NCAA Football Preview - Virginia Tech Hokies

8:25 AM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - 2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: It was anything but a typical season in Blacksburg in 2012, as Virginia Tech's run of double-digit win totals ended at eight years. The longest tenured coach in the FBS ranks, Frank Beamer was unable to continue the run, as the Hokies finished the season at 7-6 overall, Beamer's 26th at the helm. That included just a 4-4 mark in the ACC and a very unfamiliar fourth-place finish in the Coastal Division standings.

The regular season and ACC schedule began in thrilling fashion with a 20-17 win over Georgia Tech in overtime. That was followed by a rout of FCS foe Austin Peay (42-7). However, a road trip to Pittsburgh showed some of the team's warts, as the Hokies were routed themselves (35-17). A shutout of Bowling Green (37-0) a week later restored some confidence, but that was followed promptly by two straight losses to Cincinnati (27-24) and North Carolina (48-34) to close out the first half of the season.

The second half of the season saw more of the same. Tech knocked off Duke (41-20), but then suffered three straight defeats to Clemson (38-17), Miami- Florida (30-12) and Florida State (28-22) to end any hopes of a division crown. The Hokies were able to rally though, winning their last two games of the season over Boston College (30-23 OT) and Virginia (17-14) to run their streak of bowl appearances to 20 straight seasons.

The team took on Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl in late December and prevailed 13-10 in overtime to finish with a winning record.


OFFENSE: Regaining its swagger both in the ACC and on the national level this season, won't come easy for Tech, as the team must prove that offensive line woes and a lack of a featured tailback are things of the past. The good news is that quarterback Logan Thomas returns. A second-team All-ACC selection in 2011, the 6-6, 254-pound Thomas was supposed to have a breakout season in 2012. That didn't really happen, as he completed a mere 51.3 percent of his passes, for 2,976 yards, with 18 touchdowns against 16 interceptions. Thomas was also the team's top rushing threat, amassing 524 yards and nine TDs on the ground.

Depth in the backfield has taken a hit with key injuries to J.C. Coleman (492 yards, two TDs) and Tony Gregory (299 yards, one TD). Coleman is currently sidelined with ankle injuries but he will return to the field. The news isn't so optimistic for Gregory, who tore his left ACL, effectively ending his career at Virginia Tech. The lack of depth could give help showcase redshirt freshman Trey Edmunds (6-1, 215) this season.

An area of great concern for Logan is the losses in the receiving corps. Gone are playmakers Marcus Davis, Corey Fuller and Dyrell Roberts, leaving sophomore Demetri Knowles (19 receptions, 240 yards, one TD) as the top returning receiver.

Three starters return up front for the Hokies, but Beamer must find replacements at both tackle positions, with the losses of Vinston Painter and Nick Becton.

"Well, I think the inside three people on our offensive line are pretty well set, but who plays tackle, I think that's yet to be determined," Beamer said. "We need consistency and those practices for the tackles, we need to be more consistent there. Theres no question about that."

DEFENSE: The strength of Virginia Tech will once again be found on the defensive side of the ball. The Hokies really played well defensively down the stretch in 2012 and with nine starters returning to the mix, the hope is that it will carry over into 2013.

Up front, Tech will rely on getting pressure from senior ends James Gayle (43 tackles, 5.0 sacks, 27 QBH) and J.R. Collins (31 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 20 QBH) and senior tackle Derrick Hopkins (51 tackles, 3.5 sacks).

The linebacking corps must replace standout Bruce Taylor, but All-ACC First- Team selection Jack Tyler is a budding superstar after leading the team in tackles (119) and TFL (10.5) in 2012. The unit took a hit when recently with a season-ending shoulder injury suffered by sophomore LB Ronny Vandyke, but the squad will get a healthy Tariq Edwards back after an injury-plagued 2012.

The secondary will eventually return all four starters in junior safeties Kyshoen Jarrett (83 tackles, 4.5 TFL) and Detrick Bonner (60 tackles, 10 PBU, one INT) and senior cornerbacks Kyle Fuller (52 tackles, two INTs) and Antone Exum (48 tackles, 16 PBU, five INTs). Exum earned Second-Team All-ACC honors in 2012, but an ACL tear in a pickup basketball game in January has pushed his expected return to the field to October.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Tech's special teams are usually just that, regarded as one of the top units in the country year-in and year-out. The kicking game returns both senior place kicker Cody Journell and sophomore punter AJ Hughes. Journell was a steady 20-of-25 in field goal attempts last season, with a long of 42 yards. As a freshman in 2012, Hughes averaged 40.6 yards per punt.

OUTLOOK: Getting back on track is something Beamer and company expect to happen in 2013 and its hard to argue against it. Behind what looks to be a top-10 defense, the Hokies should be able to get back to double-digit wins.

Of course, the likelihood of one of those victories coming in the season-opener isn't good, as Virginia Tech opens the season in the Georgia Dome against two- time defending national champion Alabama.

"They are the best team in the country the last few years, the best team by a wide margin in preseason voting this year and it's certainly justified," said Beamer. "After that, let's see where we are at and go play. It's not often you get to play the best team in the country, so there's some challenges in that regard."

The remainder of the non-conference slate is inviting with Western Carolina, East Carolina and Marshall lined up after the Crimson Tide. Like the season- opener, the ACC-opener looks daunting with a Sept. 26 date at Georgia Tech. Other road tilts in-conference include at Boston College, at Miami-Florida and at Virginia. ACC teams coming to Blacksburg are North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Duke and Maryland.

The Coastal Division is there for the taking, especially without conference heavyweights Clemson and Florida State absent from the schedule this season, setting up a scenario that has Virginia Tech back in the ACC Title Game against either the Tigers or Seminoles.

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