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1. Virginia Tech is going to be pretty good in 2014
In 2008, Virginia Tech sank to 32nd in the F/+ rankings after ranking 11th and eighth the two previous years. The Hokies still went 10-4 and still won a weak ACC despite losses to Boston College, Florida State, and Miami (and, out of conference, East Carolina); but the product itself was regressing. The Hokies scored almost 100 fewer points in 2008 than in 2007 and, despite a relatively weak ACC, allowed more, too. It was easy to assert that head coach Frank Beamer's best days were behind him. He had made the Hokies matter, and his squad was still good enough for a shaky ACC, but Tech on a national level did not matter as much as it once did.
In 2009, Tech ranked fifth in the F/+ rankings. In 2010, 10th. Tech went 21-6 in those two years, not only continuing to live in the ACC's top tier but also putting together a legitimately strong, near-elite product.
Beamer knows bounce-backs. He's pulled them off time and time again. In his sixth year in Blacksburg, Beamer's Hokies fell to 2-8-1; in 1993, they went 9-3. After two 10-win seasons (1995-96), Tech fell to 7-5 in 1997, then won 30 games in three years. Eight wins in 2001 and 2003, 10 in 2002 and 2004. He had already been proclaimed past his prime two or three times when he ripped off a streak of eight consecutive 10- or 11-win seasons. Tech has not been a true national title contender for a while, but few teams pull that off. Living in the suburbs of Elite City, with occasional visits into town, isn't bad for a program that had managed just two top-20 finishes ever before Beamer's ninth season.
That said, Tech was just not very good in 2012. The symptoms were basically the same in 2012 as in 2008 -- an offense that lost the plot, a strangely poor special teams unit, and a defense that was still quite good but not elite -- but the edges were a little duller last fall, the talent a little more difficult to spot.
There is still some talent in Blacksburg, but there might be one more year of tumbling before we get a good glimpse of it. The offense lost its direction last year, and it is now run by a coach who was the coordinator of a directionless offense last year. The defense should hold steady in the nearly elite fringes but probably won't improve enough to drag the offense back toward the suburbs.
There's hope. The offensive line will be laden with seniors next year. The corps of running backs should stabilize. And while there are quite a few senior studs on defense, there is also a wealth of young, fun talent that should be able to hold its own. If Beamer has another bounce-back (a Beamer, if you will) in him, you'll see it unfold in 2014-15. Just don't expect much improvement this year.
2. Losing your edge
I'm pretty sure I mean everything I say above. (That's definitely a sentence you want to read in a preview about your team, isn't it?) But ... Tech has tumbled in rather linear fashion for three straight years now. That is disconcerting. Since 2009's surge to fifth, Tech has ranked 10th, 24th, and 43rd. The offense ranked seventh in 2010, 38th in 2011, and 75th in 2012. Even the defense hasn't crept above 21st since 2009. And special teams, first in 2010, was 68th in 2011 and 62nd in 2012.
Everything Frank Beamer's program has been known for has lost its edge in recent years. Again, he could get it back starting next year. But I'm only reasonably confident in saying that. Three years is a trend.
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 43|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|3-Sep||Georgia Tech||20-17||W||19.2 - 14.0||W|
|8-Sep||Austin Peay||42-7||W||24.5 - 20.1||W|
|15-Sep||at Pittsburgh||17-35||L||33.2 - 32.3||W|
|22-Sep||Bowling Green||37-0||W||40.7 - 13.1||W|
|29-Sep||vs. Cincinnati||24-27||L||32.8 - 23.8||W|
|6-Oct||at North Carolina||34-48||L||26.4 - 32.0||L|
|13-Oct||Duke||41-20||W||32.9 - 21.1||W|
|20-Oct||at Clemson||17-38||L||25.1 - 18.7||W|
|1-Nov||at Miami||12-30||L||20.8 - 21.1||L|
|8-Nov||Florida State||22-28||L||43.9 - 15.9||W|
|17-Nov||at Boston College||30-23||W||21.2 - 19.9||W|
|24-Nov||Virginia||17-14||W||17.2 - 11.4||W|
|28-Dec||vs. Rutgers||13-10||W||11.1 - 2.5||W|
|Points Per Game||25.1||85||22.8||32|
|Adj. Points Per Game||26.8||74||18.9||8|
3. This wasn't very fun
There were points here and there. UNC dragged Virginia Tech, kicking and screaming, into an offensive shootout (UNC was good at that), and the Tech offense looked fine against Duke and Florida State. But all in all, if you like points and yards, you didn't much enjoy VT games last fall. (And you really didn't enjoy the bowl game.)
