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The Countdown

A bottom-to-top assessment of the F.B.S. landscape heading into the 2012 season.

The Countdown

No. 7: Virginia Tech

With its hard hat, lunch pail and work ethic, it's no surprise Virginia Tech always excels.

The second-best team in the A.C.C. had the misfortune of playing in the same division as the conference’s best, Georgia Tech, and thus lost out on a shot at another B.C.S. bowl berth. So ends the streak of two consecutive seasons ending with a B.C.S. trip. A more impressive streak continued: six straight seasons with at least 10 wins, a period that has seen the Hokies post a 62-18 mark. That’s not bad, right? The defense has been the impetus behind Virginia Tech’s strong play, dating back through the mid-1990s, the program’s golden age: 14.3 points per game allowed over the last six years, 15.6 points per game in 2009.

Conference
Atlantic Coast, Coastal

Location
Blacksburg, Va.

Nickname
Hokies

Returning starters
11 (7 offense, 4 defense)

Last year’s ranking
No. 8

2009 record
(10-3, 6-2)

Last year’s
re-ranking

No. 13

2010 schedule

  • Sept. 6
    Boise State (in Landover, Md.)
  • Sept. 11
    James Madison
  • Sept. 18
    E.C.U.
  • Sept. 25
    at Boston College
  • Oct. 2
    at N.C. St.
  • Oct. 9
    Central Michigan
  • Oct. 16
    Wake Forest
  • Oct. 23
    Duke
  • Nov. 4
    Georgia Tech
  • Nov. 13
    at U.N.C.
  • Nov. 20
    at Miami (Fla.)
  • Nov. 27
    Virginia

Last year’s prediction

Another double-digit win season, another A.C.C. championship for Virginia Tech. At least that’s what I’m predicting out of the Hokies, who enter 2009 in far better shape than they did 2008, when question marks littered both sides of the ball. Concerns are much harder to find, thanks to last year’s experience and a solidified depth chart. In conference play, much will depend on the Oct. 17 date with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech’s main rival for the Coastal crown. My prediction: 10-2, 7-1 in conference action, and in the B.C.S. for a third consecutive season.

2009 recap

In a nutshell The big story with last year’s team was the development of the offense, which beefed up from 90th nationally in scoring in 2008 to the top 25, averaging nearly 32 points per game. That marked an improvement of 10 points per game, quite a significant amount for a team that typically allows little more than that per game. So how did Virginia Tech lose three games? Well, one came against Alabama. Another was at Georgia Tech. The third was at North Carolina, when the Tar Heels put the clamps on Tech’s strong running game. The latter loss was disappointing, in my mind; the Hokies really shouldn’t be losing to U.N.C., especially in the friendly confines. Still, despite falling short of its B.C.S. goals, I would characterize last fall was a successful one for the Hokies — if only because of the increased offensive production.

High point Two five-game winning streaks to choose from. In the earlier (Sept. 12 – Oct. 10) stretch’s favor, the Hokies beat Nebraska, Miami and Boston College. Impressive. In the later (Nov. 5 – bowl play) period’s favor, it’s always a good feeling to end the season riding high. It’s good for morale. You make the call. Can’t go wrong either way.

Low point A 28-23 loss at Georgia Tech erased Virginia Tech’s chances of a third straight A.C.C. title. A home loss to U.N.C. a week later cost the Hokies any chance at returning to the B.C.S. Is there an Alabama curse? One year after the Tide’s season-opening win over Clemson sent the Tigers into a tailspin, Alabama’s Sept. 5 win over Virginia Tech preceded the Hokies falling short of their 2008 mark.

Tidbit Virginia Tech enters 2010 with 668 career victories, second-most in the A.C.C. The Hokies trail only Georgia Tech, which brings 676 wins into the fall. However, Virginia Tech is rapidly closing the gap. The Hokies have won 151 games since 1995, the third-most in the nation over that span, while the Yellow Jackets have won 117; not terrible, of course, but behind Virginia Tech’s pace. Of course, the Hokies didn’t join the A.C.C. until 2004.

I get the fellow on the left: Hokie Bird. The tiger on the right? Maybe they're just friends.

