Are Hokies Championship Caliber?
By Joey Accordino
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College football demands perfection, and quite simply, these Hokies are far from perfect.
Ah, June. A time for cookouts, hanging out at the river, chasing girls, and…no football. Not even a smidge of the ol’ pigskin, unless you consider throwing the ball with your buddies out back sufficient. New players don’t report until July, and the veterans are in between the spring and summer sessions.
It is only natural, then, that we partake in another summer tradition: debating about sports. We begin by focusing on the national championship potential of the Virginia Tech Hokies, a team that went 11-3 last season and lost to the Michigan Wolverines in overtime of the Sugar Bowl. Expert opinions on Tech’s fate vary dramatically, with some pegging them as a potential darkhorse championship contender and others arguing that they will struggle to keep the 10-win streak alive. Let’s break down the pros and cons, and submit a verdict on their chances.
Pros: The defense. Lockdown corners. Ferocious ends. Run-stuffing tackles. A pick-your-poison linebacking corps. Yes, this defense is stacked. Bud Foster’s crew is the quintessential Hokies defense, a true blue-collar unit that should tackle well and limit big plays. There may not be an overabundance of flash, but this should be one of the best defensive units in the country. Austin Fuller returns at cornerback and is joined by Antone Exum, who comes over from safety. Exum has picked up the new role seamlessly, and his natural athletic gifts make him a potential star. The defensive line rotation is young but incredibly deep, and DL Coach Charlie Wiles may elect to play eight or nine guys a game. The linebackers have some injury concerns, but the depth at that position is more than adequate. This group will be the rock for this year’s Hokies squad.
Logan Thomas. Is this the year he makes the leap? He certainly had an impressive rookie campaign, accounting for 30 total touchdowns with just 10 picks. He will draw Josh Freeman comparisons this year, and rightfully so. He certainly has the potential to be one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, and he will attempt to thrive in what may be an up-tempo attack for the Hokies this season. If Tech is to go undefeated this year, he will be the reason why.
The schedule. There are tough contests on the slate: at Clemson, at Miami, and Florida State at home. But this year’s nonconference schedule, unlike some in years past (which included the likes of Boise State, Alabama, and LSU), is free of a real powerhouse squad. There is even an outside chance that the Hokies will be favored in all 12 of their regular season contests. Every game truly is winnable.
Cons: The offensive line. This is historically the bugaboo for strong Hokies squads, and this year may be no different. The O-Line loses four starters, and while the starting unit may come together, the backup situation is a complete mess. Names like Matt Arkema, Caleb Farris, and Jake Goins will get significant playing time, and will likely struggle mightily. The offensive line has struggled even when there is a significant amount of experience, and this is definitely not one of those years. Tech is 121st out of 124 FBS teams in career offensive line starts returning. Yikes.
The skill positions. Michael Holmes will be the starting running back. That should tell you all you need to know about the skill positions in Blacksburg. With David Wilson (NFL) and Josh Oglesby (graduation) gone, it will be Holmes’ turn to step in, and Hokies fans hope he can carry the load in an offense that is typically heavily reliant on its running backs. The two top receivers in Tech history (at least statistically) in Danny Coale and Jarrett Boykin are gone as well, leaving Dyrell Roberts, DJ Coles, and Marcus Davis to fill the void. Those three are capable receivers, but Logan Thomas will surely miss the route-running and sure hands of Coale and the strength and leaping ability of Boykin when he drops back to pass.
Special teams. This has sneakily been an area of weakness for Tech the last several seasons. The kicking situation turned into a comedy routine last year, with Cody Journell and Tyler Weiss both suspended for the Sugar Bowl after exercising their constitutional rights to act stupid. Journell may return in the fall to battle Conor Goulding. Michael Branthover, who struggled enough last year to force Danny Coale into punting duty, will likely claim the starting punter role. The kick return specialists do not project to be as explosive as David Wilson was in years past. This unit is liable to be an area of weakness in the fall.
The Verdict: Not a true contender. College football demands perfection, and quite simply, these Hokies are far from perfect. While the schedule sets up fairly well, a shaky offensive line and relative inexperience across the board will be too much to overcome. A more realistic goal for Virginia Tech would be their 9th straight ten-win season. But Tech’s future, like all football-related topics in the summer, is something that’s up for debate.