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1. "Virginia Tech is going to be pretty good in 2014"
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.
I was right and wrong in that summary. Technically Virginia Tech improved, but really the Hokies just became more pronounced. A bad offense got worse, and a good defense became great despite a swath of what could have been devastating injuries. The Hokies got romped by very good teams, played well against decent teams, and completely underwhelmed against mediocre teams.
It made for one of the stranger 8-5 seasons on record. With a 3-3 record in one-possession games, they were just a handful of plays from either five wins or 11. The defense deserved to play in a BCS bowl, while the offense didn't deserve the postseason at all.
In the end, the Hokies did improve when I said they wouldn't. What happens next? I'm 12 months on the record saying they could break through in 2014, so why don't I feel it now? Perhaps it's because the Tech defense almost literally can't get any better, meaning the offense might have to improve just so the team breaks even? Perhaps it's because head coach Frank Beamer set the bar so high -- eight straight seasons with 10+ wins and 11 in 13 years -- that 15 wins in two years feels like an unsalvageable program collapse?
Regardless, here's what we know: the offense gets a fresh start (for better or worse), the defense will again be very good, and if Tech can just improve back to a top-20 or top-25 level, there could be a lot of wins waiting on the schedule.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 12-1 | Final F/+ Rk: 27|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|31-Aug||vs. Alabama||2||10-35||L||15.8 - 6.3||W|
|7-Sep||Western Carolina||N/A||45-3||W||28.8 - 17.5||W|
|14-Sep||at East Carolina||40||15-10||W||18.6 - 13.3||W|
|21-Sep||Marshall||52||29-21||W||26.9 - 10.7||W|
|26-Sep||at Georgia Tech||34||17-10||W||24.7 - 12.4||W||10.9|
|5-Oct||North Carolina||38||27-17||W||27.6 - 19.2||W||10.7|
|12-Oct||Pittsburgh||54||19-9||W||19.0 - 12.9||W||9.6|
|26-Oct||Duke||41||10-13||L||21.5 - 12.0||W||10.5|
|2-Nov||at Boston College||65||27-34||L||24.5 - 23.1||W||7.5|
|9-Nov||at Miami||36||42-24||W||40.9 - 23.3||W||8.6|
|16-Nov||Maryland||63||24-27||L||22.4 - 21.4||W||7.1|
|30-Nov||at Virginia||79||16-6||W||23.2 - 21.8||W||6.2|
|31-Dec||vs. UCLA||15||12-42||L||18.9 - 28.2||L||2.4|
|Points Per Game||22.5||100||19.3||11|
|Adj. Points Per Game||24.1||98||17.1||3|
2. Cracks finally began to show
It was like Virginia Tech was playing a different sport than everybody else.
Whether the Hokies were on offense or defense, the forward pass was still a hit-or-miss proposition, one that punished the greedy and convinced offensive coordinators that hurling a running back into the backs of offensive linemen was the sanest option. Passes were seemingly batted away as frequently as they were caught. Place-kicking was anything but automatic. It was as if Virginia Tech played all of its games in the year 1968.
After about two months of this, the Tech defense began to give a bit.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 8 games): VT 22.9, Opponent 13.0 (plus-9.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 5 games): VT 26.0, Opponent 23.6 (plus-2.4)
The Hokies were still well above average on that side of the ball, but after allowing greater than 4.1 yards per play just once in the first eight games, they did so in each of the final five. After allowing 3.3 yards per play to Alabama, they allowed 4.3 to Virginia. The loss of corner Kyle Fuller to injury, combined with the simple grind of carrying an entire team for a year, added up.
3. Blowout losses to good teams? Check. Upset losses to iffy teams? Check.
In this week's Miami preview, we talked about the art of making a false impression. Miami's offense was pretty awful in the three Miami games most fans were likely to have seen in 2013 (Florida, Florida State, Louisville) but ended up 12th in Off. F/+ because it was pretty fantastic the rest of the way (and because the three defenses that dominated it were all very good).
