No. 15: Virginia Tech
By Paul Myerberg // Aug 19, 2012
Win 10 games once and they’ll expect you to do it again; win 10 games every year and they’ll forget that you exist. Virginia Tech has reached 19 straight bowl games, the third-longest active streak in college football. Has won at least eight games in each of the last 14 years and at least 10 games in each of the last eight years, the longest such streaks in college football. Has finished in the top 20 of The A.P. Poll in seven of the last eight years and 11 of the last 13. Has won at least 10 games in each of the last eight years, in nine of the last 10 years, 11 of the last 13 years, 12 of the last 16 years. Has the most wins in college football since 1995 with 168, two more than Florida, four more than Boise State, five more than Ohio State. Has been the most dominant program in the A.C.C. since joining the league in 2004. You think that this program is going to win less than 10 games, fail to win the Coastal and fail to challenge for a B.C.S. bowl just because they lost a few starters? Please. You don’t know Virginia Tech.
Atlantic Coast, Coastal
11 (3 offense, 8 defense)
Last year’s ranking
- Sept. 3
- Sept. 8
- Sept. 15
- Sept. 22
- Sept. 29
vs. Cincinnati (in Landover, Md.)
- Oct. 6
- Oct. 13
- Oct. 20
- Nov. 1
at Miami (Fla.)
- Nov. 8
- Nov. 17
at Boston College
- Nov. 24
Last year’s prediction
The Hokies are going to hit snooze once, twice, three times, roll out of bed, wipe the sleep out of their eyes and win 10 games. Notching a 10-2 regular season should be the absolute baseline for success when given this schedule, which is by far the easiest of any national title contender. Tech doesn’t quite match up with the top three or four teams in the country, but the Hokies are very, very close. I love the system on both sides of the ball, particularly on defense. The running game is going to be strong. The defense will get to the quarterback and force turnovers, as it always does. Add those things to an easy schedule and you see why the Hokies may run the table until Florida State. I’m of mind to say the Hokies drop one along the way, but I guarantee a rematch with the Seminoles in early December.
In a nutshell I’m sure you’ve forgotten this fact already, but Virginia Tech won 11 games during the regular season. The Hokies had a chance at avenging that lone regular season defeat, a 23-3 loss to Clemson, with a rematch against the Tigers in the A.C.C. title game. As in October, the Tigers had their way: 38-10, thanks in some part to the Hokies’ turnovers – though Clemson just manhandled V.T. in both games last fall. The third loss came in the Sugar Bowl to Michigan, which, surprisingly, outplayed the Hokies on special teams. Ending the year with two straight losses took some bloom off of Virginia Tech’s rose; this was actually a very good team, but one that went overlooked due to its inability to beat the marquee teams on the schedule.
High point Another swamping of Virginia – and this one felt better than most. Why? Because the Cavaliers were rejuvenated under Mike London, having won eight games overall and several in a row heading into the season finale, yet the Hokies were in complete and utter control for 60 minutes. Just a dominating performance, and in a rivalry game, no less.
Low point The losses to Clemson, with added emphasis on the A.C.C. title game, with Michigan a close second. But V.T. was often imperfect even in victory, as against Miami, Duke and East Carolina.
Tidbit Since its christening in 1965, Lane Stadium has helped give V.T. one of the most unbreakable home-field advantages in college football. Overall, the Hokies are 196-69-6 at home over the last 47 years; the Hokies are 68-12 in Blacksburg since the start of the 2000 season. Eight opponents since 1965 hold a winning record at Lane Stadium, with most having met the Hokies in Blacksburg only once: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Kansas State, Kentucky, Miami (Ohio), Tulsa and South Carolina.
Tidbit (Commonwealth Cup edition) With Michigan back in the win column against Ohio State, I’m not sure if there’s another end-of-year rivalry in the F.B.S. as one-sided as the Commonwealth Cup. The Hokies have won eight straight and 12 of 13 over Virginia, with no margin of victory over this span greater than last year’s 38-point win. That was the second-largest win for the Hokies in the series’ history, in fact, trailing only a 48-0 shellacking in 1983. For all his gifts as a teacher, motivator and recruiter, Mike London’s two dates with the Hokies have resulted in losses by a combined 68 points.
