If 2012 was considered a disappointment for the Virginia Tech Hokies, 2013 could be quite the opposite.
The Hokies finished 2012 with a record of 7-6, their worst in 20 years and had to win their final two regular-season games to become bowl eligible.
Naturally, preseason prognosticators aren't too high on the Hokies in 2013. Lindy's has the Hokies picked to finish third in the ACC Coastal division, while Sporting News projects the Hokies as the division's fourth-best team.
To put those preseason expectations into perspective: The Hokies have never finished below second in the Coastal division since entering the league in 2004. The Hokies, 4-4 in ACC play in 2012, had the second-best record in the division.
There are many reasons to believe the Hokies will bounce back this season. Here are three primary reasons why the Hokies will overachieve and compete for another ACC Coastal division crown in 2013.
Virginia Tech's rise to prominence in the early-90s was in large part due to a stingy defense that created multiple turnovers per game.
Longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster, in his current post since 1995, has spurned many opportunities to remain in Blacksburg, and the 2013 defense could be one his best ever.
The Hokies lost only two starters from last season's team which finished No. 18 nationally in total defense.
A talented front four returns, led by senior defensive end James Gayle. Gayle, at 6'4", 265 pounds, is one of the more talented players in the country. The team hopes Gayle can create pressure on the quarterback early in the season while senior cornerback Antone Exum rounds back into form from ACL surgery.
Regardless of what happens on offense, this defense will keep the Hokies in every game. Yes, every game, and that includes the season opener.
The success, or lack of thereof, the Hokies will have in 2013 depends largely on senior quarterback Logan Thomas.
Head coach Frank Beamer was excited when Thomas put off his NFL aspirations for one season in January to come back and work with new offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler. Loeffler has spent the offseason working with Thomas on his mechanics. And according to Loeffler, the results are good.
Fans, however, are still trying to get over the 16 interceptions Thomas threw last season. The spring game did nothing to ease their concerns with Thomas throwing three more picks, two of which were returned for touchdowns.
Thomas is an extremely talented player. He has outstanding size (6'6", 260 lbs), has a howitzer of an arm and led the team in rushing last season. Many of Thomas' problems last season were due to unreliable receivers.
If Thomas resembles his 2011 self, the Hokies will be in good shape. The Hokies want Thomas to be able to connect on a few deep passes each game to complement the rushing attack.
Thomas will be much better in 2013. And as a result, the Hokies will be better.
The Hokies have essentially been operating without a good offensive line coach for the past five seasons. Before last season, the Hokies had three supremely talented running backs in the prior years who often masked deficient offensive line play.
Now that Curt Newsome is back at FCS James Madison, Jeff Grimes gets an opportunity to get Virginia Tech's offensive line play turned around.
Grimes, who was at Auburn the last four years, has coached at several stops over the years. In his initial press conference in January, Grimes stated it was his goal to develop the "toughest offensive line in the ACC."
That was music to the ears of Hokie fans who have wanted the team to get back to the physical style of play that made them successful for so long. Frank Beamer wants his offense built around a strong running game. The Hokies lacked that in 2012.
Many expected a pair of juniors, Mark Shuman and Laurence Gibson, to assume the tackle duties in 2013. However, in spring practice, Grimes moved true freshman Jonathan McLaughlin ahead of Shuman at left tackle on the depth chart.
Grimes brings a fresh approach to the Hokies. He will play the best five linemen he has and will not move them around. The continuity alone of keeping his best five on the field will lead to improved results in 2013.