Virginia Tech pulled off its own variation of this, getting blown out by a combined 77-22 against the two truly good teams on the schedule (Alabama, UCLA) and suffering two immaculately frustrating, tight home upset losses to Maryland and Duke. (They also got Andre Williams'd against BC, but that's more forgivable because Williams was amazing.)
Those five results are pretty awful. But in the other nine games, mostly against decent to pretty good teams (none great, only one terrible), the Hokies went undefeated.
- Actual Points Per Game (vs. top 30): Opponent 38.5, VT 11.0 (minus-27.5) (record: 0-2)
- Actual Points Per Game (vs. No. 31-60): VT 22.7, Opponent 14.9 (plus-7.8) (record: 6-1)
- Actual Points Per Game (vs. No. 61-90): VT 22.3, Opponent 22.3 (plus-0.0) (record: 1-2)
They beat a strong ECU team on the road. The beat Georgia Tech on the road when the Jackets were at their best. They handled decent UNC and Pitt teams by 10 points each. They erupted offensively and pulled away from Miami.
Again, because Tech produced such consistently solid results for so long, any upset loss still kind of feels calamitous, and it leaves us with an impression of a team in free fall. But because of that defense, this was still a top-30 team. And if you leave individual results aside and look at the team as a whole, it doesn't take too many ifs to make this team really good again.
But it takes a few.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.0%||106||Succ. Rt. +||91.1||89|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||28.1||29||Def. FP+||102.4||30|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.8||101||Redzone S&P+||83.8||110|
|Q1 Rk||53||1st Down Rk||88|
|Q2 Rk||85||2nd Down Rk||89|
|Q3 Rk||67||3rd Down Rk||69|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Mark Leal||6'1, 218||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||15||29||155||0||2||51.7%||3||9.4%||4.1|
|Brendan Motley||6'4, 219||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|6'0, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||7||10||65||1||0||70.0%||2||16.7%||3.9|
|Chris Durkin||6'3, 230||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Andrew Ford||6'3, 195||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
4. Ode to Logan
Logan Thomas' Sun Bowl performance was a nearly perfect microcosm of Thomas' career as a whole. Thomas showed off spectacular size and physical potential in nearly pulling a Tommie Frazier against the UCLA defense.
He also completed just three of 11 passes for 46 yards, and when he was injured and lost for the game in the second quarter, his supporting cast proved that it didn't exactly have much to offer, either in his assistance or in his absence. UCLA and Virginia Tech were tied at 7-7 when he got hurt, and UCLA outscored the Hokies, 35-5, the rest of the way.
For a couple of different reasons, Thomas never got a fair shot. His athletic gifts, combined with Virginia Tech's history of producing a few outstanding dual-threat quarterbacks, put him on "future Heisman contender" lists before the converted tight end had even taken a college snap. On potential alone, he was put pretty high on draft lists. The bar for him was set at a level that few could exceed, and he was in no position to even come close to exceeding it.
First of all, he was only a decent quarterback. His decision-making had some flaws, to put it politely. But beyond that, he simply had no help. In 2013, his top three running backs combined to average 4.0 yards per carry. In 2012, the top three averaged 4.5. The line, stocked with quite a few high-ranking recruits, gave him almost no support. He tended to have some pretty good receivers (Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller in 2012 and a decent trio of Willie Byrn, Demitri Knowles, and Josh Stanford in 2013), but his own limitations and a steady stream of passing downs assured that he would only have so much passing success.
Now Thomas is gone. In his place will be either senior Mark Leal (last year's backup who struggled in the Sun Bowl, again to put it politely), sophomore Brendan Motley (the end-of-spring first-stringer who was below Leal on the depth chart last year), a true freshman, or graduate transfer Michael Brewer, Texas Tech's assumed 2013 starter who got hurt and fell behind a freshman on the depth chart.