Tidbit (100-word preview edition) Today’s guest writer is James, who for the second consecutive summer won the opportunity to pen a 100-word preview of his favorite team. His team? Virginia Tech. After writing last year’s preview in Pig Latin, James takes a more traditional approach in 2010. His inspiration, says James, came from the two lovable creatures shown above. Take it away, James:

For once, my team has to worry less about their offense than their defense since Darren Evans and Ryan Williams both get to run and Tyrod Taylor passes better now, despite Mr. Spencer’s preview: “Frank Beamer will open up Bud Foster’s lunchpail. Inside: a peanut butter sandwich, a thermos full of coffee, a cookie, and the same two losses Virginia Tech always piles up due to their perennially anemic offense.” The most important staff member for us this year may not even be a coach, but rather trainer Mike Goforth, who needs to keep people healthy where we don’t have many choices, like at linebacker. Once again, our first game, this time against the blue horsies’ team, will be our toughest. Losing to the eventual winner of the shiny football is getting old – we’ve done it 4 times since the 2000 Sugar Bowl loss to the tomahawk choppers, three times on a neutral field and to teams in three different conferences!

Former players in the N.F.L.

29 LB Xavier Adibi (Houston), LB James Anderson (Carolina), P Brent Bowden (Tampa Bay), OT Duane Brown (Houston), S Kam Chancellor (Seattle), WR David Clowney (New York Jets), WR Andre Davis (Houston), LB Chris Ellis (Buffalo), CB Brandon Flowers (Kansas City), S Vincent Fuller (Tennessee), K Shayne Graham (Baltimore), S Cody Grimm (Tampa Bay), C Jake Grove (Miami), CB DeAngelo Hall (Washington), WR Justin Harper (Baltimore), CB Macho Harris (Philadelphia), C Will Montgomery (Washington), WR Josh Morgan (San Francisco), DE Carlton Powell (Tampa Bay), S Pierson Prioleau (New Orleans), WR Eddie Royal (Denver), S Nick Sorensen (Cleveland), DE Darryl Tapp (Philadelphia), QB Michael Vick (Philadelphia), OT Ed Wang (Buffalo), TE Ernest Wilford (Jacksonville), DE Jason Worilds (Pittsburgh).

Arbitrary top five list

Athletes from Hampton, Va.
1. Allen Iverson, guard for the Philadelphia 76ers.
2. Chris Hanburger, linebacker for the Washington Redskins.
3. Dwight Stephenson, center for the Miami Dolphins.
4. Dwight White, defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
5. Jerod Mayo, linebackers for the New England Patriots.

Coaching

Frank Beamer (Virginia Tech ’69), 187-92-2 over 23 seasons with the Hokies and 229-115-4 over all after 28 seasons as a college head coach. His career mark makes him the second-most wins among active coaches on the F.B.S. level, trailing only Joe Paterno. 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 11 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 retaining Beamer’s services. 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 23 of his 28 combined seasons at Virginia Tech and Murray State and has posted at least seven wins in a season 20 times and at least 10 wins in 11 of the last 16 years. One of the most respected coaches in the country, Beamer is well on his way to the College Football Hall of Fame.

Players to watch

One back, a junior, rushed for 1,200 yards in 2008. Another, a sophomore, rushed for 1,655 yards in 2009. Oh, what a dilemma to have. On the one hand, you have a — hopefully — healthy Darren Evans, who missed all of last season following a knee injury. On the other, you have the all-American skills of Ryan Williams, who shattered all of Virginia Tech’s rookie rushing records last fall — did I mention he scored 22 touchdowns? Throw sophomore David Wilson into the mix, and you have quite possibly the best backfield in America.

Let’s tone down our expectations a bit, however. Evans wasn’t himself during the spring, feeling his way through practice while testing his surgically repaired knee. To be honest, we won’t know where the junior stands until we see him face live opposition in September. Even if he’s not ready to go, the Hokies can get it done merely with Williams and Wilson; they did so last fall, and then some. How good is Williams? He’d be on my Heisman list, but for the fact that he’ll likely lose a few carries off his 2009 total. In my opinion, there are few things more exciting in college football than seeing Williams burst into the open field. If Evans does return, Wilson might redshirt.

Let’s raise our expectations for Tyrod Taylor, the senior quarterback coming off his finest season under center. His biggest development in 2009 came as a passer, as Taylor threw for 13 touchdowns — 11 more than in 2008 — while throwing two fewer interceptions in 70 more attempts. In terms of his yards per attempt, Taylor went 5.9 yards per pass in 2008 to 9.5 a year ago; that should tell you much about Taylor’s growing confidence in the passing game. He’s retained his effectiveness as a runner, at least somewhat: he dashed for 370 yards and 5 scores last fall, compared to 738 yards as a sophomore. Believe me: Virginia Tech would rather have the Taylor of 2009, the solid passer, than the run-first quarterback of 2008. Look for continued improvement in 2010.

