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College football picks: Rivalry matchups arrive early for Tech and UVA, but both are underdogs
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College football picks: Rivalry matchups arrive early for Tech and UVA, but both are underdogs

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Middle Tennessee Virginia Tech football

Members of the Virginia Tech football team celebrate after beating Middle Tennessee on Saturday. The Hokies, who defeated then-No. 10 UNC in the season opener, are now ranked No. 15 in the AP Top 25 poll.

This is a weekend both Virginia Tech and Virginia football fans likely had circled on their calendars. The Hokies renew an old rivalry when they visit Morgantown for a game against West Virginia, while UVA travels to Chapel Hill for the latest installment of ‘the South’s oldest rivalry’ between the ‘Hoos and North Carolina.

Both teams are underdogs according to Vegas, despite being 2-0 on the season and, in the Hokies’ case, ranked in the Top 25 at No. 15. A win for Virginia would be their fifth straight over the Tar Heels and move them into the thick of the race for the ACC’s Coastal Division title.

This season, I’m joined by the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s David Teel, the Roanoke Times’ Aaron McFarling and the Charlottesville Daily Progress’s Bennett Conlin as we pick winners for Virginia Tech, UVA and other key ACC games. And, in an attempt to create some separation in the standings, each week we’ll offer up an upset special from somewhere in the FBS landscape.

Here are Week 3’s predictions:

Virginia Tech at West Virginia, noon, Milan Puskar Stadium, Morgantown, W.Va.

Bennett Conlin, Charlottesville Daily Progress (5-3): Questions remain about Virginia Tech’s offense, and losing star tight end James Mitchell only adds to those questions. West Virginia was competitive in a Week 1 loss to Maryland before demolishing a lesser foe in Week 2. If the game was in Blacksburg, I’d take the Hokies. Given the likely rowdy atmosphere in Morgantown, I’ll take the Mountaineers.

THE PICK: West Virginia 31, Virginia Tech 24

Aaron McFarling, Roanoke Times (5-3): This game won’t wreck the Hokies’ season, but I think they suffer loss No. 1 here. The Mountaineers have the speed to make explosive plays in the aerial attack and return game, and Tech’s facing its first true road test (read: with a packed house) since 2019. To me, the real value here is on the over 50.5. Should be a fun one.

THE PICK: West Virginia 35, Virginia Tech 28

David Teel, Richmond Times-Dispatch (5-3): The last time the No. 15 Hokies were ranked at least this high, in 2018, they lost at Old Dominion. After rising to No. 13 in late-October 2017, Tech dropped consecutive road games at Miami and Georgia Tech. Sitting at No. 13 in 2012, VT endured an 18-point defeat at Pitt. Are the Hokies going to dash the faithful’s hopes yet again?

THE PICK: Virginia Tech 21, West Virginia 20

Mike Barber, Richmond Times-Dispatch (3-5): Virginia Tech’s offense has yet to really get in gear and losing James Mitchell certainly won’t help. But man, the Hokies defense looks like a vintage Tech unit. The bet here is that pass rush and strong coverage in the secondary hold down the Mountaineers enough to make the game winnable for the offense.

THE PICK: Virginia Tech 31, West Virginia 28

Virginia at North Carolina, 7:30 p.m., Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Conlin: Through two weeks, Virginia looks phenomenal. The Cavaliers have outscored two inferior foes 85-14, looking strong in all three phases. North Carolina’s offense found a rhythm against Georgia State scoring 59 points after a 17-10 loss to Virginia Tech to open the season. Sam Howell has given Virginia fits in recent seasons. Winning away from Scott Stadium has also given the Cavaliers trouble. Saturday could be another thriller in this series.

THE PICK: Virginia 35, North Carolina 31

McFarling: The Cavaliers will battle you. They’ve covered in seven of their past eight games overall and each of their past four meetings with UNC. The Tar Heels are 1-4 against the spread in their past five home games. Those trends make UNC -9 seem like too many points for me, but Carolina still gets the win.

