It’s been a rocky two years for the Virginia Tech football program, so it’s no mistake that many are starting to wonder what it will take for the team to get back on track.
There’s no doubt that there is some reason to be concerned. The team underachieved this season at 8-4, and last year’s 7-6 finish was nothing short of disastrous.
Making matters worse, the people running the program are in various states of transition. Athletic director Jim Weaver announced he’d be retiring at the end of the month, and several members of the coaching staff have received overtures from other programs.
But the Hokies are far from having to press the panic button. They have a lot riding on the 2014 recruiting class, and they’ll need to establish some stability at the top, but this team will have no problem getting back on the road to glory.
Find A Star Quarterback
The Hokies have been very lucky with their ability to find and develop quarterbacks recently.
While some schools have had fierce quarterback competitions in the offseason, the transition from Tyrod Taylor to Logan Thomas was a smooth one.
For all of Thomas’ issues with consistency in his career, the Hokies never really had to worry about who the man under center would be.
Headed into 2014, that isn’t exactly the case. Sure, redshirt senior Mark Leal will be the odds-on favorite given his experience, but he’s hardly a lock for the job.
After all, he’s attempted only 23 passes in his career, and he’d have to hand the job off to someone else after the season was over.
That means that the Hokies really need to find a long-term solution at the position, no matter if the signal-caller ends up starting as a freshman or sitting behind Leal.
For quite a while, most assumed that Pennsylvania quarterback Andrew Ford would be the guy sooner or later. He’s a traditional pocket passer and highly regarded in a good state for quarterbacks.
However, there’s been some uncertainty with the news that former Michigan State Spartan recruit Chris Durkin was flipping his commitment to Tech.
That certainly gives the Hokies another, more athletic option, but things are still murky going forward.
Even if Leal is presumed the starter for 2014, the competition will be wide open for both next year and going forward, as The Roanoke Times’ Andy Bitter explains.
But the competition will be on. Motley is the current third-stringer who seems to exceed expectations every time he's given a chance. Many didn't think the Christiansburg product would stick at quarterback, yet he's proven everyone wrong at every opportunity. At 6-foot-4, 216 pounds., he's got good size too.
Bucky Hodges, the quarterback jewel in the 2013 class, will be a redshirt freshman, although I'm not wholly convinced his dabbling at tight end on scout team won't become something more permanent come spring. We shall see.
Of the scholarship quarterbacks, the two incoming freshmen -- Ford and Durkin -- would be next. (Travon McMillian is also a QB, although I'd guess this latest news all but assures he'll play a different position once he gets to Tech.)
Ford plans to enroll early. That's still up in the air for Durkin. Regardless, I think it would be tough for a true freshman to either A) win the starting job, or B) play a significant role right off the bat. There's a reason guys practice so much: it takes time to learn how to play quarterback effectively in college.
Ford and Durkin are both impressive prospects, and Motley could certainly be a dark horse depending on the type of offense Scot Loeffler wants to run, but the Hokies will need to start narrowing the list here quickly.
Reload the Front Seven
Bud Foster’s defense is always excellent, and it’s all predicated on the strength of the front seven.
Tech boasted an excellent group of defensive linemen and linebackers this season, but with defensive linemen James Gayle, J.R. Collins and Derrick Hopkins and linebackers Jack Tyler and Tariq Edwards graduating, the Hokies will have to find some answers at their most important positions.
There’s plenty to be excited about in terms of guys already on the roster; Dadi Nicolas, Nigel Williams and Woody Baron are all relatively young and have impressed when they’ve been on the field.
However, finding new stars in the 2014 class and beyond will be key.
Defensive tackle Ricky Walker looks like he could be one such star. He’s rated as a 4-star recruit by 247Sports.com, and his highlight video shows he can be a dynamic player.
Similarly, if the team can land fellow 4-star defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi, the defensive line will be a huge strength for this team.
Linebackers remain an area of concern. Chase Williams and Dahman McKinnon sit behind Tyler and Edwards on the depth chart, but neither have seen much playing time.
The Hokies will get outside linebacker Ronny Vandyke back after he missed this season with a shoulder injury, and he’ll only be a redshirt junior, but the unit is still painfully thin.
Finding and developing talent here will be absolutely crucial for Foster’s unit.
Establish Coaching Future
It’s hard to believe, but Frank Beamer might not be part of the future of Virginia Tech football.
With Weaver’s retirement and the fact that Beamer’s contract only runs through 2016, speculation about the longtime coach’s future has run rampant.
If Beamer does indeed choose to step away in two years, it’ll be absolutely crucial for the team to find some kind of continuity.
Foster seems like the obvious choice; he’s received interviews for prominent head coaching spots in the past, with the Connecticut Huskies being the latest team rumored to be interested in the defensive coordinator.
But if Beamer wants to keep the job in the family, his son, Shane, the team’s associate head coach and running backs coach, could easily be a candidate.
He was a finalist for the Florida Atlantic Owls’ coaching vacancy this offseason, according to Coachingsearch.com’s Pete Roussel:
Virginia Tech assistant Shane Beamer was the other finalist for the head coaching job at FAU, per source. http://t.co/pa57Vrtug5— Pete Roussel (@coachingsearch) December 15, 2013
No matter which direction Beamer chooses to go, he’ll have to make his wishes perfectly clear if he wants these two to stay with the program long enough to take over.
Foster seems relatively content, but Shane has become a hot name in the business. A stint at a smaller college could be good for the younger Beamer to give him head coaching experience, but it might also tie him up elsewhere when his father decides to leave.
The Hokies have a tradition of continuity, thanks to employing one coach for the last 27 years, and they’ll have to work hard to preserve that.
But if Tech can sort out its future at head coach, while also building and developing some impressive recruiting classes, then the Hokies will have no trouble getting back on top of the ACC.
The conference will go through even more changes in the coming years, adding the Louisville Cardinals to the mix next year to further intensify competition in the conference.
Yet the Hokies will likely have little trouble finding their way to national prominence once more.