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Florida State at Virginia Tech

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Editor’s Note: Joe Nelson is the No. 1 NFL handicapper on VegasInsider.com. Check out his weekly college and pro football selections every week. Click to win!

Thursday night football is back in the ACC this week with highly ranked Florida State visiting Virginia Tech. These teams met in the 2010 ACC Championship game and many expected they would meet in this year’s conference championship game but it has been a disappointing season for Virginia Tech. The Hokies should be up for this game against a top 10 team however as the Hokies play on a second consecutive Thursday night. Take a look at this week’s Thursday night matchup and the history between these teams.

Matchup: Florida State Seminoles at Virginia Tech Hokies
Venue: Lane Stadium, Blacksburg, Virginia
Date: Thursday, November 8, 2012
Time/TV: 7:30 PM ET – ESPN
Line: Florida State -14½, Over/Under 51½
Last Meeting: 2010, Virginia Tech (-3½) 44-33 (ACC Championship in Charlotte, NC)

The Seminoles were a popular national title pick this season with a veteran team returning on both sides of the ball and a schedule that featured few significant hurdles. The early season schedule was extremely light but the Seminoles did pull away from Clemson impressively in a big national game at the time in September. Two weeks later Florida State was stunned by a late North Carolina State comeback however and any goals of a national title went out the window.

Florida State ranks 10th in the latest BCS standings and with four undefeated teams and five SEC teams sitting ahead of them, there is very little hope for a title game shot even if there is chaos in the final few weeks with upsets. Florida State is likely to continue a slow climb towards the top tier however as the remaining schedule will provide a boost. Winning the ACC championship game would provide a spot in the Orange Bowl so there is still plenty to play for. Florida State won the initial ACC Championship game against Virginia Tech back in 2005 but the Seminoles have not won that title since and surprisingly have only won the ACC Atlantic division twice in seven years.

Overall only six teams gain more yards per game than Florida State on offense but the statistics were padded with two FCS opponents on the schedule early in the year. Florida State is also the third highest scoring team in the nation with 44.8 points per game. Much of the offensive statistics are staggeringly impressive but one one-point loss will knock you out of the hunt in the current college football landscape.

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Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel has delivered a very strong senior season with 70 percent completions through the 8-1 start for the Seminoles. He appeared on pace to possibly enter the Heisman Trophy conversation after his big game against Clemson but he struggled in the loss to NC State and has not had the yardage nor touchdown counts to be more than a fringe candidate at this point.

The Seminoles were also dealt a tough blow with leading rusher Chris Thompson suffering a knee injury in late October. Sophomores James Wilder and Devonta Freeman have capably picked up the load and Florida State is the 14th best rushing team in the nation with nearly 237 yards per game on average. Only Oregon gains more yards per rushing attempt than Florida State.

On defense only Alabama and Notre Dame have allowed fewer points per game and Florida State has the top ranked defense in terms of yards allowed per game, allowing a stunning 3.49 yards per play and just 227.1 yards per game, both numbers that edge Alabama or LSU. The schedule has certainly been weak for the Seminoles however and in the game against Clemson the defense certainly showed some vulnerability. Florida State dominated a Duke team that could still win the Coastal division in its last game, winning 48-7 despite a 0-4 turnover deficit. That was homecoming for the Seminoles but being off last weekend should have the Seminoles ready to play and impress in the national spotlight.

When the schedule was set and this game was lined up for a Thursday night ESPN game the expectation was that this could be an ACC championship preview featuring two teams that could be highly ranked in the national title conversation. Virginia Tech is going through its worst season in perhaps 20 years however. Virginia Tech has not lost more than five games since 1992 and only twice in that span did they lose as many as they have already lost this season sitting at 4-5. The Hokies will be heavy favorites in the final two games of the season but if they lose tonight 6-6 and a marginal bowl game is the best case scenario.

Virginia Tech returned nine starters from a defense that allowed just over 17 points per game and 305 yards per game last season so there were high expectations entering 2012. Virginia Tech lost badly to Clemson in the ACC Championship game last season but this was an 11-3 team that also out-played Michigan in the Sugar Bowl in a 23-30 overtime loss. Virginia Tech has been in a BCS bowl game four of the last five seasons but they currently sit fifth out of six in the ACC Coastal standings.

Turnovers can be pointed to as a huge factor in the decline as the Hokies are -5 on the season in turnover margin, coming from a program that is accustomed to making big plays on defense and special teams. Virginia Tech has not finished a season with a negative turnover differential since 2003 and they were only -1 that year. The reputation for being ball hawks on defense is well earned as Virginia Tech has been +9 or better in six of the last eight seasons.