THE PICK: North Carolina 35, Virginia 30

Teel: The line here, the Cavaliers plus-9, is among the many reasons I don’t bet. It makes zero sense. Yes, UVA is 6-20 on the road under Bronco Mendenhall, but two of those Ws were at Carolina. Moreover, the eye test says the Tar Heels aren’t two scores better than the Cavaliers. So even though “Vegas knows,” I like the road dog.

THE PICK: Virginia 31, North Carolina 28.

Barber: Virginia steps up its competition level for the third straight week. After roughing up William & Mary and Illinois by a combined tally of 85-14, North Carolina poses the stiffest test to date for the Cavaliers. Virginia has won four straight games in this rivalry, shored up its secondary play and is getting outstanding play from quarterback Brennan Armstrong. UNC still needs to do work on its pass rush, its outside receivers and its run game. The Tar Heels are going to put it all together at some point this season. The bet here is that that is still at least a week away.

THE PICK: Virginia 34, North Carolina 28

Michigan State at Miami, noon, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.

Conlin: The Hurricanes opened the season with a blowout loss to Alabama before a competitive 25-23 win over Appalachian State. While Miami has been thoroughly tested, Michigan State has beaten up on Northwestern and Youngstown State.

THE PICK: Miami 27, Michigan State 17

McFarling: Bettors have been rewarded for fading Miami recently. The Hurricanes are 0-5 against the spread in the past five home games, 0-4 ATS in their past four against the Big Ten and 1-6 ATS in their past seven nonconference game. Sparty isn’t great, but neither are the Hurricanes.

THE PICK: Michigan State 27, Miami 24

Teel: Sparty owns convincing victories over Northwestern and Youngstown State, while the ’Canes were, uh, less than inspiring in losing badly to Alabama and surviving Appalachian State. But Miami is favored by 6½, yet another baffling line. With a noon kick and the home team’s skittish start, don’t expect a roaring throng at Hard Rock Stadium, unless fans are hoping to see another feline rescue.

THE PICK: Michigan State 24, Miami 20

Barber: Wins over Northwestern and Youngstown State certainly don’t mean Mel Tucker has Michigan State back, but they constitute a better resume than getting smoked by Alabama and barely surviving against App State. The ACC’s early season struggles continue as Sparty’s defense is the difference in this one.

THE PICK: Michigan State 24, Miami 21

Upset of the week

Conlin: Logic may not support this pick, but I’m not ready to count out Florida State. The Seminoles suffered an embarrassing 20-17 loss to Jacksonville State last weekend to drop to 0-2, but Wake Forest hasn’t faced a quality team yet this fall. This is the same Florida State program that bounced back from a 1-3 start last season with a shocking 31-28 triumph over North Carolina.

THE PICK: Florida State 28, Wake Forest 24

McFarling: The Hoosiers were terrible in their season-opening loss at Iowa, but Iowa’s looking pretty good. Cincinnati has been vulnerable as a road favorite (2-5 ATS in past seven), and the Hoosiers (+3.5) have done a good job punching above their weight class. They’ve covered in five of their past six as a dog and 13 of 16 against teams with winning records. They grind one out here.

THE PICK: Indiana 27, Cincinnati 23

Teel: After picking three underdogs to win, I’m still supposed to conjure an upset special? Well, if y’all insist. BYU has beaten the Pac-12’s Arizona and Utah to vault into the Associated Press poll at No. 23, and now the Cougars are 4-point home pups to the Pac-12’s Arizona State.

THE PICK: BYU 35, ASU 30

Barber: I love home underdogs. Yes, even ones that just lost their starting quarterbacks. Sure, the Wildcats just struggled with Southern Illinois, but really, they only struggled for the second quarter, when they were outscored 23-7. That was the quarter they lost Skylar Thompson. I’m betting they’ve got things figured out now at QB.

THE PICK: Kansas State 35, Nevada 31

mbarber@timesdispatch.com

Twitter: @RTD_MikeBarber

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