Pinstripe Bowl Preview: Big Conference Action In The Bronx

Maryland is favored after Virginia Tech fired its coach and five Hokies opted out
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I love a football game in a baseball stadium.

Maybe it’s because of the thousands of hours I spent in them over the years as a baseball writer. I can still taste the Sunday brunch bagels and lox of the old Yankee Stadium press room. Maybe I’m influenced by baseball’s lockout. The Pinstripe Bowl might be the only appreciable sports action at Yankee Stadium for long months if they don’t end it by April, so let’s all grab some popcorn and hope some unsuspecting sophomore receiver doesn’t bang into an outfield wall.

Wednesday’s game between Maryland and Virginia Tech is far more of an apples-to-apples matchup than many bowl games since the teams used to play in the same conference and are from the same part of the country.

They also both finished 6-6, and both played West Virginia this season. Maryland beat the Mountaineers by a score of 30-24 to start the season and Virginia Tech lost to WVU 27-21 a couple of weeks later.

Maryland was a 3.5-point favorite across the board Tuesday morning at BetMGM, FanDuel, DraftKings, and Caesars. Most legal sportsbooks set the over/under at 54.5, though Caesars nudged higher to 55.

Maryland’s motivational component

Virginia Tech is without its head coach and five starters, because the coach, Justin Fuente, was fired and the five players opted out. Maryland, meanwhile, played roughly up to expectations (the preseason over-under win total was six), is playing in its first bowl game in five years, and would love to chip away at a long history of heartbreak in bowl season. The Terrapins haven’t won a bowl game since the 2010 Military Bowl, when they dispatched East Carolina by 31 points.

Does this information tell us that the Hokies are less interested in winning this particular contest than Maryland? Seems like a maybe, at best. Nevada, another team playing with a quarterback who opted out and a coach who left, just got blown out 52-24 in its bowl game. But we also have to recognize that human psychology is both situational and complicated — far more complicated than, say, whether Virginia Tech’s zone-running approach will match up well with Maryland’s blitz-heavy 3-4 defense.

The game ultimately depends on how well the teams execute, but if you’re looking for the team that can prove a little something here, you may lean toward Maryland.

When Maryland has the ball

You may not hear about NFL teams “tanking for Taulia,” but Tua Tagovailoa’s little brother has become a star college quarterback in his own right, setting Maryland records this year for completions (308) and passing yards (3,595). A 7-7 touchdown-to-interception ratio in his redshirt freshman season (after he transferred from Alabama) turned into a 24-11 ratio this season.

Tagovailoa wasn’t playing particularly well around midseason, but he was facing Iowa and Ohio State. He has looked far more crisp of late, throwing for 10 touchdowns and only three picks in recent games. He improved his completion percentage to 68.4% this year with a QB rating of 148.3.

Virginia Tech’s defense was OK against the pass, finishing fifth in the ACC, but allowed 776 total passing yards in its last two games against Miami and Virginia.

It feels like Maryland could move the ball here with an improving, talented quarterback facing one of the shakier defenses in the ACC.

When Virginia Tech has the ball

Brandon Burmeister already transferred once (from Oregon) and now he has re-entered the transfer portal again. Where does that leave the Hokies at quarterback? Connor Blumrick (who transferred from Texas A&M) will get his first career start. His mobility could be a concern, as he tore the ACL of one knee in high school and then dislocated the kneecap of his other leg against Notre Dame this season.

If his legs are healthy, perhaps Virginia Tech’s coaches will put him in motion, as they haven’t shown much trust in his passing ability. Against Miami, he played 42 snaps, but only 11 of them were pass plays. There’s an opportunity here if he can show some accuracy, despite a 50% career completion rate, as Maryland finished No. 108 out of 130 FBS teams in passing yards allowed per game (258.1).

Virginia Tech might be wise to figure out creative ways to get the ball to receiver Tayvion Robinson, who had 44 catches with five touchdowns. The Hokies tend to play a conservative style in general, trying to avoid turnovers. Their six interceptions and five lost fumbles tied for fewest turnovers in the ACC.

Betting trends

Maryland is 1-7 in its last eight games against the spread, while Virginia Tech is 5-1 ATS the last six times it was listed as the underdog. If you believe that Tagovailoa and the Terps offense will succeed against Virginia Tech’s suspect defense, be aware that when Maryland scored at least 23 points, it was 5-0 overall and 4-1 ATS.

The weather in New York is supposed to be fine, mid-40s with no precipitation or high winds in the forecast. Maryland and its opponents went over the total in seven of 12 games, while Virginia Tech and its opponents did so in just four of 12.

Photo: Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY

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