Tidbit (Foster Ball edition) You’ve heard of Beamer Ball. Check out Foster Ball: V.T. has 227 interceptions since 2000, the most in the country, and has forced 356 turnovers, the second-most in the country. Since Foster was promoted to defensive coordinator in 1995, the Hokies have held 67 opponents to nine points or less. Since 1995, Foster’s defense has had nearly three times as many shutouts, 27, as it has 40-point games, 10. Foster Ball.
Tidbit (defensive backs edition) Virginia Tech has had at least one defensive back selected in the N.F.L. Draft in each of the last 13 years. In April, it was former cornerback Jayron Hosley, who went in the third round, joining another 16 defensive backs taken since 1999. Eight have gone in the first three rounds: Ike Charlton in 2000, Cory Bird in 2001, DeAngelo Hall in 2004, Eric Green in 2005, Jimmy Williams in 2006, Aaron Rouse in 2007, Brandon Flowers in 2008 and Hosley this past spring.
Former players in the N.F.L.
33 LB Xavier Adibi (Chicago), LB James Anderson (Carolina), WR Jarrett Boykin (Green Bay), OG Jaymes Brooks (Green Bay), OT Duane Brown (Houston), CB Roc Carmichael (Houston), S Kam Chancellor (Seattle), WR David Clowney (Buffalo), WR Danny Coale (Dallas), OT Anthony Davis (San Diego), OT Blake DeChristopher (Arizona), RB Darren Evans (Indianapolis), CB Brandon Flowers (Kansas City), K Shayne Graham (Houston), DE John Graves (Seattle), S Cody Grimm (Tampa Bay), CB DeAngelo Hall (Washington), CB Cris Hill (Buffalo), CB Jayron Hosley (New York Giants), TE Jeff King (Arizona), C Will Montgomery (Washington), WR Josh Morgan (Washington), DT Carlton Powell (New York Giants), WR Eddie Royal (San Diego), TE Andre Smith (Indianapolis), DE Darryl Tapp (Philadelphia), QB Tyrod Taylor (Baltimore), QB Michael Vick (Philadelphia), OT Ed Wang (Oakland), S Eddie Whitley (Dallas), RB Ryan Williams (Arizona), RB David Wilson (New York Giants), LB Jason Worilds (Pittsburgh).
Arbitrary top five list
Active M.L.B. players born in Virginia
1. SP Justin Verlander, Detroit.
2. 3B David Wright, New York Mets.
3. OF Justin Upton, Arizona.
4. OF B.J. Upton, Tampa Bay.
5. SP Joe Saunders, Arizona.
Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech ’69), 209-98-2 over 25 seasons with the Hokies and 251-121-4 overall after 30 seasons as a college head coach. With Joe Paterno gone, Beamer’s career mark gives him the most wins among active coaches on the F.B.S. level. Because of the length of time he has spent in Blacksburg – and the high level of success he has attained – most have forgotten how great a job Beamer did in building the Hokies’ program. While his predecessor, Bill Dooley, won at least six games in each of his final seven seasons, Beamer inherited a program racked by N.C.A.A. sanctions. Because of this setback, Virginia Tech was not able to get rolling until 1993, when it experienced the first of 13 seasons with at least nine victories under Beamer. From 1987-92, the Hokies went 24-40-2, which illustrates both the difficulties Beamer had building the Virginia Tech program and the foresight the university’s administration showed in not opting to make a coaching change. Virginia Tech has had no problem remaining in the upper tier of the F.B.S. once the program turned the corner. Beamer was the 1999 national coach of the year after leading the Hokies to an 11-1 record and a trip to the Sugar Bowl to play Florida State for the national title. That team, led by Michael Vick at quarterback, may have been Beamer’s best, though the 2000 (11-1) and 2005 (11-2) teams may also have claims to that title. Prior to being named the coach in 1987, Beamer spent six seasons as the coach at Murray State, where he compiled a 42-23-2 record from 1981-86. All told, Beamer has finished with a winning record in 25 of his 30 combined seasons at Virginia Tech and Murray State and has posted at least seven wins in a season 22 times and at least 10 wins in 13 of the last 18 years. One of the most respected coaches in the country, Beamer is a legend.
