Overview: For the first time in seemingly forever, Virginia Tech was not the favorite the win the ACC heading into 2011. That nod, as it does again this year, went to Florida State.
Virginia Tech returned eight starters on offense last fall, including star running back David Wilson. The defense returned seven starters of its own, led by All-American cornerback Jayron Hosley. Despite the returning talent, many pundits were down on the Hokies entering 2011 due to uncertainty at the quarterback position as well as a history of early season losses, none more glaring than a home loss to James Madison.
Well aware of the critics, the Hokies (11-3, 7-1 ACC) avoided the early season upset, discovered a duel-threat quarterback in Logan Thomas and cruised to the ACC Championship Game for the fifth time in seven seasons in 2011.
The only thing that stood between Virginia Tech and an undefeated run through the ACC was Clemson. The Tigers stunned the Hokies 23-3 at Lane Stadium in October and dominated Virginia Tech again in the ACC Championship Game, 38-10. The Hokies earned an at-large bid to the Sugar Bowl, but continued to struggle in BCS bowls (1-5 all-time) as they fell to Michigan 23-20.
Thomas (234-of-319 passing, 3013 yards, 19 TD, 10 INT; 153 car, 469 yards, 11 TD) returns for his junior season, but there is not much experience around him. Wilson (290 car, 1709 yards, 9 TD) and leading receiver Danny Coale (60 rec, 904 yards, 3 TD) are now with the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. Senior wide receiver Marcus Davis (50 rec, 510 yards, 5 TD) is the lone returning skill position starter outside of Thomas.
The situation upfront is even thinner. Center Andrew Miller is the only returning starter along an offensive line that helped the Hokies ranked 28th out of 120 FBS teams in rushing (186.86 ypg) and 22nd in sacks allowed (1.21 per game). Fortunately, the athletic 6-foot-6, 262-pound Thomas can compensate for a breakdown or two by the offensive line.
The strength of Virginia Tech this season will undoubtedly be the defense. Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster has coached his fair share of great defenses, but the 2012 version could be his best yet. The 10th-ranked total defense (304.64 ypg) and seventh-ranked scoring defense (17.64) from 2011 returns nine starters, including the entire defensive line in the Hokies' complicated 4-4 scheme.
Hosley (59 tackles, 3 INT) joined college teammate Wilson with the Giants, but back are All-ACC performers in cornerback Kyle Fuller (65 tackles, 4.5 sacks, 2 INT), linebacker Bruce Taylor (73 tackles, 5 sacks) and defensive end James Gayle (38 tackles, 7 sacks). With an experienced and dominant defense as well as an emerging star at quarterback, Virginia Tech is once again the clear favorite in the ACC Coastal.
Quotable: “To me, we’ve got to get in there and narrow it down how many we’re going to work with. I think getting three guys that you feel good about and then you determine how many play. You want to play more than one, that’s for sure.” – Beamer on the search for a running back to replace 2011 ACC Player of the Year Wilson
Matchup to Watch: It is easy to point to the Oct. 20 rematch against Clemson or the Nov. 8 meeting with preseason ACC favorite Florida State as the key games for Virginia Tech this season. While those games offer plenty of intrigue, the most important game on the schedule for the Hokies is arguably the first game of the season on Sept. 3 against Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets and Hokies are the only two teams to ever win the ACC Coastal division and the winner of this game will immediately have a leg up on the path to the ACC Championship game. With North Carolina ineligible for the postseason and Miami rebuilding, the Monday night matchup at Lane Stadium will surely play a large role in deciding who wins the Coastal.
The Demise of Beamerball? In his 25 years at Virginia Tech, Beamer developed a brand of football known as “Beamerball,” which emphasizes scoring on defense and special teams. The Hokies averaged over five touchdowns per year via this route in Beamers first 23 seasons. However, last season, the special teams failed to block a kick or score against a FBS opponent and the defense did not score at all. The punt and kickoff units even struggled to gain yards as Virginia Tech ranked 108th in net punting (33.62 yards) and 93rd in kickoff returns (20.02 yards).
Sept. 3 Georgia Tech
Sept. 8 Austin Peay
Sept. 15 @ Pittsburgh
Sept. 22 Bowling Green
Sept. 29 Cincinnati (Landover, MD)
Oct. 6 @ North Carolina
Oct. 13 Duke
Oct. 20 @ Clemson
Oct. 27 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 @ Miami
Nov. 8 Florida State
Nov. 17 @ Boston College
Nov. 24 Virginia
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