Three starters return up front, though the two losses do sting: tackle Ed Wang and guard Sergio Render paced the Virginia Tech ground game a year ago. These losses will be offset by a strong pairing on the right side of the line. Junior Blake DeChristoper returns for a third season in the starting lineup, hoping to earn all-conference accolades for the first time. Junior Jaymes Brooks is back at right guard, where he started all 13 games as a sophomore. The third returning starter is senior Beau Warren, who steps into a leadership role following Wang and Render’s departure. Who steps into those two open spots? Junior Greg Nosal is the clear pick at left guard, where he spent most of last season as a reserve. Keep an eye on redshirt David Wang — Ed’s brother. Sophomore Nick Becton’s strong spring landed him the starting job on the blind side.

The Virginia Tech receiver corps has grown before our very eyes, developing from freshmen thrust into the starting lineup into juniors coming off a strong 2009. The junior trio of Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts lead the way for the Hokies, though they’ll miss Xavier Boyce for the first month of the season. Boykin led Virginia Tech in the following categories last fall: catches (40), receiving yards (835), yards per catch (20.9) and touchdown grabs (five). So he’s an integral part of this attack, obviously. Coale chipped in with 30 receptions 614 yards, including that big catch late in the fourth quarter against Nebraska. Roberts added another 22 receptions for 390 yards — altogether, the threesome combined for 92 receptions for 1839 yards (19.9 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns. Senior Andre Smith steps in for Greg Boone at tight end.

Is there reason to worry about the defense? Seven lost starters might be cause for alarm elsewhere, but this is Virginia Tech. Bud Foster is running this show. The program and its coordinator have done enough to earn our respect. Few teams have such a track record of excellence on defense. You think Foster hasn’t reloaded on the fly before? His credibility — and the credibility of Virginia Tech’s defensive scheme — is off the charts, at least in this space.

The losses are most felt along the defensive line, which I’ll touch on below. Three more starters must be replaced in the secondary, however, including standout free safety Kam Chancellor. His former job will go to junior Eddie Whitley, with redshirt freshman Antone Exum probably a year away from making an impact. The coaching staff is high on Exum, but throwing a rookie into mix at the back end of the defense is a risky proposition. Whitley has seen the field in a reserve role, making 18 tackles (1 for loss) as a sophomore. The secondary will also welcome back senior Davon Morgan, who broke back into the starting lineup over the final four games of last season. He had a tough road back into the mix, starting the first five games of 2008 before a knee injury ended his season. Now fully recovered, he’s looking for a big senior season.

If Morgan does not recover, or injures himself again, the Hokies will have a problem at safety. In that case, Whitley would move over — and Exum would step into the lineup. Again, I don’t think the Hokies want to put the redshirt freshmen into that situation. The situation is clearer at cornerback, if only thanks to Rashad Carmichael. The senior was an honorable mention all-A.C.C. pick last fall, when his six interceptions led the team. If his growth continues, Carmichael is a first-team all-conference performer. Sophomore Jayron Hosley’s solid spring allowed him to take over the cornerback spot left vacant by Stephen Virgil’s graduation.

Before getting to whip linebacker, where Virginia Tech faces a rebuilding job, let’s focus on the middle. That’s where the Hokies return a pair of linebacker with starting experience: junior Barquell Rivers and sophomore Lyndell Gibson. Rivers is the team’s leading returning tackler (96, 6.5 for loss), as well as one of two returning defenders — Carmichael being the other — to have started all 13 games in 2009. Gibson started the final five, making 53 tackles (2.5 for loss) as a redshirt freshman. The Hokies also have depth in the middle. Sophomore Bruce Taylor played well during the spring when Rivers was sidelined with injury. He’ll see time in 2010, as might incoming freshman Chase Williams. He enrolled early, in time for spring practice, and impressed coaches with athleticism and instincts. Perhaps Williams is destined for a redshirt, though he seems ready to step into the rotation immediately.

Now, the whip linebacker spot. The Hokies must replace Cody Grimm and Cam Martin, with the former the inspirational leader of the defense. There’s relative uncertainty here: sophomore Jeron Gouveia-Winslow looks like the starter, but he’s far more a sure thing. Two other sophomores, Alonzo Tweedy and Lorenzo Williams, are also in the mix. The lack of experience at whip linebacker is enough of a concern that I wouldn’t be surprised if the Hokies moved players around to fill the void. Morgan is an option here, but again, that would force Exum into a starting role.

