel

ESPN's Bill Connelly, the creator of SP+ Analytics system, released his conference predictions for the ACC, which included a preview of each team in the conference.

Within his Coastal Division preview, he projected that the North Carolina Tar Heels would make the ACC Championship game against Clemson, with a final record 9-3 overall, and a 6-2 mark in conference play.

"I'll admit, I didn't like the aesthetics of Brown's return to North Carolina. With so few great coaching opportunities for up-and-comers available in a given year, the thought of a retiree like Brown or, the year before, Herm Edwards cutting in line to get one of them rubbed me the wrong way. It all looks great if it works, though, and one cannot deny that Brown seems to be making the most of this career coda," Connelly wrote.

"We grade freshman quarterbacks on a curve, but by the end of 2019, Sam Howell didn't need one -- he was just plain awesome. He battled through up-and-down, freshman-type play for a couple of months, but over the last five games, which included battles with Pitt's best defense in ages and a pre-collapse Virginia defense, he completed 66% of his passes with a 182.0 passer rating. Even with early volatility, he finished 31st in Total QBR. He gets his top five wideouts back, too, including dual thousand-yard receivers in Newsome and Brown. The run game could stand to be more consistent (the Tar Heels were just 66th in rushing success rate), but the top two RBs return, as do six linemen with starting experience, all of whom were freshmen and sophomores last season," Connelly added.

While North Carolina received plenty of love from Connelly, the Hokies weren't far behind. Connelly picked Tech to finish second in the Coastal with an 8-4 record and a 5-3 mark in conference play.

"Fuente enters 2020 under a decent amount of pressure. In large part because of QB instability, he's gone just 14-12 the past two seasons, and now he has to break in a new defensive coordinator (Justin Hamilton) following the retirement of the legendary Bud Foster. But Fuente's recent history suggests that, if Hooker is as good as he looked last season, and if he can remain in the lineup, Tech will contend in the Coastal. Tech averaged 36 points per game with Hooker behind center, brings back its entire offensive line (including potential all-conference left tackle Darrisaw) and three of its top four receivers, and welcomes running back transfers Khalil Herbert (Kansas) and Raheem Blackshear (Rutgers) to a group that includes high-efficiency sophomore Keshawn King," Connelly wrote.

"Tech will have a chance to to start quickly, with five of its first seven opponents projected 58th or worse. But how the Hokies finish, and how well Hooker plays and/or stays on the field, might define the season," Connelly concluded.

There is no doubt that expectations are high in Blacksburg with what the Hokies return on both offense and defense, but a handful of ACC games - namely the October road trip to North Carolina and the home contest against Miami - may end up defining the season for the Hokies.

To see Bill Connelly's conference preview in its entirety, click here.