It feels like Christmas to college football fans all across the country as the 2013 season kicks off. Richmond has fans of many followings and loyalties. Here are my thoughts on our area teams.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies are coming off their worst season since 1992, finishing 7-6 and earning a bowl berth on the final day of the regular season. While there are many unanswered questions, particularly at running back, I see Virginia Tech returning to form this season. The Hokies luck out by avoiding both Clemson and Florida State in conference play, and even though they'll start 0-1, they'll bounce back. After Alabama, road games at Georgia Tech and Miami will provide the two biggest tests for Frank Beamer and company. Virginia Tech's record: 9-3
Virginia: What Virginia Tech considers a poor year, UVA would welcome at this point. The Cavs finished 4-8 in two of the last three seasons, sandwiching an 8-5 campaign that really impressed me. The Wahoos' worst enemy is their own schedule. BYU and Oregon is a tough opening stretch, plus some difficult road games are on there as well. What stood out about that turnaround season in 2011 was Virginia's ability to win close games, which they'll have to do again if they have any hope of exceeding expectations this year. I like the choice of David Watford as starting quarterback, and I think Kevin Parks will thrive being the feature running back. Right now, though, VMI, Ball State (which is no gimme), at Maryland and Duke are the games I'm confident they can win. Let's say they get an upset, too. Virginia's record: 5-7
Richmond: The Spiders are motivated after last year's playoff snub, but they return a great deal of experience from a team that finished 8-3 and earned a share of the CAA title. Michael Strauss returns at quarterback will his two top receivers back in Ben Edwards and Stephen Barnette. Cooper Taylor and Darryl Hamilton leave gaps in the secondary, but Reggie Barnette is also back, along with Kerry Wynn on the line and Aaron Roane at linebacker. I think NC State, at James Madison and at home against Towson are the Spiders' toughest tests this year. The Spiders will be in the postseason field this year. Richmond's record: 10-2
James Madison: The Dukes are another team in a cluster near the top of the CAA. Michael Birdsong is back from an emergency appendectomy. Eight starters are back on offense, including running back Dae'Quan Scott, while seven are back on defense, headlined by preseason CAA Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Robertson. Quinton Hunter will be a big X-factor for the Dukes at receiver. While Richmond misses two of the top teams in the CAA, JMU will face them all, including Villanova, New Hampshire, Towson and the Spiders. JMU's record: 8-4
William & Mary: The Tribe is coming off a 2-9 season and still has three quarterbacks looking to become the outright starter. Michael Graham will open up as the main signal caller, but don't put him there in stone by any means. Tre McBride is Jimmye Laycock's biggest offensive weapon, but the team will have a lot of work to do in order to spark a turnaround. W&M's record: 3-9
Virginia Union: The Panthers beat Virginia State to end 2012, finishing 5-5, and Michael Bailey's club not expected to do much this season, picked to finish eighth in the CIAA. One of Union's biggest leaders will be defensive back Devin Wallace, in his second year at VUU after transferring from UVA. Kenneth Graham returns as starting quarterback, which will go a long way in leading Bailey's offense. I look for another .500 season from the Panthers. Virginia Union's record: 5-5.
Virginia State: The Trojans are picked to finish tenth in the CIAA this season, but I don't see that happening at all, thanks to some key additions, starting at the top. Latrell Scott is bringing a Division I atmosphere to Ettrick. Spring practices took place before the sun was up and Scott is trying to change the culture at VSU. Justin Thorpe comes in as quarterback, transferring from James Madison, who headlines several players with Division I experience. I think they're onto something at Virginia State, and look for them to exceed expectations. Virginia State's record: 7-3
Randolph-Macon: One of the smallest colleges in our area is also one of my favorites to watch. The Yellow Jackets bring a terrific offense to the table, led by junior quarterback Zac Naccarato, who could be one of the best signal callers in Division III this season. Will McGhee will get the majority of the carries at running back. Go to an RMC game and you'll see them score a lot. The Yellow Jackets are picked to finish second in the ODAC this year, finishing just below arch-rival Hampden-Sydney in the preseason poll. I don't buy it and am picking the Jackets to hoist the ODAC title at season's end. It's the preseason, and we're making fearless predictions, so why not pick them to run the table? Randolph-Macon's record: 10-0
Feel free to chime in and agree/disagree. I'm always up for some good college football conversation.