On a play-for-play basis, Tech's defense was not only good last year, it got significantly better in the season's second half.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 6 games): VT 29.5, Opponent 22.6 (plus-6.9)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 7 games): VT 24.6, Opponent 15.8 (plus-8.8)
After UNC laid 533 yards and 48 points on the Hokies, VT battened down the hatches -- Duke averaged 4.6 yards per play, Clemson averaged 4.5, Florida State averaged 4.6, Boston College averaged 3.9, Virginia averaged 3.9, and Rutgers averaged a ghastly 2.5. Only Miami was able to move the ball reliably on Tech after October 6.
Of course, this would have meant something if Tech's own offense hadn't dried up. If you liked tight, competitive games, you might have really enjoyed Tech's stretch run. If you like offense, you hated it.
|Q1 Rk||117||1st Down Rk||90|
|Q2 Rk||84||2nd Down Rk||89|
|Q3 Rk||62||3rd Down Rk||37|
4. What's Loeffler's plan?
Scot Loeffler's only 38 years old. It feels like he's been a former-NFL-assistant-and-QB-guru type for a lot longer, but his career has basically lasted about a decade. He was Lloyd Carr's QB coach at Michigan from 2002-07, spent one year in the same spot with the Detroit Lions, spent two years at Florida, spent one year as Steve Addazio's offensive coordinator at Temple, and spent last year as part of Gene Chizik's last-ditch, gypsy staff at Auburn.
It's easy to blame the O.C. for an offense's failures, but I think a lot of people are giving (or should give) Loeffler a pass for last year's Auburn stink; Chizik seemed to have no idea what kind of offense he wanted, and Auburn didn't have a competent non-freshman at quarterback. He got somewhere with freshman Jonathan Wallace and an extremely run-heavy attack near the end of the season, but it didn't really matter.
But if we are going to pin some of Auburn's No. 111 Off. F/+ ranking on Loeffler, we also have to give him credit for the simple fact that Temple's offense surged from 78th to 45th under Loeffler in 2011, then dropped right back to 76th without him.
We don't really know what Loeffler's plan is in Blacksburg. At neither Temple nor Auburn did he have any semblance of a passing game, but that could have simply been because of the personnel on hand. He was forced to run a lot, so he did. But running a lot is probably the way to go at Tech, too. Tech was good at basically nothing in 2012. With a freshman running back looking for holes behind an underdeveloped, shaky offensive line, the running game disappeared, leaving quarterback Logan Thomas to throw a ton of passes under pressure on second- or third-and-long. A pair of outstanding receivers (Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller) bailed him out a few times, but not nearly enough. Thomas' stats plummeted after he was unfairly given some Heisman hype heading into the season, and despite some outstanding running ability (and an absurdly large frame), he had to battle for every single rushing yard. In all, his per-attempt passing average fell from 7.0 to 6.2, his interception rate went from 2.6 percent to 3.7, and Tech's offense fell from 38th in Off. F/+ to 73rd.