Which might work best in this offense? Hard to say.
On one hand, the best pure passer of the bunch might be the best option, because a good passer can do serious damage with the trio of Byrn, Knowles, and Stanford (combined: 1,941 receiving yards, 14.3 per catch, 60 percent catch rate) at his disposal.
On the other hand, a mobile quarterback is almost a must -- even with Thomas' short-yardage power, Tech still ranked an abysmal 105th in Rushing S&P+. Until Trey Edmunds began to emerge late in the year (41 carries for 228 yards and five touchdowns in his last three games before injury), Thomas was the Tech running game. Without a good runner at QB, does the run get even worse? Is that even possible?
|Trey Edmunds||RB||6'1, 217||So.||4 stars (5.8)||166||675||10||4.1||5.5||28.3%|
|J.C. Coleman||RB||5'7, 191||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||84||284||1||3.4||1.8||32.1%|
|Chris Mangus||RB||6'0, 182||So.||3 stars (5.7)||27||142||1||5.3||11.2||25.9%|
|Joel Caleb||RB||6'2, 205||So.||4 stars (5.9)||8||41||1||5.1||1.7||62.5%|
|Jerome Wright||RB||6'2, 224||So.||3 stars (5.5)||7||27||0||3.9||2.5||42.9%|
|Carlis Parker||WR||6'3, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)||6||40||0||6.7||1.7||83.3%|
|Sam Rogers||FB||5'10, 215||So.||NR||5||9||0||1.8||N/A||0.0%|
|Demitri Knowles||WR||6'1, 178||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||4||23||0||5.8||2.8||50.0%|
|Mark Leal||QB||6'1, 218||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||4||9||0||2.3||3.9||25.0%|
|Shai McKenzie||RB||5'10, 212||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Marshawn Williams||RB||5'11, 224||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Willie Byrn||FL||5'10, 183||Sr.||2 stars (5.1)||82||51||660||62.2%||20.4%||46.8%||8.0||31||8.0||82.2|
|Demitri Knowles||FL||6'1, 178||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||78||45||641||57.7%||19.4%||40.3%||8.2||64||8.9||79.8|
|Joshua Stanford||SE||6'1, 196||So.||3 stars (5.5)||68||40||640||58.8%||16.9%||49.2%||9.4||133||9.5||79.7|
|Kalvin Cline||TE||6'4, 243||So.||NR||39||26||321||66.7%||9.7%||66.7%||8.2||12||8.3||40.0|
|Ryan Malleck (2012)||TE||6'4, 241||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||29||17||174||58.6%||7.1%||58.6%||6.0||N/A||5.9||18.8|
|Trey Edmunds||RB||6'1, 217||So.||4 stars (5.8)||25||17||155||68.0%||6.2%||43.5%||6.2||-45||6.1||19.3|
|Sam Rogers||FB||5'10, 215||So.||NR||20||12||78||60.0%||5.0%||68.4%||3.9||-73||3.2||9.7|
|J.C. Coleman||RB||5'7, 191||Jr.||4 stars (5.9)||18||11||79||61.1%||4.5%||37.5%||4.4||-58||4.5||9.8|
|Chris Mangus||RB||6'0, 182||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||9||72||75.0%||3.0%||50.0%||6.0||-29||6.0||9.0|
|Carlis Parker||SE||6'3, 195||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Darius Redman||TE||6'4, 272||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Bucky Hodges||TE||6'6, 243||RSFr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Deon Newsome||WR||5'11, 186||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|David Prince||WR||6'1, 185||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Cam Phillips||WR||6'1, 185||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Xavier Burke||TE||6'3, 245||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Isaiah Ford||WR||6'2, 180||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
5. Forget everything you know
If we forget for a moment the sight of Tech's eternal offensive stagnation and look at individual pieces, it's not impossible to think this could turn into a completely different O with a new player in charge, even if that new player isn't much better than Thomas. You could potentially craft a decent identity around...
