The Florida State season opens with a tough September, but October appears to be a different story... at least at the beginning.
Coming off a bye to close September, the Seminoles will start their eight games in eight-week gauntlet with a home matchup against Virginia Tech — a team with a lot of questions coming off their worst season in three decades. The rest plus playing at home certainly two additional factors in favor of what should be a lesser ACC opponent in FSU’s path this season.
A successful year for the Hokies would be bowl eligibility based off last season, though an upset at Doak could be just as satisfying for their rebuild effort.
Florida State vs. Virginia Tech
Date: October 7
Location: Tallahassee, FL
Previous matchup: Florida State 3, Virginia Tech 24 in 2018
All-time series: FSU leads 23-13-1
Virginia Tech Hokies: Team Preview
2022 record: 3-8 (1-6 ACC)
Two things to know:
- Where does the offense come from? Virginia Tech had one of the 15 worst offenses in all of college football last season, averaging fewer than 20 points per game. The biggest piece of the puzzle yet to fall into place to determine that answer is still undecided as the Hokies quarterback battle has extended into fall camp. The leading candidates are Grant Wells, who started every game at QB for VT last season while also leading the team in rushing attempts, and Baylor transfer Kyron Drones. Wells is the more experienced of the two as Drones has only played in 7 games over his two years in Waco. VT head coach Brent Pry told reporters at ACC Kickoff that he’s not worried about choosing a starter and alluded to the potential of playing both. Can’t blame him to keep his options open to liven up this offensive attack.
- Can the secondary carry the defense? A year ago, this unit was middle of the pack in both scoring and total defense. Nothing special but a solid group that can win games paired with an average offense. But they aren’t without their questions as well heading into 2023. At ACC Kickoff, coach Pry said he loves the speed on that side of the ball especially in the secondary. It’s not hard to see why with the talent he returns at safety and corner plus the addition of Georgia Southern DB Derrick Canteen. The front seven though? Not quite at that level. They were tied for 96th in sacks last season and don’t return one player with more than 2 sacks on the season. That pass rush needs someone to step up to compete in the ACC.
Three key players:
- QB Grant Wells — It’s clear from above that Virginia Tech needs a rock at quarterback and I’m hard-pressed to believe that Wells isn’t that guy after starting every game last season. Reading the tea leaves, coach Pry appears interested in mixing in Drones with an offensive package, but Wells seems like the guy at least to start the year. He wasn’t particularly good last season, but he showed there’s potential as at least an average dual-threat quarterback in the league. He has to fix his touchdown to interception ratio because a repeat of last season's 9 TDs and 9 INTs last season will put him on the bench once again. Maybe a go-to weapon could fix that.
- WR Ali Jennings — Could Jennings be that go-to guy? He’s one of a handful of transfers into this room that coach Pry hopes will boost their profile and get this offense humming. Jennings, in particular, is no stranger to popping off against ACC competition as he put up 5 catches for 122 yards against his new team in last year’s opener as a member of Old Dominion. He’s a Virginia native that started his career at West Virginia before the transfer to ODU and he says he’s clicking with the atmosphere at his home state school.
- CBs Dorian Strong and Mansoor Delane — These two corners will be the cornerstone of the secondary and likely the entire defense for 2023. Strong played in 24 games, starting 15 of them, across his first two seasons in Blacksburg. He opened last season as a starter again through four games before missing the rest of the year with an injury. He’ll bring three years of starting experience to one side of the field. His injury also opened the door for more playing time for Mansoor Delane and he showed out with his opportunity. Delane ended up on an All-ACC Honorable Mention in his freshman year. The two combine as a top-tier pair in the conference.
Florida State vs. Virginia Tech: Game Preview
The best case is the Hokies are still lost on offense when they matchup and Florida State races out ahead of them quickly. Florida State’s defense will be able to be aggressive in that scenario and can easily put the Hokies on their heels as they try to keep up. This offense isn’t built for that and it can quickly become a turnover party where FSU is able to rotate some younger players into the game.
I think the realistic case could certainly be the best case because I don’t see the path to VT having an offense prolific enough to keep up with Florida State. If the Noles offense shows up, especially the run game, I don’t see the path for this to be a particularly close contest. They’re easily more talented and should be head and shoulders better as long as they aren’t playing down to their competition.
The one thing that could come into play that would cause issues for FSU is Coach Pry being a defensive coach. If this group is able to stop FSU’s wide receivers on the outside in 1-on-1 scenarios, their front seven could potentially hold their own against FSU if coach Pry can draw up a great game plan. In that scenario, I’m still not really sure that Virginia Tech has the offensive firepower to capitalize and beat Florida State in this one. Flatly said, even a worst-case scenario for Florida State should still be a win at this point in VT’s rebuild. They’re just not ready to make this jump based on their roster before the year. They’d need to make a jump in the first few weeks for this not to be a shocking loss.