Players to watch
The biggest adjustment for Logan Thomas has come on the practice field, where he finds himself the veteran among a supporting cast chock-full of new faces – and that’s quite a change from a year ago, when Thomas was able to slide into a starting role with the help of a very seasoned and experienced offense. He was protected by an offensive front that started four seniors, as I’ll touch on below. Thomas was given another pair of seniors at receiver, helping him put together one of the most impressive passing seasons in school history. While not a senior – he left a year ahead of schedule – Thomas had the luxury of handing the ball off to David Wilson, the nation’s fourth-leading rusher.
So the focus has shifted fully to Thomas, now a second-year starter, now the unquestioned star of this offense. Good thing Thomas is talented enough to return the favor – helping the new starters move into larger roles, just as his former teammates did for the then-sophomore a year ago. Last fall, Thomas threw for 3,013 yards and 19 scores, hitting on 59.3 percent of his attempts, and added 469 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. The total yardage through the air was the second-most in school history; Thomas’ total offense – 3,482 yards – was the most. There’s a reason he’s so beloved by draft scouts from coast to coast.
What I love about Thomas isn’t necessarily what he’s already achieved, even he was impressive last fall, but what the junior will be once he gains more experience as a starter. His ceiling knows no limit; Thomas made plays last year solely on athleticism, at times, and could be an all-American once his technique and experience catches up with his physical ability. And he’s embraced the leadership mantle, pushing forward at the forefront of this offense – and this entire team, perhaps – and filling the void left by last season’s contributors. Virginia Tech needs to give him some help, but Thomas is good enough to carry this offense on his back.
Redshirt freshman Michael Holmes will fill Wilson’s shoes at running back. While a mid-tier recruit coming out of high school, Holmes gives V.T. enviable size, a quick first step and – this is what the staff loves most – a rock-solid work ethic. He’s one of two freshmen poised to play a role on the ground, joining J.C. Coleman, who enrolled in January; Holmes will start, but look for Coleman to get more touches as he learns the offense. To compliment this pair, V.T. moved fullback Martin Scales over to running back; while not a big-play back, Scales can help Holmes and Coleman by taking care of some of the dirty work between the tackles. As was the case last fall, senior fullback Joey Phillips will lead the way through the hole.
Well, one thing hasn’t changed: Virginia Tech will still start two seniors at receiver – eventually. For now, the Hokies are waiting on D.J. Coles (36 catches for 480 yards) to recover from his offseason knee surgery; when he does, Coles will step in for Jarrett Boykin at split end. While Coles works his way back into the mix, V.T. has handed the starting job to senior Dyrell Roberts, a major contributor in 2010 who has missed nearly all of last season with an arm injury. Thanks to an N.C.A.A. hardship waiver, Roberts is back for one more go-round in Blacksburg – and even when Coles returns, he’s going to play a big role.
The concerns over the receiver position don’t revolve around talent or experience, two qualities the Hokies have across the board. Rather, it’ll be about replacing the consistency that Boykin and Danny Coale brought to the table over their time in the starting lineup. If Coles can get healthy, Roberts can stay healthy and fellow senior Corey Fuller can translate his track speed to the football field, the Hokies have the potential for great things from the split end position. But can Coles, Roberts, Fuller and redshirt freshman Kevin Asante get open on third down in Death Valley? That’s the question.