Loeffler probably has no choice but to lean on the run, for reasons stated above and below, but it will be interesting to see how he utilizes Thomas in the passing game. Does he get him out of the pocket as much as possible? Does he attempt to turn Thomas into something of a pro-style, pocket-based guy? I assume the former, but I don't really know.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Logan Thomas||6'6, 254||Sr.||**** (6.0)||220||429||2,976||51.3%||18||16||26||5.7%||6.2|
|Mark Leal||6'1, 217||Jr.||*** (5.6)||4||6||26||66.7%||0||0||0||0.0%||4.3|
|Brenden Motley||6'4, 216||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Bucky Hodges||6'6, 235||Fr.||**** (5.8)|
|Logan Thomas||QB||6'6, 254||Sr.||**** (6.0)||148||683||4.6||4.5||9||-2.6|
|J.C. Coleman||RB||5'7, 191||So.||**** (5.9)||109||494||4.5||6.0||2||-1.8|
|Tony Gregory||RB||6'0, 187||Sr.||*** (5.7)||64||299||4.7||4.7||1||-2.7|
|Demitri Knowles||FL||6'1, 180||So.||*** (5.5)||7||24||3.4||3.9||0||-0.7|
|Joel Caleb||RB||6'2, 205||RSFr.||**** (5.9)|
|Trey Edmunds||RB||6'1, 216||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|D.J. Coles (2011)||SE||6'4, 234||Sr.||**** (5.9)||50||36||480||72.0%||9.6||12.9%||48.0%||N/A||N/A|
|Demitri Knowles||FL||6'1, 180||So.||*** (5.5)||39||19||240||48.7%||6.2||9.6%||64.1%||6.1||26.0|
|J.C. Coleman||RB||5'7, 191||So.||**** (5.9)||30||21||132||70.0%||4.4||7.4%||56.7%||4.2||14.3|
|Ryan Malleck||TE||6'4, 249||Jr.||*** (5.5)||29||17||174||58.6%||6.0||7.1%||58.6%||5.9||18.8|
|Tony Gregory||RB||6'0, 187||Sr.||*** (5.7)||12||7||60||58.3%||5.0||2.9%||41.7%||3.8||6.5|
|Zack McCray||TE||6'4, 247||Jr.||**** (5.9)|
|Chris Mangus||FL||6'0, 184||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Charley Meyer||FL||6'1, 215||RSFr.||NR|
|Carlis Parker||SE||6'3, 185||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
5. Where did the receivers go?
Fourteen Virginia Tech players were targeted by at least two passes in 2012; four return. That's staggering. Seventy-three percent of Tech's targets are gone, and while only two receivers were even slightly successful last year (which means the losses aren't quite as heavy as it seems), somebody's still going to have to catch passes in 2013. Who's it going to be?
We know D.J. Coles will be involved. The senior erupted for seven catches and 116 yards in the ACC title game loss to Clemson in 2011 but battled knee issues all of last season and redshirted. He is both big and explosive, but conditioning is evidently still an issue, and he is far from certain to last 12-plus games this year.
We know Demitri Knowles will be involved. A speedy guy, Knowles was neither explosive nor efficient last year, but he was young. He's struggled with drops this fall, but he's got potential.
And I just basically listed all of the experienced wideouts. The good news is, aside from Coles this is a very young unit, one that should be expected to improve incrementally in the future. But for now, yikes.
|Andrew Miller||RG||6'4, 296||Sr.||*** (5.7)||21 career starts|
|Nick Becton||LT||13 career starts|
|Vinston Painter||RT||13 career starts|
|David Wang||C||6'2, 299||Jr.||*** (5.7)||10 career starts|
|Michael Via||RG||9 career starts|
|Brent Benedict||LG||6'5, 292||Jr.||**** (5.9)||6 career starts|
|Caleb Farris||LG||6'3, 308||Jr.||*** (5.7)||5 career starts|
|Matt Arkema||C||6'3, 296||Jr.||*** (5.7)||2 career starts|
|Laurence Gibson||LT||6'6, 290||Jr.||**** (6.0)|
|Mark Shuman||RT||6'7, 295||Jr.||**** (5.8)|
|Marcus Mapp||RG||6'4, 295||So.||NR|
|Augie Conte||RT||6'6, 302||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Jonathan McLaughlin||LT||6'5, 313||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Parker Osterloh||LT||6'8, 318||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Kyle Chung||LG||6'3, 258||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
6. Stumbling in the trenches
In 2011, Virginia Tech's line ranked an awful 102nd in Adj. Line Yards, but the Hokies still managed to rank 51st in Rushing S&P+ because of explosive tailback David Wilson. With Wilson gone, a grab bag of freshman J.C. Coleman, redshirt freshman Michael Holmes, Tony Gregory and Martin Scales took over, and while Coleman showed some explosiveness, none of these backs were all that reliable or capable of creating something out of nothing. Meanwhile, the line had to replace four starters and dropped to 106th in Adj. Line Yards.
With the passing game starting over, at least the running game will have more experience on its side. The line is still reasonably young (five players with starting experience have combined for just 44 career starts, almost half of which come from center-turned-guard Andrew Miller), but it has nowhere to go but up. And I do think that Coleman is going to be pretty good. The dismissal of Holmes obviously dings the depth, but Coleman and big redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds could form a nice thunder-and-lightning combination. With the Big Thunder himself, Logan Thomas, also returning, Tech could have a diverse, fun running game if the line gets its act together. But that's a significant "if."