- the aforementioned trio of strong wideouts (only one of whom is a senior).
- a pair of tight ends -- Kalvin Cline and Ryan Malleck -- that has shown decent potential in the last two years.
- a healthy Trey Edmunds, who was explosive but woefully inefficient (a common problem with freshmen) in 2013.
- a constellation of potentially decent backup runners: J.C. Coleman (pretty good in 2012, pretty bad in 2013), Chris Mangus (major explosiveness potential), Joel Caleb (major short-yardage potential), Jerome Wright (big), and either of two true freshmen -- Shai McKenzie and Marshawn Williams. There are a lot of recruiting stars there, and there has been just enough production to suggest that they could do significant damage with a stronger offensive line.
- a stronger offensive line that returns four starters and six players with starting experience (73 career starts). Thomas was big and strong but didn't always make the best decisions in the option game, and if the new quarterback makes better choices and the line makes better blocks, voila.
The burden of proof on the offense is infinite. You could have painted just as rosy a picture last year. But offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, who has his own burden of proof after leading offenses that ranked 111th in 2012 (Auburn) and 85th in 2013 (VT), does have pieces to work with here, and he's going to be more familiar with his personnel in his second year on the job.
|David Wang||C||6'2, 298||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||23|
|Caleb Farris||C||6'3, 303||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||18|
|Jonathan McLaughlin||LT||6'5, 314||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13|
|Brent Benedict||LG||6'5, 302||Sr.||4 stars (5.9)||13|
|Laurence Gibson||RT||6'6, 274||Sr.||4 stars (6.0)||6|
|Mark Shuman||RT||6'7, 312||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||0|
|Alston Smith||LG||6'2, 281||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Augie Conte||RG||6'6, 293||So.||3 stars (5.7)||0|
|Wyatt Teller||LG||6'5, 296||RSFr.||4 stars (6.0)|
|Parker Osterloh||LT||6'8, 321||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Kyle Chung||C||6'3, 281||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Braxton Pfaff||RG||6'5, 307||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||32.1%||2||Succ. Rt. +||137.3||2|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||30.7||57||Off. FP+||104.5||17|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.9||36||Redzone S&P+||114.3||21|
|Q1 Rk||7||1st Down Rk||1|
|Q2 Rk||3||2nd Down Rk||14|
|Q3 Rk||4||3rd Down Rk||1|
6. Bud Foster's finest coaching job
There was no question that Virginia Tech was going to have a pretty good defense in 2013. It returned most of a salty defensive line, it had Jack Tyler back at linebacker, and it had upside galore in the secondary.
But to lose star corners Antone Exum (who missed 10 games) and Kyle Fuller (who missed four) to injury and basically end the season with four freshman corners on the two-deep and to still improve from 22nd to third in Def. F/+, was just spectacular. Bud Foster is one of the all-time greats as a defensive coordinator, and he pulled off perhaps the best performance of his coaching career in 2013.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Luther Maddy||DT||6'1, 291||Sr.||2 stars (5.4)||13||41.5||6.7%||13.5||6.5||0||2||0||0|
|Dadi Nicolas||DE||6'3, 218||Jr.||NR||13||27.0||4.4%||7.0||4.0||1||3||0||0|
|Corey Marshall (2012)||DT||6'1, 257||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||18.0||2.5%||3.0||1.5||0||1||0||0|
|Nigel Williams||DT||6'2, 289||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||10.5||1.7%||7.0||2.0||0||0||0||0|
|Woody Baron||DT||6'1, 264||So.||3 stars (5.6)||13||6.0||1.0%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Ken Ekanem||DE||6'3, 245||So.||4 stars (5.8)||11||2.0||0.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Dewayne Alford||DE||6'2, 243||So.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Seth Dooley||DE||6'5, 245||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Wade Hansen||DT||6'6, 291||Jr.||NR|