I’m head-over-heels crazy for senior flanker Marcus Davis (30 for 510 and 5 scores), a big, physical, athletic target who will quickly become the Hokies’ best weapon in the passing game – if he wasn’t already. Davis reminds me of former V.T. receiver Ernest Wilford, another pass-catcher blessed with size, speed and a long wingspan, but Davis might be more athletic; he can run past safeties and box out cornerbacks, and that’s a fairly rare and always dangerous combination. Others will put up bigger numbers, but Davis is an all-A.C.C. receiver. With Chris Drager gone, V.T. will turn to seniors Eric Martin and Randall Dunn at tight end.
The offense: Virginia Tech is led by Thomas, one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and has weapons at receiver. These are the offense’s best qualities. But the offensive line is reworked, which is a concern. I’m not overly concerned with the running back situation, however; the Hokies have not finished lower than third in the A.C.C. in rushing since 2007, and that won’t change if the line comes together. Yes, there’s an experience gap. But the offense isn’t falling off the map by any stretch. As I’ll discuss later, it might be the reason why Virginia Tech doesn’t win the A.C.C. or reach a B.C.S. bowl; it won’t cause this program to win fewer than 10 games.
Foster Ball isn’t merely about forcing turnovers, though that’s a big part of what Virginia Tech does on the defensive side of the ball. It’s also about the lunch-pail mentality that this team brings to work every Saturday, the steady supply of unit-wide ferocity that has led to 17 straight years of nearly uninterrupted defensive success – Foster Ball can be found in the fiber of every defender who has lined up for the Hokies since 1995. Watching the Hokies play defense feels special; it’s one of the great annual pleasures in college football, something you can set your watch to every fall.
This defense will be one of the five best in the country. It’s better, deeper, tougher and more experienced than last year’s group, which broke in five starters and struggled at times playing with the program’s typical consistency – as against Miami (Fla.) and Clemson. You see the increased depth up front, and at tackle in particular. Last fall, partly due to injuries, V.T. was forced to play junior Derrick Hopkins (51 tackles, 3.0 sacks) nearly every down. A year later, the Hokies are confident that sophomores Luther Maddy (19 tackles), Zack McCray and Corey Marshall and redshirt freshman Kris Harley can help give the Hokies a more balanced interior rotation.
The starters will be Hopkins and senior Antoine Hopkins, a two-year starter who missed the final nine games of last season with a knee injury. Maddy started in his stead, leaving the Hokies with a bit of a dilemma: Hopkins only lost his job due to injury, but Maddy played well last fall and made some nice strides during spring ball. All of these tackles will play, some more than others, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that unlike last fall, V.T. can go five or six deep inside. That’s going to give this defense a huge boost.
Two of those tackles, Marshall and McCray, can also shift out to end if needed. That increases their value, though it’ll be hard for any reserve end to push juniors James Gayle (38 tackles, 12.5 for loss, 7.5 sacks) and J.R. Collins (57 tackles, 9.5 for loss, 6.0 sacks) off the field. Talk about a pairing: Gayle’s the headliner, but Collins quietly pressured the quarterback as well as any end in the A.C.C. last fall – and both are only juniors. Again, it’s all about depth: Gayle and Collins are fantastic, Marshall could really excel if moved outside permanently, Tyrel Wilson is a gamer and redshirt freshman Dadi Nicolas was one of the great surprises of the spring. Florida State might have the best line in the A.C.C.; that doesn’t mean that Virginia Tech’s front isn’t one of the best in the nation.
