Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)
Austin Peay (3-8)
At Pittsburgh (6-7)
Bowling Green (5-7)
Vs. Cincinnati (10-3)
ACC home games
ACC road games
At North Carolina
At Boston College
Gut-check time: Take your pick between Sept. 3 versus the Jackets, Oct. 20 at Clemson, or Nov. 8 against Florida State. My pick is the October game in Death Valley. While the other two might play a bigger role in the ACC race, this game is about pride and redemption. Virginia Tech was beaten soundly twice last year by Clemson -- once during the regular season and again in the ACC championship game. Now the Hokies will be looking to turn the tables, and they’ll have to do it on the road in one of the league’s most hostile stadiums. In two games last year, Virginia Tech scored a total of 13 points against Clemson. How much will that motivate them?
Trap game: Nov. 1 at Miami. The matchup against the Canes was one of the most exciting games in the ACC in 2011. Both teams will have a bye week to prepare for the Thursday night game, and Miami will have finally had three straight home games after a tough stretch on the road to start the season. By this point in the season, the Canes shouldn’t look so young anymore and will be ready for the Hokies.
Snoozer: Austin Peay. It was a fill-in for East Carolina, which was pushed back so the Hokies could open with Alabama in 2013.
Defining stretch: Oct. 20-Nov. 10 (at Clemson, at Miami, Florida State). A road trip to Death Valley, followed by back-to-back Thursday night games. This lineup also includes Atlantic Division favorite Florida State. Yes, the season opener against Georgia Tech is important. Historically, the winner of that game has won the Coastal Division. But a win against the Jackets in Week 1 will be less significant if Virginia Tech can’t get past the two best teams in the Atlantic Division.
Final analysis: With Atlantic Division opponents Florida State and Clemson in the lineup, the Hokies have arguably the toughest cross division schedule in the ACC. With Georgia Tech scheduled for Week 1, Virginia Tech will know early who has the lead in the Coastal Division standings. It’s a difficult way to open the season, considering the Hokies will have four new starters on the offensive line and a new starting tailback. A win over the Jackets could snowball into a five-game winning streak because of a very manageable nonconference schedule, with the toughest games being a road trip to Pitt and a game against Cincinnati at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The key to returning to the ACC championship game will be how the Hokies fare against Georgia Tech, Clemson and Florida State. Be wary: a fast start could be deceiving.