For the last time Saturday, coach Frank Beamer will lead his Virginia Tech football team onto the field at Lane Stadium.
During the past 29 years, Beamer has earned the reputation as one of college football’s finest men, while awakening a program which was mostly an afterthought in the minds of most in Blacksburg before his arrival in 1987.
Needing a victory to gain bowl eligibility and send their coach out in grand style, the Hokies (5-5) entertain 17th-ranked North Carolina (9-1). An emotional Beamer announced his retirement early this month, effective at the end of the season.
The Tar Heels have found their stride in coach Larry Fedora’s fourth season. Although a lot of chips would have to fall its way, North Carolina cannot be discounted as a long-shot contender for the four-team College Football Playoff.
In any event, the high-powered Tar Heels will almost certainly finish in the top 10 with victories at Virginia Tech and North Carolina State to close the regular season, followed by a bowl win.
This represents North Carolina’s third true road game of the season. With the stadium filled with emotion and energy for Beamer’s last home game, take the Hokies as 4-point underdogs.
Six more plays for today (home team in CAPS):
* North Carolina-VIRGINIA TECH (Under 61½) — The Hokies’ best bet to have a shot at knocking off the Tar Heels rests with their ability to keep the ball out of the hands of North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams. Expect Virginia Tech to rely heavily on its ground game, most notably tailback Travon McMillian, who has has averaged 115 yards rushing over the past five games. North Carolina is 0-6 under the total as a road favorite under Fedora.
* PITTSBURGH (-1) over Louisville — The Cardinals enter on a four-game winning streak, but their list of victims does not exactly constitute a who’s who in today’s college football hierarchy. In fact, Boston College, Wake Forest, Syracuse and Virginia each have won just three games this season and have a combined record of 12-28. Pittsburgh is coming off perhaps its top showing this year, a 31-13 victory at Duke.
* Arizona (+7½) over ARIZONA STATE — Arizona quarterback Anu Solomon, a Bishop Gorman High product, was enjoying perhaps his best game of the season last week against Utah before exiting because of a concussion. Solomon is questionable to play at Arizona State, but Jerrard Randall is an excellent runner and competent replacement.
This series has been dominated by the underdog for most of the past two decades, with the ‘dog going 12-5-1 ATS the past 18 meetings.
* KANSAS STATE (-5) over Iowa State — The Wildcats are in the throes of a six-game losing streak and need three wins to close the season to reach bowl eligibility for coach Bill Snyder. While Iowa State had highly ranked Oklahoma State on the ropes last week before losing, it is reasonable to expect the Cyclones will be running on fumes after battling the two Oklahoma Big 12 members in back-to-back weeks.
* Ucla (+2) over UTAH — The Utes received some disappointing news Thursday when it was announced standout running back Devontae Booker (1,261 rushing yards in 2015) would miss the final two games of the regular season due to a knee injury.
The Bruins are vulnerable against the run, ranking 84th in the NCAA in rush defense by allowing 182 yards per game. On the flip side, the Bruins’ Josh Rosen can throw the ball, and the Utes’ Achilles’ heel is defending the pass.
* WASHINGTON STATE (-15) over Colorado — Quarterback Sefo Liufau was the Buffaloes’ heart and soul before being lost for the season to an injured leg in last week’s home loss to Southern California. Redshirt freshman Cade Apsay did an admirable job against the Trojans in the first significant action of his young career.
The Cougars have been a covering machine since the start of October, getting the money in seven straight games and outperforming the point spread by an average of 13.2 points during that span.
Last week: 5-3 against the spread
Paul Stone of VegasSportsAuthority.com is providing college football analysis for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.