Depth, depth, depth. It’s found at linebacker just as it is up front, giving V.T. an absolute wealth of options along the front seven. When they’re healthy, senior Bruce Taylor (53 tackles, 5.0 sacks) and junior Tariq Edwards (73 tackles, 11.5 for loss) give the Hokies a dynamite pairing at inside linebacker. Unfortunately, Taylor missed the final six games of last season and Edwards is still not at 100 percent after offseason knee surgery. If Edwards remains sidelined – and he had a recent setback – V.T. will turn his spot over to sophomore Chase Williams, who played with the first-team defense during the spring,
There’s no reason to think that Taylor’s issues are of the long-term variety. With Edwards, on the other hand, it helps to have a player like Williams waiting in reserve. And I wonder if V.T. would consider moving junior Jack Tyler (42 tackles) over into Edwards’ old spot if the knee injury lingers. Tyler, who started in Taylor’s stead over the second half of last season, has earned the staff’s trust. Outside, the Hokies have a returning starter in senior Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and a pair of linebackers nipping at his heels: senior Alonzo Tweedy and redshirt freshman Ronny Vandyke. I think that Gouveia-Winslow starts, but all three should play. The Hokies also added five freshmen linebackers, with three of the four-star variety.
The Hokies are playing musical chairs in the secondary. Junior Antone Exum (89 tackles, 5.0 for loss) moved from rover to cornerback; sophomore Detrick Bonner moved from cornerback to free safety. Exum will be joined at cornerback Kyle Fuller (65 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 interceptions), who moves over from nickel back into Jayron Hosley’s role as Virginia Tech’s stopper. Talent? You better believe it: Fuller can do it all, from playing the run to blitzing the quarterback to playing man coverage – and he’ll be the next defensive back to hear his name called at the N.F.L. Draft. Filling Exum’s former role at rover is another converted cornerback, sophomore Kyshoen Jarrett, and he’s been a little spotty thus far.
While the Hokies are deep along the front seven, I worry about this team’s ability to limit the pass should there be any significant injuries in the secondary. At cornerback, Foster and this staff are backing up Exum and Fuller with true freshmen Dontovan Riley and Donaldven Manning – that could be trouble. The backup rover, Michael Cole, is a redshirt freshman; the backup free safety, Boye Aromire, barely saw the field in any capacity last fall. Everything should work out fine if the top four stay healthy. The defense as a whole is locked and loaded for another year of Foster Ball.
Sophomore Michael Branthover could do it all, or he could do nothing. Understand? Branthover is one of a few options at punter, kicker and kickoff specialist; as of now, however, he may only handle kickoffs. Junior Cody Journell, who made 14 of 17 field goals last fall, should return as the Hokies’ kicker. True freshman Hunter Windmuller is one of three players challenging for the starting job at punter. In the return game, getting a healthy Roberts would greatly increase Virginia Tech’s production on kickoffs. And as we know, V.T. can block a kick or two.
Position battle(s) to watch
Offensive line The Hokies knew this day was coming. One second after last season’s Sugar Bowl, this staff knew that in nine months, it would be breaking in four new starters along the offensive line – replacing left tackle Andrew Lanier, left guard Greg Nosal, right guard Jaymes Brooks and right tackle Blake DeChristopher. In fact, you could make the case that V.T. knew this day was coming long ago, perhaps two or three years ago, and once this fact became evident the program should have moved one or two reserve linemen into larger roles as a bridge to this coming season. Well, the Hokies did that, to a degree. But the lack of experience up front remains troubling.
How the starting lineup plays out depends in some part on Michael Via’s availability. Via, a senior, is still working his way back into the mix after undergoing knee surgery over the winter – and don’t doubt his toughness, because Via played with a torn A.C.L. for much of last season. If Via returns at some point early in the season, he can move into a starting role at right guard, dropping sophomores Bruce Benedict and Laurence Gibson into secondary roles. And if that occurs, you can feel far more secure about Virginia Tech’s interior: David Wang is going to start at left guard, Via at right guard and junior Andrew Miller, the lone returning starter, will be back at center.
And the Hokies will have seniors on the outside in Nick Benton and Vinston Painter, even if neither has played a tremendous amount over the last two years. Benton’s played more; he saw the field behind Lanier on the left side last fall. But Painter’s raw despite his years – and his backup, redshirt freshman Jake Goins, is not yet ready for prime time. In fact, Via is also an option at right tackle if V.T. feels that Painter isn’t up to the task. What’s clear is that the right side of this line is a concern, both at guard and tackle, and even if Via is 100 percent this team will need one of the sophomores or Painter to perform in a starting role.
