Can Mark Leal Successfully Replace Logan Thomas at Quarterback in 2014?

Bryan ManningFeatured ColumnistJanuary 9, 2014

Mark Leal
Mark LealAndrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Logan Thomas finished his career at Virginia Tech on Dec. 31 as the school's career leader in passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense. Thomas broke numerous single-season and career records in his three years under center for the Hokies.

Virginia Tech fans should be devastated, right?

Former Hokie QB Logan Thomas
Former Hokie QB Logan ThomasAndrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

It's actually quite the opposite. Hokie fans seemingly can't wait to get rid of Thomas, and many hold him responsible for the team's offensive struggles and 11 losses over the last two years. 

Sure, Thomas has had his ups and downs each of the last two seasons after a breakthrough sophomore campaign in 2011.

But to blame him alone for the team's overall lack of success is farcical.

Now that Thomas has moved on and is preparing for the NFL draft, rising senior Mark Leal is up next at quarterback for the Hokies.

Leal, who has thrown just 48 career passes—25 of which came in last week's Sun Bowl loss to UCLA—will be VT's most experienced option come spring practice.

Sophomore Brenden Motley and true freshman Andrew Ford figure to be Leal's primary competition. Motley, at 6'4" and 219 pounds, is a physical specimen in the mold of Thomas. Motley lacks experience as a passer at this point and is likely a long shot to start in 2014.

Incoming freshman QB Andrew Ford
Incoming freshman QB Andrew Ford247Sports

Ford, however, is someone to keep an eye on. A 4-star recruit from Camp Hill, Pa., Ford is more of a dropback passer than Thomas was. Perhaps most importantly, he is offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler's first handpicked quarterback.

Ford will enroll later this month and is a full go this spring. Will that give him enough time to unseat Leal?

According to head coach Frank Beamer, via Mark Giannotto of the Washington Post, probably not. Beamer told the assembled media after the Sun Bowl that Leal was "the next guy in line here."

In fairness to Leal, he deserves the opportunity. The only extensive playing time he's received in his four years on campus was against UCLA after Thomas was knocked out of the game. As expected, Leal wasn't crisp and forced things. Both, obviously, a result of not receiving any practice time with the first team.

Leal isn't the answer for VT at quarterback, but the hope is with several returning starters on offense next year and a full offseason with Loeffler, the supporting cast will be much improved.

The Hokies will return four starters along the offensive line, all of their running backs and the team's top four pass-catchers. Leal will not be asked to carry the offense like Thomas did on a weekly basis.

Thomas was built to carry the ball several times per game. Leal, at 6'1" and 213 pounds, isn't.

Physically, Leal reminds one of former Hokie Bryan Randall. Randall, who started in parts of four years for Tech, didn't break through until his senior season when he led the Hokies to an ACC title in their inaugural season in the conference.

Can Leal repeat that feat?

Probably not. Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston of the national champion Florida State Seminoles returns next year. Barring a major upset, FSU should win the ACC again.

However, that doesn't mean Leal won't be successful in 2014.

He will receive all of the first-team reps this spring at quarterback for the first time in his career and will not have to look over his shoulder. Beamer is extremely patient and loyal to his upperclassmen.

What would actually define a successful season for Leal in 2014? Winning the league, or simply improving upon the eight wins Tech recorded in 2013?

Virginia Tech fans will likely miss Thomas more than they realize next season, especially if Leal gets off to a slow start. However, Leal represents the Hokies' best chance of a successful season in 2014 and Beamer will stick with him. Hokie fans should give him that chance, too.