|Ricky Walker||DT||6'2, 265||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Vinny Mihota||DT||6'5, 249||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ronny Vandyke (2012)||OLB||6'3, 204||Jr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||19.0||2.6%||2.0||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Josh Trimble||OLB||6'0, 222||Jr.||NR||13||12.5||2.0%||2.0||1.0||0||1||0||0|
|Dahman McKinnon||LB||6'1, 208||So.||3 stars (5.6)||12||8.5||1.4%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Chase Williams||LB||6'2, 215||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)||11||7.5||1.2%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Deon Clarke||LB||6'2, 221||So.||4 stars (5.8)||9||7.5||1.2%||0.5||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Derek DiNardo||OLB||6'0, 207||Sr.||NR||13||6.0||1.0%||0.5||0.0||0||0||1||0|
|Devin Vandyke||LB||6'0, 218||So.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Andrew Motuapuaka||LB||5'11, 241||RSFr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Jamieon Moss||LB||6'1, 212||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Raymon Minor||LB||6'3, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Melvin Keihn||LB||6'2, 215||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
7. New faces up front
This year, Foster faces a different issue. Everybody not named Exum or Kyle Fuller returns for the Tech secondary, and Tech's pass defense should be elite once again. But there's pretty serious turnover in the front seven. Starting tackle Derrick Hopkins, three of the top four ends (including J.R. Collins and James Gayle, who combined for 21.5 tackles for loss), and both inside linebackers (Tyler and Tariq Edwards) are gone.
There's potential here, of course -- this is Virginia Tech, after all. Dynamic tackle Luther Maddy is back, as is undersized, fast-as-hell end Dadi Nicholas. But a trio of sophomores who struggled to crack the rotation last year (end Ken Ekanem and tackles Nigel Williams and Woody Baron) will need to come up big. Williams is a potentially fantastic playmaker (7.0 of his 10.5 tackles were behind the line last year), and both Baron and Ekanem have had buzz associated with their names at times. But if they're not ready to thrive, this unit will suffer.
The same goes for the linebackers. Ronny Vandyke looked like a missile at outside linebacker but went off-course because of injuries. There are quite a few sophomores and freshmen with potential, but the two proven entities are gone.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Kyshoen Jarrett||ROV||5'11, 191||Sr.||4 stars (5.8)||13||56.0||9.1%||1||0||2||2||0||0|
|Kendall Fuller||CB||5'11, 195||So.||5 stars (6.1)||13||48.0||7.8%||2.5||0.5||6||11||1||1|
|Detrick Bonner||FS||6'0, 194||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||40.5||6.6%||2||0||2||6||0||0|
|Brandon Facyson||CB||6'2, 191||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||23.5||3.8%||2||0||5||8||1||0|
|Chuck Clark||CB||6'0, 208||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||15.0||2.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Der'Woun Greene||CB||5'10, 189||So.||3 stars (5.7)||13||6.5||1.1%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Desmond Frye||ROV||6'2, 202||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||5.5||0.9%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Donovan Riley||CB||5'11, 207||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||13||2.0||0.3%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Zach Snell||ROV||5'10, 205||So.||NR|
|Anthony Shegog||ROV||6'1, 211||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Erikk Banks||CB||5'9, 171||RSFr.||NR|
|Holland Fisher||DB||6'2, 210||Fr.||4 stars (5.9)|
|C.J. Reavis||DB||6'0, 190||Fr.||4 stars (5.8)|
|Zakeel Muhammad||FS||5'10, 170||Fr.||NR|
8. The secondary: a work of art
There's no question that the secondary suffered a bit when the older Fuller went down. There was clear regression at that point. But with an offseason to account for his and Exum's losses, there's just no doubt in my mind that this will be one of the two or three best secondaries in the country in 2014. Kendall Fuller, Kyle's brother, was one of the most highly touted recruits to ever sign with Tech, and he proved himself from Day 1. He finished the year with some of the best havoc stats (2.5 tackles for loss, 17 passes defensed, one forced fumble) of any corner in the country, freshman or older. Brandon Facyson (two TFLs, 13 PDs, one FF) was almost as good.