Position battles to watch

Defensive line It’s a slight concern, with three lost starters and experience at a premium. The lone returning starter is senior tackle John Graves, who enters his third year in the starting lineup. He didn’t have a great year last fall, but that was largely due to the injuries he battled throughout the fall; now fully healthy, he’s the key to Virginia Tech’s interior presence against the run. It’s a big year for Graves, not merely because of his experience but due to the fact that despite his physical gifts, Graves has yet to put together the season he’s capable of. The favorite to grab the second spot in the middle is junior Kwamaine Battle, though the Hokies could also turn to sophomores Antoine Hopkins and Dwight Tucker; of that pair, Hopkins is the more likely to push Battle for snaps. The key at end will be replacing Jason Worilds, another in a long line of all-conference Virginia Tech edge rushers. Luckily, fifth-year senior Steven Friday has stepped into the void. He was terrific during the spring, illustrating on a full-time basis the speed and tenacity that made him an effective pass rusher in limited duty a year ago. Junior Chris Drager will man the other side, with redshirt freshmen James Gayle and J.R. Collins two intriguing prospects set to join the rotation. Replacing players like Worilds, Nekos Brown and Cordarrow Thompson won’t be easy.

Game(s) to watch

That season opener against Boise State stands out. Few games in the first month will have a greater impact on the national championship picture. Do you remember when U.S.C. came to FedEx Field to take on the Hokies? Big-time home field advantage for Virginia Tech. The Coastal division championship will be decided in November, when Virginia Tech gets Georgia Tech at home before heading on the road to face the Hurricanes and Tar Heels. Maybe Virginia’s new coach will add some fire to the recently one-sided rivalry, though I doubt it.

Season breakdown & prediction

In a nutshell After being wrong in 2009, taking the Hokies over Georgia Tech, I feel secure in proclaiming Virginia Tech the best team in a very, very deep Coastal division. It stands to reason that the best team in the Coastal is the best team in the conference as a whole, right? My confidence stems from the simple idea that the Hokies enter 2010 with the offense as the undisputed strength; in my mind, there’s nothing to worry about on defense. Well, not nothing, of course, as Virginia Tech must replace several impressive, meaningful starters. In my mind, however, there’s no reason to expect anything less than a dedicated, fiery, productive performance from the defense — history proves my point. The Hokies have had to replace important pieces on defense countless times over the last decades; the lone constant has been stinginess. Expecting any less would be expecting a generation-long trend to end, which while gutsy would eventually be proved illogical. So don’t fret about the defense: faces changes, numbers change — the production remains the same. As for the offense: expect teams to feel the Hokies in the fourth quarter. Put an extra guy in the box to stop Williams? Taylor’s growing as a passer; he’ll hurt you, even if he can’t single-handedly carry this offense. He won’t asked to, merely asked to limit his turnovers — something he has done well — and keep defenses honest. The Hokies are ready to roll, beginning with their big-time tussle with Boise State on Sept. 6. Do I think Virginia Tech will finish undefeated? No, I don’t. I think they’ll lose one A.C.C. game against a Coastal opponent; I’m also leaning towards the Broncos in the season opener. This remains a top 10 team in my mind, a B.C.S. bowl participant and a dark horse, with this schedule, in the national title race.

Dream season A win over Boise State propels the Hokies through an undefeated regular season. A win in the A.C.C. title game gives Virginia Tech a chance to play for the national championship.

Nightmare season For the first time since 2003, Virginia Tech finishes with less than 10 wins in a season. If only your favorite team had such problems.

In case you were wondering

Where do Virginia Tech fans congregate? Message board chatter can be found at Tech SidelineHokie Haven and VTInsider.com. The local newspapers do a great job of covering Virginia Tech football, so check out the Web sites of The Virginian-PilotThe Roanoke Times and The Richmond Times-Dispatch. Your best options, however, are The Key Play and Gobbler Country.

Up Next

Who is No. 6? Our next program’s home stadium is named after the founder of two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper that, as of 2007, had the 45th-largest daily circulation in the country.

You can also follow Pre-Snap Read’s Paul Myerberg on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. pfz10 says:

    #6 is TCU (Amon G. Carter)

  2. Ezra says:

    AGC founded the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, or as it is affectionately known among the Frog faithful, the Startlegram.

  3. Colin says:

    Wait, this means we’re a week away from kickoff? Wow, the top 25 flew by!

