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McElroy: Seven swirling questions as we prepare for the upcoming college football season
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McElroy: Seven swirling questions as we prepare for the upcoming college football season

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Do you know what this weekend is?

It’s the last one without a college football game for four months.

Before we get the kickoff of what one hopes will be a closer-to-normal (fingers crossed) fall, here are seven swirling questions on my mind as we head into the new season.

How will forfeits impact the season? Here we are again, talking COVID-19 and college football.

While vaccinations have arrived nationwide since Alabama won its last championship in January, the complexity of the virus, the delta variant, and those not opting for the vaccine have us entering another season with unknowns.

Can Virginia roll on the road? In the previous five seasons, Bronco Mendenhall has shown that Virginia can win nine games, the Coastal, and defeat rival Virginia Tech. However, one hurdle that continues to trip up the Cavaliers are road games. UVA boasts the ACC’s worst road record (6-20) during the past five seasons.

With early matchups at Coastal favorites UNC (Sept. 18) and Miami Sept. 30) and later dates at BYU and Pittsburgh, if Brennan Armstrong and the Cavaliers want to prove those sleeping on the Wahoos wrong, they need to improve their road performance.

Can Burmeister go the distance? In 2016, Justin Fuente’s Hokies won 10 games with Jerod Evans at quarterback for all 14 games followed by Josh Jackson helping Virginia Tech to nine wins in 13 starts the following season.

What’s ensued was a 2018 campaign when Jackson was lost to injury after three games.

Ryan Willis took the reins, lasting only a handful of starts in 2019 before being replaced by Hendon Hooker and Quincy Patterson.

Last year, Hooker and Braxton Burmeister swapped starting multiple games amid a season of COVID and injuries.

Fuente said at the ACC Kickoff: “I feel better about us throwing the ball right now since I’ve been here.” Part of that is the offensive line and skill-position players, but it’s largely due to Burmeister.

What’s so special about Oct. 17? When we wake up to the chill of the autumn air, perhaps sipping on a pumpkin-spiced something that Sunday morning, we’ll be a day removed from JMU and Richmond, which will be the Dukes’ fourth preseason top 25 matchup in five weeks and six days before they face No. 5 Delaware. The Virginia Cavaliers will have already played Coastal favorites UNC and Miami, which could either result in Wahoos saying “we want the Hokies” or counting down the days until the basketball opener.

As for Virginia Tech, by Oct. 17 in Blacksburg a successful start against North Carolina, at West Virginia, Notre Dame, and Pitt in the first six weeks could spring the Hokies’ fan base into thoughts of returning to a 10-win season. Yet, if the road gets rocky early on, the die could be cast on Fuente’s future before Halloween.

Heisman surprise: All eyes seem to be on Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler heading into this season, but remember last year when Trevor Lawrence was a preseason lock for the Heisman until Devonta Smith won it.

The year before, Tua Tagovailoa opened as the early Heisman favorite, but LSU’s Joe Burrow took home the hardware after putting together arguably the greatest season by a college quarterback.

The Heisman race is a marathon. It’s a test of endurance, and while many enter, the pack will be whittled down as the season plays out.

Where is this all going? There’s so much to anticipate on the field, but we are also in a period of seismic change to the college landscape with name, image and likeness, the one-time transfer policy, Oklahoma and Texas dumping the Big 12 for the SEC and a possible “alliance” of the ACC, Big Ten, and Pac-12 along with the future expansion of the College Football Playoff in flux.

It’s hard to process where college sports are headed, but it feels they’re going there at light speed.

Can somebody crash this party? Eleven teams have made the College Football Playoff, but Alabama has made it every time, Clemson 10 times, Ohio State six, and Oklahoma four.

Could Texas A&M ascend? Will Matt Campbell and Iowa State ride a whirlwind to the top four or could Cincinnati and Desmond Ridder deliver the AAC’s first playoff appearance?

Or will this year be rinse, lather and repeat for the Tide, Tigers, Buckeyes, and Sooners?

Wes McElroy hosts a daily sports talk show at noon on 910 and 105.1.

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