Safety Detrick Bonner is a lovely ball hawk, and Kyshoen Jarrett is a nearly perfect Rover for Foster's flexible 4-4. Another pair of four-star freshmen will try to enter the rotation this fall, but thanks to last year's injuries, the second stringers are pretty experienced, too.
An injury to Fuller or Facyson would be a pretty big setback, of course, but after last year's injuries, we won't talk about more cornerback injuries.
|A.J. Hughes||6'1, 212||Jr.||78||44.1||8||16||24||51.3%|
|Mitchell Ludwig||5'11, 195||So.||39||61.5||13||0||33.3%|
|Michael Branthover||5'9, 202||Sr.||17||62.1||3||0||17.6%|
|Erik Kristensen||5'11, 162||So.||4-4||4-5||80.0%||0-0||N/A|
|Michael Branthover||5'9, 202||Sr.||1-2||1-1||100.0%||0-1||0.0%|
|Demitri Knowles||KR||6'1, 178||Jr.||22||21.8||0|
|Chris Mangus||KR||6'0, 182||So.||5||16.8||0|
|Kyshoen Jarrett||PR||5'11, 191||Sr.||26||5.3||0|
|Willie Byrn||PR||5'10, 183||Sr.||10||3.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||75|
|Field Goal Efficiency||104|
|Punt Return Efficiency||68|
|Kick Return Efficiency||78|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||118|
The template I use for filling in all of the player data above only allots two slots for place-kickers. That works just fine for 99 percent of FBS, but I had to carve out a couple of extra spaces for Tech in the wake of 2013's disastrous place-kicking situation.
Cody Journell, suspended multiple times for off-the-field incidents, was finally kicked off the team in November. His replaceemnts were shaky. Tech used four kickers in all, though it does appear that sophomore Erik Kristensen might end up being a keeper. Might.
When you develop a reputation for elite defense and special teams, people will rather predictably hammer away when one of those units struggles. While the defense was perhaps Tech's best ever (statistically), Tech special teams have oscillated between elite (first in Special Teams F/+ in 2007 and 2010, eighth in 2009) and distinctly mediocre (80th in 2008, 68th in 2011, 62nd in 2012, 75th in 2013). Stability at kicker will help, but it wasn't the only issue. The return game was more lifeless than we're used to seeing, and while everybody in the return unit is back, somebody needs to improve. (There aren't many worries in punting or kickoffs, though.)
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|30-Aug||William & Mary||NR|
|6-Sep||at Ohio State||4|
|4-Oct||at North Carolina||35|
|22-Nov||at Wake Forest||83|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||19.1% (18)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||20|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||7 / 6.0|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||15 (9, 6)|
10. A top-25 team might go 10-2
With a slightly above-average (and no better) offense in 2013, Virginia Tech would have been a top-20 team even despite the special teams issues. If change at quarterback, experience on the line, and upside at the skill positions can converge to form a decent offense, Tech could plow through a good portion of the 2014 schedule.
I was biting my lip while I typed that last sentence. For anybody who actually watched Tech's offense last year, it's hard to imagine any serious level of competence, but if the line gels, or Brewer or some other new starter is able to lead the offense forward, then it certainly bears mentioning that Tech misses Florida State, Clemson, and Louisville in inter-division play and gets Miami and Georgia Tech at home. The schedule features only one team projected better than 30th and only three road opponents projected better than 56th.
If, somehow, the offense is able to play a positive role in making Tech a top-20 team, the Hokies will once again win 10+ games.
A top-35 or so team, however, is honing pretty squarely in on another 7-6 year, especially if there's another home upset involved. The defense will need a little bit of help because of the inexperience in the front seven. Will it get that help?