  4. Noefli says:

    Good writeups by both Paul and James. Can’t wait for the VT/Boise game!

  5. Rookierookie says:

    VT could perceivably lose 5 games, if they lose to every decent team on the schedule…

  6. Joe says:

    Paul you did an excellent job on this preview. This is the first read I’ve seen that mentions the very real possibility of Wilson playing significant snaps over Evans. I don’t doubt DE’s ability once he takes the field, but Wilson has been the most consistent and impressive back through camp.

    In addition to the receivers you mentioned, the coaches are expecting big things out of Marcus Davis after a phenomenal spring and camp. He’s currently behind Coale and Roberts on the depth chart at flanker, but will see the field a lot in 2010. He’s a converted quarterback with a big frame so he’s always had the athleticism, but until this spring his hands were a liability.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    The tiger to the right is Mike, of LSU. He and Hokie Bird are friends, as James lives in New Orleans.

    James’ sister (and VT alum), Elizabeth

  8. Brandon says:

    Here is to hoping VT will beat BSU next Monday. Evidently Paul doesn’t think this will be the case since the “blue horsies” (to quote James)have not appeared on the countdown yet.

  9. Matt Rob says:

    Go Broncos!

  10. Scott says:

    I’m very excited for the opener! I think it’s a great matchup and I really have to give VT credit for scheduling this game. I love college football and to see new matchups is great! Here’s to hoping both teams have a great game and suffer no bad injuries.

  11. J.P. West says:

    Paul,
    OK, sorry to nitpick but after waiting for so long for my teams preview, I just feel the need to correct anything and everything I see fit. For starters, you seem to have your doubts that Darren Evans will actually be back to his old self. I can promise through everything I’ve read and heard that he’s back to stay which hopefully (( I pray to god )) means the team will redshirt Wilson. The kid is a freak of an athlete and is far too valuable to waste a year on with all this returning talent.

    Also, concerning the heisman status of Ryan Williams; the coaches have been fully clear that their goal is to get him at least 25 carries a game, which is no less that what he was asked to do last season. With the coaches not knowing of his true potential earlier last season and using him sparingly, he should blow a few people’s minds with the numbers he’ll put up.

    As for the rest of the offense, you seem to have the idea that we will be more dominant than ever this season; and THANK YOU for being the one person in America to give Tyrod Taylor some credit. I mean please, the kid has earned it and has only lost 5 games in his career while the coaches say he’s the best he’s ever looked BY FAR which is a good sign for things to come. Now for the defense. Let me make this clear, we have Bud Foster, we will be fine and once again I thank you for recognizing that! However, when we rebuild it usually takes until the second half of the season for us to start dominating as we usually do which is depressing looking at the first game of the season. Our secondary will be some of the best its ever been and the line-up being used is almost identical to the one used against Tennessee in the Chik-Fil-A bowl… I think you get where I’m coming from.

    Next I want to address your mentioning of Mr. Jeron Gouveia-Winslow. The only thing keeping me happy about our front seven is how much the coaches have raved of his being ready, and as only a sophomore with 2 great and more experienced defenders behind him, the fact that the coaches have deemed him ready to start at our most valued position just makes me smile.

    About the D-Line, ok this one you are right on and frankly I’m interested to see how they play and just hope they can turn it on in time for the Boise State game. At this point, the only thing that has given me hope so far is that we have Bud Foster, and if there’s anyone who can scheme and coach around a talented offensive line like the Broncos, it’s him.

    Lastly, you did at least mention the hokies as a possible national title contender and I can’t thank you enough for being slightly educated on such a thing. The hokies most certainly have a chance but it all hinges on our labor day meeting with the “Blue Horsies.” While I always like to think my team will win, Tech has never been one to open the season against a valiant opponent and come out victorious so I’ll believe it when I see it. Thanks a lot for pushing through all these write-ups about teams and you can always count on me to be a reader!!

    Paul: Wow, that is one hell of a comment. I put some paragraph breaks in only so people read some of the things you have to say about the Hokies. And you’re right, if I’m a Virginia Tech fan, I’m putting my faith in Foster and the coaching staff.

  12. [...] Five and Five: No. 7, Virginia tech By PAUL MYERBERG Paul Myerberg is getting you ready for the upcoming college football season over at Pre-Snap Read. The Quad will also feature a daily look at each of Paul’s top 50 teams in the country heading into the season opener. Today’s team, No. 7, is Virginia Tech. You can find a larger Virginia Tech preview here. [...]

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