No. 20 West Virginia and 22nd-ranked Virginia Tech each will break in a talented new quarterback when they renew their rivalry by meeting for the first time in 12 years in the season opener on Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Will Grier, who went 6-0 at Florida in 2015 before testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs and being suspended, gets the call for West Virginia and redshirt freshman Josh Jackson starts for the Hokies.
Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen told ESPN.com that his job will be to keep the eager Grier calm and relaxed while he lets the game come to him, saying ”He’s not going to be able to make up for a year and a half in one game.” Grier won’t have to do it all himself as West Virginia boasts a deep group of running backs that is led by Justin Crawford, who is the leading rusher among those returning in the Big 12 (1,184 yards). Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente told reporters Jackson has been incredibly consistent and has a great demeanor as he starts his first game in place of Jerod Evans, who left early for the NFL. “I’m very comfortable with the offense,” Jackson, a dual-threat signal-caller from Ann Arbor, Mich. told reporters. “I don’t think we’re going to dial anything back.”
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC. LINE: Virginia Tech -4
WEST VIRGINIA (2016: 10-3): Holgorsen told reporters he likes where his team is, and the seventh-year coach must be especially pleased with the Mountaineers’ depth at running back as sophomores Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway also will play big roles. Grier, who averaged 277 yards through the air in beating Tennessee and Ole Miss back-to-back two years ago, has a strong top target in senior receiver Ka’Raun White (48 catches, 583 yards last year). Senior linebacker Al-Rasheed Benton (80 tackles in 2016) leads the defense along with defensive backs Dravon Askew-Henry and senior Kyzir White.
VIRGINIA TECH (2016: 10-4): The Hokies hope to give Jackson time to develop with strong work from a defense that is led by linebackers Andrew Motuapuaka (senior) and Tremaine Edmunds (junior), who combined for 220 tackles last year, and a solid secondary paced by junior Adonis Alexander. Jackson’s most-experienced target is senior Cam Phillips, who has recorded 165 receptions for 2,063 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, and senior guard Wyatt Teller anchors the line. Travon McMillian has accumulated 1,713 rushing yards over the last two years and could be pushed by fellow junior Steven Peoples and sophomore Deshawn McClease.
1. West Virginia is 28-22-1 in the series, but the Hokies have won six of the last eight meetings, including the most recent one in 2005 - a 34-17 triumph, as the teams go after the Black Diamond Trophy.
2. Virginia Tech K Joey Slye has kicked 63 field goals over his first three years and needs six to move past Shayne Graham for the most in school history. Slye also is 16 points from passing RB Lee Suggs (336) for second on the all-time list.
3. Grier, picked as the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year in the preseason, completed 65.8 percent of his passes while throwing 10 touchdown strikes for Florida in 2015.
PREDICTION: Virginia Tech 34, West Virginia 28