Virginia Tech Football: Power Ranking the Hokies' 5 Best Classes of the BCS Era
With the 2014 recruiting cycle nearing its end, it’s important to take a look back at the Virginia Tech football program’s history of recruiting and consider what there is learn from the team’s best classes of the BCS era.
The Hokies have been remarkably consistent under the steady leadership of Frank Beamer, and there’s nowhere that demonstrates this more strongly than in the team’s recruiting history.
Tech hasn’t always signed the most highly regarded recruits, but Beamer has proven particularly adept at both identifying talented starters for his system and developing players into NFL talents.
In order to figure out exactly where each group ranks, each class from the past 15 years can be evaluated on the starters it produced, the success the group generated for the program and the NFL players it contained.
It may be easy in the doldrums of February to want to rank recruiting classes based on the number of 4-star and 5-star athletes they contain, but a careful examination of history like this shows how meaningless the distinctions often end up being.
The Hokies experienced some of their best years from about 2003 through 2007, and it’s no mistake that this class was involved in that success.
Linebacker Xavier Adibi was dominant in Bud Foster’s defense, earning first-team All-ACC honors in 2007, and he even played professionally for four years after he graduated. Fellow linebacker Vince Hall earned first-team ACC honors in 2006 and was one of Tech’s best defensive players ever, but he only lasted one season in the NFL.
But while the individual success here is impressive, Tech’s success as a team in this period is difficult to argue with. The Hokies claimed their first ACC title and appeared in two BCS bowls—Sugar in 2005 and Orange in 2008—in this span.
Five years later, the Hokies reloaded with another excellent class.
Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin holds Tech’s all-time records in receiving yards and total catches, and he's second in touchdown receptions. So it’s safe to say he buoys this class. He’s also really started to make an impact in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers.
Other standouts include defensive players like Antoine Hopkins and Bruce Taylor, a pair that anchored Tech’s front seven for several years.
Receivers Dyrell Roberts and Marcus Davis each made their marks on Tech’s record books, finishing eighth and 12th in total catches, respectively, but their lack of professional success hurts the class.
A pair of BCS bowl appearances and ACC titles also helped this class become one to remember. However, the lack of NFL success outside of Boykin holds this class back.
5. 2004 Class
From the perspective of professional success, the 2004 class was outstanding.
Eddie Royal and Josh Morgan were excellent players at Tech, finishing fourth and sixth in total catches respectively, but their NFL success has also been very noteworthy. Royal has been excellent for both the Denver Broncos and the San Diego Chargers, while Morgan has played well for his hometown Washington Redskins after a few decent years with the San Francisco 49ers.
But cornerback Brandon Flowers could be the cream of the crop. He’s spent his entire career with the Kansas City Chiefs, made the Pro Bowl this season and is widely considered one of the best corners in the game.
Quarterback Sean Glennon and running back Branden Ore were in this class as well, but they come with some disappointment. Glennon never really found his footing with the Hokies, but he did start briefly, and Ore ran for the fifth-most yards in Tech history before getting dismissed from the team.
Nevertheless, this group helped Tech appear in two Orange Bowls and a Sugar Bowl and win two ACC titles.
Had Ore been able to keep it together, he might’ve helped this class vault higher, but as it stands now, the 2004 group was still excellent.
4. 2001 Class
The 2001 class is a little lacking in terms of team success, but the players still did very well individually.
The team didn’t exactly reach its peak here nationally; it had a phenomenal year in 2004, heading to the Sugar Bowl against Auburn, but it couldn't do better than the Gator Bowl in 2002 before that.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall is the biggest name in this group, and his prolonged NFL success, in addition to his dynamic performance at Tech, really boosts this class.
Running back Kevin Jones isn’t far behind Hall. He spent six years in the NFL after getting drafted in the first round, earned All-America honors in 2003 and is second all time in running yards.
Bryan Randall is third all time in passing for the team, while Cedric Humes finished 22nd in rushing after each completed storied careers with the Hokies.
Still, the class’ lack of team success hurts it overall, and it can’t quite compare to this next one’s star power.
3. 1998 Class
There’s no way around the fact that Vick is the most successful, and famous, player the program has ever produced, so there’s no way that the first class of the BCS era could go overlooked.
But there wasn’t exactly much else in this group of note to bump it any higher.
Running back Lee Suggs certainly deserves to be mentioned. He finished sixth all time in rushing yards and spent three years in the NFL. But things get thin after his name. Quarterback Grant Noel started for one year after Vick left for the NFL, but he quickly got surpassed by Bryan Randall.
Nonetheless, the class is so strong thanks to Vick’s inclusion that, when combined with Suggs’ moderate success, it has to be considered among the best ever at Tech. However, it just can’t compare to the combination of depth and talent in the final two classes.
2. 2009 Class
It might seem odd that such a recent class is so high in the rankings given Tech’s historical success, but this truly was an incredible haul.
Logan Thomas leads the way here, and despite his inconsistency, he’s still the program’s leader in both passing and total offense. He’s bound for the NFL, although it’s hard to predict where exactly he’ll end up or how he’ll develop.
David Wilson was similarly impactful. He’s eighth all time in rushing, was selected in the first round by the New York Giants and is one of the team’s bigger stars in recent memory. He has yet to put everything together in the pro ranks, but his future seems bright.
The defensive players in this draft are also slightly astounding. Cornerbacks Jayron Hosley and Antone Exum are some of the best defensive backs to ever play at Tech; Hosley was a fourth-round pick by the Giants, while Exum is projected to be taken in the same range.
Meanwhile, James Gayle is one of the more dominant defensive ends Tech has ever seen. He’s projected as a mid-round pick by most observers and has made All-ACC teams in each of his three years as a starter.
Defensive end J.R. Collins and center David Wang have also each been reliable starters for the team, while linebacker Tariq Edwards and receiver D.J. Coles have shown flashes when they’ve avoided injury.
The class helped Tech to an ACC title, an Orange Bowl and a Sugar Bowl but tailed off over the last two years.
Had Thomas been able to realize his incredible potential, this class could’ve topped the list. While it’s hard to know what any of these players might go on to accomplish in the NFL, at this exact moment, it seems as if the depth and team success of one other class edges this one.
1. 2007 Class
The Hokies established their ACC dominance from 2007 through 2011, and this class is pretty much the reason why.
It all started with quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Few players have been more beloved than Taylor, who is second in passing yards and 15th in rushing yards all time. The fact that he’s stuck in the NFL for the last three years as a backup with the Baltimore Ravens helps his case slightly as well.
But the depth of this class is what really makes it stand out.
Running back Darren Evans is 17th all time in rushing, while receiver Danny Coale is second in receptions.
Jaymes Brooks, Blake DeChristopher and Andrew Lanier helped make up one of the best Tech offensive lines in recent history, while Davon Morgan was a very good safety, earning second-team All-ACC honors in 2010.
Most importantly, this is the class that led the Hokies to the success that defined the program in recent years—three ACC titles, three Orange Bowls and a Sugar Bowl.
This class doesn’t have the NFL players that others might, but its effect on the program was immeasurable.