No. 17 Virginia Tech is off to a terrific start under first-year coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies are 4-1 and coming off a 34-3 romp against North Carolina on the road, and their ACC schedule sets up nicely if they can only avoid a misstep.
Beating Syracuse in the Carrier Dome on Saturday probably won't be a cakewalk. The Orange have an exciting offense and their home field, and Tech's win against Carolina was its first true road game of the year. (The only other thing close was the Battle at Bristol, played on a racetrack in front of a record, mixed crowd.)
After Syracuse, Virginia Tech plays Miami, Pitt, Duke, Georgia Tech, Notre Dame, and Virginia. The Hokies might well be favored in all of those except Miami. If they can win at Syracuse, it could turn into an on-ramp for Fuente's first season in Blacksburg to really take off, at the risk of us getting ahead of ourselves.
How to watch, stream, and listen
TV: 3:45 p.m. ET, ESPNU. The broadcasters are Eamon McAnaney and John Congemi.
Radio: Virginia Tech and Syracuse
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: The Hokies opened as a 17-point favorite, and the spread has grown wider.
Make friends: Get to SB Nation's team blog chats for this game at Gobbler Country (for Hokies fans) and Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician (for Cuse fans).
Three big things to know
1. Virginia Tech's offense is improving, but the real strength here is defense. The Hokies are allowing 16 points per game, and every time the defense hasn't dominated, it's responded by dominating the next week. Tech gave up 5.1 yards per play against Tennessee and 6.4 against East Carolina, but they followed those by holding by both Boston College (which is bad) and North Carolina (which isn't) to less than 2.2 yards per play. Syracuse is somewhere in between the Tennessees and Boston Colleges of the world, but the Hokies are a vexing matchup for the Orange.
2. Syracuse's defense, alternatively, is no good at all. The Orange are ceding 36 points per game, and they've gotten torched by Louisville (great), South Florida (good), and Notre Dame (not so much). Virginia Tech doesn't have an elite offense, but the Hokies can move the ball a bit and might have a lot of fun playing offense on indoor turf against an Orange defense that hasn't made a habit of stopping people.
3. The Hokies are in the Coastal driver's seat. To get to Orlando for the ACC championship game, someone's going to have to emerge from a probably four-way divisional race between Tech, Miami, North Carolina, and Pitt. The Hokies are the only team out of that group without a league loss, and they've already got the tiebreaker on North Carolina.