Junior quarterback Logan Thomas has been a big part of the problem accounting for 12 interceptions and several fumbles. Thomas is duel threat, rushing for 469 yards last season and leading the team with 422 yards so far this season but he has regressed in the passing game. Thomas completed nearly 60 percent of his passes last season and is at barely over 53 percent this season. He has already thrown more interceptions this season than last year and he is only one sack short of last season’s 14 game total.

The receiving corps lost the top two receivers from last season and only returned one player that had more than three catches last season so there have been some growing pains. The top two receivers for the Hokies had 60 or more catches last season and this year the only veteran receiver Marcus Davis leads the team with only 36 catches in nine games. Losing Davis Wilson in the backfield has also been a problem as freshman J.C. Coleman leads the team in rushing this season behind Thomas but he is not an every down back.

On both sides of the ball Virginia Tech has rather average team numbers and with the turnovers it is not a surprise that the Hokies have struggled. Four of the five losses have come by double-digit margins however as Virginia Tech enters this game coming off back-to-back losses by big margins in ACC road games. Virginia Tech is a perfect 4-0 (2-2 ATS) at home this season however as all five losses have come in road or neutral settings. Virginia Tech will be up for this game but they will need to play its best and come up with a few big plays to have a shot at the upset.

Line Movement: Florida State opened as a -13½-point favorite and after some back-and-forth to 14 the line eventually jumped to 14½ on Tuesday. The total has opened at 51½.

Last Meeting: At the end of the 2010 season these teams met in the ACC Championship game. They did not play in the regular season that year and Virginia Tech was a slight favorite sitting at 10-2 and a perfect 8-0 in ACC games. The Hokies had opened the season 0-2; losing to Boise State and FCS James Madison, but then reeled off 11 straight wins including beating the Seminoles in that game in Charlotte. Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder missed this game with an elbow injury as now starter E.J. Manuel played fairly well despite two interceptions including one returned for a pick-six early in the game. Virginia Tech pulled away in the second half after leading by just four at halftime and eventually won 44-33 with seven points for Florida State coming in the final seconds.

Series History: These teams have not been conference rivals for long as this is just the third regular season meeting as ACC foes with the home team winning and covering in both of those instances (2007 & 2008). Four of the last six meetings between these teams have been in neutral site games with the most famous meeting being the 2000 Sugar Bowl in which Florida State eventually won 46-29, but Virginia Tech behind Michael Vick led 29-28 going into the 4th quarter. Florida State won the national championship at 12-0 with the victory. The Seminoles are 9-2 straight up and 6-5 ATS vs. Virginia Tech since 1980.

Florida State Historical Trends: Florida State is 5-8 ATS as a road favorite under Jimbo Fisher including losing SU in four of those 12 games. Going back to 2004 Florida State is on an 11-16 ATS run as a road favorite including going 2-9 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more but less than 21 points. Since 2004 Florida State is just 19-28 ATS as a favorite of 10 or more points in any venue but they are 12-11 in that role since 2010 under Fisher.

Virginia Tech Historical Trends: Since 1987 when Frank Beamer took over the Hokies, Virginia Tech has been a home underdog just 22 times. The Hokies are 15-6-1 ATS in those games including winning outright eight times. Most of the instances have been as a small underdog in recent years as only twice since 1990 has Virginia Tech been a home underdog of 10 or more. The biggest home underdog spread for the Hokies that resulted in a SU win was a 13-7 win over Miami as a 9½-point underdog. Virginia Tech is 11-1-1 ATS in the last 13 games as a home underdog going back to late 1990. Virginia Tech has been an underdog of 10 or more eight times since 1993, going 0-8 S/U and 3-5 ATS.

There is an additional game Thursday night this week:

UL-Monroe at Arkansas State
Line: Arkansas State -7, Over/Under 59

The race in the Sun Belt has turned very interesting with three teams tied at 4-1, with these two teams among the group at the top. Louisiana-Monroe had been the conference’s most impressive team in the early season with the big win over Arkansas and playing tight with Auburn and Baylor. Last week the Warhawks were destroyed at home however, losing by 16 and out-gained by 200 yards against rival Louisiana-Lafayette for their first Sun Belt loss. Losing quarterback Kolton Browning to injury certainly was a factor and he is not expected back this week with a foot injury. Arkansas State has quietly won four in a row including three of four on the road in conference play. Arkansas State won 24-19 in a tight game in this match-up last season and while few expected the Red Wolves would be in the running to repeat as Sun Belt champions, 1st year head coach Gus Malzahn has his team right there. Statistically these teams mirror each other though Red Wolves are the superior rushing team.

  
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