Offensive: The image of Virginia Tech, even in the Michael Vick era, was a program that emphasized defense, special teams and timely offensive play. You might not recognize these Hokies. There is the 1-2 backfield punch of sophomore Ryan Williams (ACC freshman record 1,655 rushing yards) and junior Darren Evans (who sat out last season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament after rushing for 1,265 yards in 2008). There is ever-improving senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who ranked 13th nationally in passing efficiency. There’s also depth at receiver, led by junior Jarrett Boykin, who had four 100-yard games last season, and three returning starters on the offensive line.
Defensive: Virginia Tech’s defense, largely lacking in experience, has plenty to prove. There isn’t a dominant pass-rusher — Jason Worilds skipped his senior season and entered the NFL draft — and senior defensive tackle John Graves is the only returning starter up front. A quadriceps injury to junior linebacker Barquell Rivers, who might not be available in the early season, further clouds the linebacker corps. Fifth-year senior cornerback Rashad Carmichael and senior safety Davon Morgan, who started last season’s final four games, are cornerstones of the secondary.
Specialists: The Hokies, traditionally known for standout special-teams performances, are facing a challenge. They must replace a first-team All-ACC place-kicker (Matt Waldron) and punter (Brent Bowden). The likely kicker is senior Chris Hazley, while senior Brian Saunders looks to take over at punter. If Virginia Tech’s history is any indication, they will do just fine.
Coaching: Stability, thy name is Frank Beamer. Every wannabe high-profile program that loses patience with its coach should closely examine Virginia Tech. The Hokies stuck with Beamer through early hard times and he has developed into one of the nation’s best leaders. And the stability of his staff, particularly longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, has contributed mightily to that status.
Heisman Hopefuls: Williams should be a prime candidate, but his campaign could be derailed by sharing carries with Evans — and possibly the presence of Taylor, as well.
Overview: Virginia Tech should have an explosive offense, but it might take the defense a bit longer to reach championship form. The November schedule is murder with consecutive games against Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami — cream of the crop in the ACC’s Coastal Division. The Hokies may not be ACC championship material, but they can never be counted out.
Next up: No. 13 Iowa
CFT: The Detroit Lions are expected to own and operate their own bowl game at Ford Field, starting play in 2014, according to a report by ESPN.
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