Rant Sports College Football Rankings: No. 37 Virginia Tech Hokies
The story of the Virginia Tech Hokies in 2013 will go down as a great defense that couldn’t overcome a dreadful offense. Virginia Tech failed to score 20 points in seven games last season but the team still managed to go 4-3 in those games. Defensively, there were few teams as strong as the Hokies as they ranked No. 4 in the country in total defense. Unfortunately, there were few teams who were as bad on offense, as VT ranked No. 102 in total offense, and the Hokies limped to an 8-5 season, losing four of their final six games.
This season, it will be difficult for the defense to do any better than what they did last season, so the pressure is on the offense to make strides. If they can improve, even just slightly, then Virginia Tech could make a run at the ACC title in 2014. For Frank Beamer to get that done, however, he’s going to have to find some new stars to step up and lead the way on both sides of the ball.
The frustrating Logan Thomas has moved on, leaving an opening for a new starting quarterback in 2014. Mark Leal served as the backup last season but was less than impressive in spot duty, completing just 51.7 percent of his passes with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was overtaken during the spring by sophomore Brendan Motley, a former three-star recruit. Looking for an additional boost at the position, the coaching staff signed Texas Tech Red Raiders transfer Michael Brewer, who lost the starting job in Lubbock due to injury, to come in and compete for the starting job. While Leal and Motley know the offense, Brewer could provide a better arm under center.
Whoever wins the quarterback job will have a wealth of talent around them to work with. Trey Edmunds returns after leading the team in rushing as a freshman last season with 675 yards and 10 touchdowns. The rest of the running back depth chart is back as well behind him, including former four-star recruit J.C. Coleman who racked up 284 yards and a touchdown in 2013. Sophomore Chris Magnus also showed some explosiveness with the ball in his hands last season, averaging 5.3 yards per carry as he gained 142 yards on 27 touches with a touchdown.
At receiver, the team’s three top receivers from 2013 are all back for 2014 to help ease the transition for the new quarteraback. Willy Byrn leads the group after catching 51 passes last season for 660 yards and two touchdowns. Rounding out the group will be junior Demitri Knowles (45 catches, 641 yards, 3 touchdowns in 2013) and sophomore Joshua Stanford (40 catches, 640 yards, 1 touchdown) to give the Hokies a deep and experienced receiving corps this fall. Also look for sophomore tight end Kalvin Cline to see an expanded role after catching 26 passes for 321 yards and two touchdowns last season.
The strength of the Hokies’ defense in 2013 was a physical defensive front that made plays in the backfield. They will be challenged to match that production this season after losing three of their top six defensive linemen to graduation. The group does get defensive tackle Luther Maddy back in 2014 for his senior season after the big man was a force of nature in the middle, leading the d-line in negative plays in 2013 recording 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Defensive end Dadi Nicolas will be tasked with picking up some of the slack in the pass rush after both starting defensive ends from last season moved on, but he showed some excellent ability as a reserve, posting four sacks and seven tackles for loss.
At linebacker, the team loses two of its leaders with the graduation of both Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards who paired up to record 123.5 tackles with 22 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks in 2013. Ronny Vandyke returns after losing his 2013 season to injury and hopes to make an impact from his outside linebacker position opposite Josh Trimble who recorded 12.5 tackles with two tackles for loss and a sack in 2013. Finding leaders to step into the vacant inside linebacker spots, however, will have to be a priority for defensive coordinator Bud Foster this fall.
The secondary overcame injuries in 2013 thanks to some breakout seasons from young corners which means the VT secondary is stacked with returning talent for 2014. Cornerbacks Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson came up huge during their freshmen seasons last year with Fuller leading the team with six interceptions and 11 pass breakups and Facyson finishing right behind him with five interceptions and eight pass breakups. Even if the pass rush struggles early to find its footing, the VT pass defense will be elite thanks to the wealth of talent in the secondary.
The Hokies will have some early tests with non-conference games against the Ohio State Buckeyes (in Columbus) and at home against the dangerous East Carolina Pirates. After that, they enjoy a very manageable schedule in conference play as they avoid the Florida State Seminoles, Clemson Tigers, and Louisville Cardinals in cross-divisional matchups. A three-game stretch in October will go a long ways in determining if VT is an ACC contender in 2014 as they play at the North Carolina Tar Heels, at the Pitt Panthers, and home against the Miami Hurricanes.
There is a lot of potential on this team that could turn them into a darkhorse ACC title contender if they step up and deliver. If they don’t, or if their new quarterback struggles to move the offense, then Virginia Tech will be one of the best defensive seven-win teams in college football. With an average offense, look for Virginia Tech to be right around 10 wins in 2014.