In 2014, the line will be dominated by seniors, and Coleman, Edmunds, and basically everybody but Thomas will return. But in 2013, development could still be an issue.
|Q1 Rk||9||1st Down Rk||17|
|Q2 Rk||15||2nd Down Rk||3|
|Q3 Rk||10||3rd Down Rk||5|
7. This is still a damn good D
We can talk about how Bud Foster, Beamer's long-serving defensive architect and 4-4 innovator, has lost his edge, or how his squad isn't quite as adept at handling the modern spread offense as it was at defending previous, more archaic attacks. There are facts on our side if we want to do that. But without major turnovers luck or a boatload of blue-chip talent, nobody is defending the spread all that well right now. And in 2012, barring a couple of nightmare games (most vivid: UNC), Tech's defense was once again strong. And despite fielding a unit of mostly underclassmen, it got much, much stronger over the last half of the season. Picking nits is fine, but Foster is still a strong defensive coordinator, and this is still a strong defense.
The line in particular should be fun to watch this fall; all seven linemen who logged more than 10.0 tackles last year are back, and potential studs like true freshman Wyatt Teller or redshirt freshman Ken Ekanem could enter the mix. (Then again, Teller might require a bit of development in terms of technique.)
Barring developmental issues on the line, the defense should remain perfectly strong beyond 2013 as well. The front four is indeed laden with seniors, but from top to bottom the D is stocked with highly touted, athletic freshmen and redshirt freshmen.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|James Gayle||DE||6'4, 255||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||35.0||4.9%||11||5||0||1||0||0|
|Derrick Hopkins||DT||6'0, 311||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||33.5||4.7%||10||3.5||0||1||1||0|
|Luther Maddy||DT||6'1, 296||Jr.||** (5.4)||13||25.0||3.5%||6.5||4||0||0||0||1|
|Tyrel Wilson||DE||6'2, 230||Sr.||*** (5.6)||13||23.5||3.3%||7||4.5||0||0||1||1|
|J.R. Collins||DE||6'2, 248||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||20.0||2.8%||6||1.5||0||0||0||0|
|Corey Marshall||DT||6'1, 257||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||18.0||2.5%||3||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Dadi Nicolas||DE||6'3, 224||So.||NR||10||14.0||2.0%||3.5||2||0||1||1||1|
|Matt Roth||DE||6'3, 239||So.||*** (5.7)||13||5.0||0.7%||1||1||0||0||1||0|
|Kris Harley||DT||6'0, 283||So.||**** (5.8)||10||4.5||0.6%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Ken Ekanem||DE||6'3, 242||RSFr.||**** (5.8)|
|Nigel Williams||DT||6'2, 283||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Alston Smith||DT||6'2, 281||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Wyatt Teller||DE||6'5, 271||Fr.||**** (6.0)|
|Woody Baron||DT||6'1, 264||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Seth Dooley||DE||6'5, 245||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Jack Tyler||ILB||6'1, 230||Sr.||NR||13||87.0||12.1%||13||2.5||0||3||0||0|
|Ronny Vandyke||OLB||6'3, 218||So.||**** (5.8)||13||19.0||2.6%||2||0||0||0||1||0|
|Josh Trimble||OLB||6'0, 216||So.||NR||11||12.0||1.7%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Chase Williams||ILB||6'2, 220||Jr.||*** (5.7)||13||4.5||0.6%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Tariq Edwards||ILB||6'2, 234||Sr.||*** (5.6)||7||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Derek DiNardo||OLB||6'0, 216||Jr.||NR||13||1.0||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Deon Clarke||ILB||6'2, 210||RSFr.||**** (5.8)||3||0.5||0.1%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Devin Vandyke||ILB||6'0, 218||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dahman McKinnon||ILB||6'1, 207||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Andrew Motuapuaka||LB||5'11, 224||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kyshoen Jarrett||ROV||5'11, 198||Jr.||**** (5.8)||13||70.5||9.8%||4.5||0||0||4||1||0|
|Detrick Bonner||FS||6'0, 194||Jr.||*** (5.5)||13||50.5||7.0%||3||1||1||10||0||1|
|Kyle Fuller||CB||6'0, 194||Sr.||*** (5.5)||13||48.0||6.7%||3||0||2||5||1||0|
|Antone Exum||CB||6'1, 220||Sr.||*** (5.7)||13||41.5||5.8%||1.5||0||5||16||2||1|
|Desmond Frye||ROV||6'2, 188||So.||*** (5.5)||13||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Donovan Riley||CB||5'11, 204||So.||*** (5.5)||12||3.0||0.4%||0||0||1||0||0||0|
|Der'Woun Greene||FS||5'10, 180||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Kendall Fuller||CB||5'11, 193||Fr.||***** (6.1)|
|Brandon Facyson||CB||6'2, 188||Fr.||*** (5.7)|
|Anthony Shegog||ROV||6'1, 216||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