Game(s) to watch
It works both ways: Virginia Tech can put a strong hold on the Coastal division by topping Georgia Tech in the season opener, but the same goes for the Yellow Jackets – no matter your perspective, it’s a huge game in the A.C.C. race. That’s one of five games that will decide the Hokies’ season, joining Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in September, Clemson to cap October and Florida State and Virginia in November. Beating the Seminoles during the regular season isn’t meaningless – it’s a conference game, if not a divisional game – but the key games are obviously those against Coastal competition. Having said that, here’s guessing that the Hokies really want another shot at Clemson. If V.T. gets past Georgia Tech, it could be undefeated when it takes on the Tigers on Oct. 20.
Season breakdown & prediction
In a nutshell Virginia Tech is going to win another 10 games, another Coastal division title, make another run to the B.C.S., make things happen on offense and make things miserable for opponents on defense. Hey, this is life in Blacksburg: V.T. just goes to work every fall, suffers one or two losses during the regular season and ends the year firmly inside the top 20 nationally. Betting on anything other than another successful season isn’t just foolish; it’s stupid. Virginia Tech is going to feature one of the very best defenses in the country, one that will be too much to handle along the front seven for the overwhelming number of teams on this schedule. It’s a night-and-day story in terms of depth, especially at defensive tackle. The Hokies will stop the run, get pressure on the quarterback, force turnovers – as they have for years.
The offense has some issues, but they’re survivable. Now, these issues will test V.T. at times, perhaps meaning the difference between a close win and a close loss. Still, the lack of experience is not going to cause the Hokies to drop from the top of the Coastal division into the middle of the pack. In a perfect world, the offensive line gels in time for this running game to hit its stride in September; if so, the Hokies have the quarterback – and a great quarterback and that – and the receiver corps to give this offense tremendous balance. But it’s a question mark: Virginia Tech’s line is raw, especially at tackle, and two of the top three running backs are freshmen.
The lack of experience on offense is going to keep V.T. from being the best team in the A.C.C., but it’s not going to prevent the Hokies from winning another 10 games and the Coastal division. This is the division’s best team, from top to bottom and everywhere in between, and one of the A.C.C.’s best two teams, joining Florida State. The defense is loaded; the offense has some issues but an all-American at quarterback and a handful of talented receivers. The Hokies aren’t perfect – they’re just really good, potentially great, as they’ve been for a generation. Wake me up when this isn’t the case.
Dream season The first part is familiar: Virginia Tech goes undefeated during the regular season. This is new: Virginia Tech beats Florida State in the postseason. A 13-0 mark gives V.T. a berth in the national title game.
Nightmare season Virginia Tech goes 8-4, losing to Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Virginia, the latter for the first time since 2003.
In case you were wondering
Where do Virginia Tech fans congregate? Message board chatter can be found at Tech Sideline, Hokie Haven and VTInsider.com. The local newspapers do a great job of covering Virginia Tech football, so check out the Web sites of The Roanoke Times, The Virginian-Pilot and The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Your best options, however, are The Key Play and Gobbler Country.
Virginia Tech’s all-name nominee FB Justus Hoffman.
Through 110 teams 450,328.
Who is No. 14? The head coach with the fourth-most wins in the history of tomorrow’s program was born on the same day, albeit one year earlier, that a four-time British Open champion died.
Tags: A.C.C., Andrew Miller, Antoine Hopkins, Antone Exum, Bruce Taylor, Bud Foster, Cody Journell, Corey Marshall, D.J. Coles, Derrick Hopkins, Dyrell Roberts, Frank Beamer, J.C. Coleman, J.R. Collins, Jack Tyler, James Gayle, Kyle Fuller, Logan Thomas, Luther Maddy, Marcus Davis, Michael Holmes, Michael Via, Nick Benton, Tariq Edwards, Vinston Painter, Virginia Tech
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