Virginia Tech had a solid season last year, but because of their previous success they had a lot to live up to. The Hokies finished the year with a 11-3 record after losing a heart breaker to No. 13 Michigan 23-20 in overtime of the Sugar Bowl. Their other two losses were to Clemson.
This season there are some questions that the Hokies have to answer after the departure of several key players. None are bigger than the departure of four of last year's starting five offensive linemen. With a new running back needing to step up to replace David Wilson and the protection of quarterback Logan Thomas being of vital importance, the offensive line is going to be scrutinized heavily if their performance is not up to par.
Here are some of the things you need to know about the Hokies' offensive line.
The most notable thing about the Hokies' offensive line heading into this year is who left it. Guards Jaymes Brooks and Greg Nosal, and tackles Blake DeChristopher and Andrew Lanier are all gone.
There were thoughts that Brooks would get drafted, but he didn't get selected and signed as a free agent with the Green Bay Packers. It was also thought that Nosal would be picked up after he graduated, but was not.
DeChristopher was not drafted, but was picked up as a free agent by the Arizona Cardinals. Lanier was a free agent pickup by the Jacksonville Jaguars after he too went undrafted.
Losing that many quality starters on the offensive line hurts. It will be hard to find guys to replace that kind of talent, but that is what the Hokies have to do if they want to have success in the improved ACC.
If there was ever a consolation to the fact that you lost four of your five offensive linemen, it is the fact that the one returning is the center. That is what the Hokies have in Andrew Miller.
Miller is a redshirt junior. He started in all 14 of the Hokies' games last year, and played in 10 games in some capacity his redshirt freshman year.
Three of the other four positions have already been filled during spring ball. Senior Nick Becton will start at left tackle. Becton has played in a combined 26 games over the last two years, and appeared in all 14 games last year. He has plenty of experience and should be fine.
Senior Vinston Painter is going to be the starter at right tackle. Painter played in four games his sophomore year, and in 12 games his junior year. He has good experience, and should be fine on the right side.
Junior David Wang is set to be the starting left guard. He played in just two games last year, and five the year before. Still, some experience is better than none, and Wang has good size.
That leaves the right guard spot still open, and it is a competition between sophomores Brent Benedict and Laurence Gibson. Benedict has yet to play in a college game. After redshirting his freshmen year at Georgia, he last out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Gibson hasn't seen much more action, playing in just a few snaps of the Boston College game last season.
The Hokies have to be happy to have three of the four spots filled with guys that have solid experience and should be able to really help. The trick will be to get all of them used to playing with each other.
Based on the fact that three of the four new starters have a decent amount of experience, it is important to look at the depth of the Hokies' offensive line as several new guys will be getting game time this year.
There are currently 18 offensive linemen on the Hokies' squad, although it appears that they are planning on redshirting at least three or four of them.
Of the 14 players expecting to suit up, there are three seniors, four juniors, six sophomores, and one freshmen. The seniors are all tackles, which leaves a lot of inexperience at the guard positions.
Another interesting thing to note is that there are only two centers on the roster, Miller and sophomore Caleb Farris. Hopefully the Hokies don't see any injuries to the center spot, otherwise things could get interesting.
Look for the Hokies to try giving some of their younger guys more experience in the out of conference games, but keep the starters in for significantly more time than last year against ACC opponents.
In addition to having 14 guys that are going to dress on the roster, the Hokies have really good size on the offensive line for the most part.
Miller is 6' 4" and 300 pounds at the center spot. Becton is 6'6" and 328 pounds. Painter is 6'6" and 304 pounds. Wang is the smallest guy on the line at 6'1" and 286 pounds. Benedict is 6'5", 311 pounds, while Gibson is 6' 6" and 312 pounds.
Among the backups there is also a lot of good height. All but one of them are at least 6'3", and four of them are at least 6'5". As far as weight goes, they are a little smaller. Only three of them are over 300 pounds. Still, the height will help them leverage their opponents.
The ACC isn't known for its bigger lines, as it is more of a mobile offense conference than, say, the Big 10. Still, the Hokies have solid guys up front who are also fast on their feet. It will definitely be helpful this year.