|Chuck Clark||FS||6'0, 197||Fr.||*** (5.5)|
8. Can the secondary hold on?
The linebacking corps is starting over a bit after the departures of Bruce Taylor and Alonzo Tweedy. Meanwhile, star corner Antone Exum is out for at least a couple more months after tearing his ACL in January. Depth is perilous, but if the Hokies avoid any major injuries, the back seven could still be pretty interesting. Sophomore Ronny Vandyke (who recently suffered a shoulder injury) looks like a quality Tweedy replacement, Kyshoen Jarrett is an emerging stud at Foster's Rover position, and the Fuller brothers -- senior Kyle and blue-chip freshman Kendall -- have looked good this fall.
The key, though, really is depth. There's just not much of it left. And while most of the reactions to Exum's injury and everything else have been in regard to the Alabama game (Tech doesn't have anybody capable of handling Amari Cooper!) … Tech's not going to beat Alabama anyway. And nobody can handle Amari Cooper anyway. Tech's schedule starts in earnest on September 14, and if the back seven of the 4-4 is as healthy as possible (and getting healthier when Exum returns), it can overcome a decent amount of youth.
|A.J. Hughes||6'1, 199||So.||79||40.6||3||18||22||50.6%|
|Michael Branthover||5'9, 184||Jr.||20||59.7||8||40.0%|
|Cody Journell||6'0, 183||Sr.||34-36||14-15||93.3%||6-10||60.0%|
|Demitri Knowles||KR||6'1, 180||So.||21||28.3||1|
|J.C. Coleman||KR||5'7, 191||So.||19||21.6||0|
|Kyshoen Jarrett||PR||5'11, 198||Jr.||18||13.9||1|
|Special Teams F/+||62|
|Field Goal Pct||27|
|Kick Returns Avg||20|
|Punt Returns Avg||38|
9. Beamer vs. BeamerBall
For the second straight year, the special teams unit, once an incredible strength for Virginia Tech, was distinctly average. Returns were good and should be again with Demitri Knowles and Kyshoen Jarrett returning kicks and punts, respectively; meanwhile, Cody Journell was perfectly fine on kicks under 40 yards. But punting and kickoffs were mediocre (or worse), and Tech blocked just a single kick last year. It hasn't been that long since Tech had the best special teams unit in the country, but the Hokies have been distinctly average in this regard of late.
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|14-Sep||at East Carolina||74|
|26-Sep||at Georgia Tech||32|
|2-Nov||at Boston College||69|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||16|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||21|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-5 / -7.6|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||13 (4, 9)|
10. A 2012 facsimile
I do think the running game is going to improve, and I love the front four on defense. I think the young secondary should at least mostly hold up (with some glitches), and I don't see why the defense should rank outside the top 25 when all is said and done. But I also don't even slightly trust the passing game, and I don't see the defense ranking ABOVE about 15th or 20th.
In other words, I once again see a mediocre-at-best offense and a good (but not good enough to offset the offense) defense taking the field, and I once again see Virginia Tech struggling to rank in the top 40 overall.
Beamer has recruited pretty well over these past couple of years, and the odds are decent that some of the young studs on defense and at running back become experienced studs in 2014 and beyond. Another bounce-back for the King of the Bounce-Back is possible, but it's probably not going to happen this year.
The good news is that the schedule will disguise a lot of the issues. Once the Hokies have taken their whipping on August 31, they will likely be favorites in eight to nine remaining games, even if they are barely a top-40 team. This is not a team equipped to win double-digit games, I believe, but it won't be the end of the world if the Hokies tread water this year while getting some exciting youngsters a lot of playing time. Hope is not lost that Tech can once again find residence among the nation's semi-elite. But the Hokies won't find it this year.