With the surprising success of the 2008 season still fresh, Frank Beamer and company look to 2009 with high hopes.
A slot in the BCS National Championship Game is on everybody’s minds, and, with that, the ability to solidify themselves as a truly elite team rather than simply a perennial top-15 program rests in their ability to perform on a national stage.
Incumbent quarterback Tyrod Taylor will lead a talented crew of skill-position weapons behind one of the most experienced offensive lines in the country. He put up unimpressive numbers through the air last year, barely breaking 1,000 yards, which caused concern among fans.
However, he showed during spring practice that his sophomore slump was no more his fault than the greenness of the youth that surrounded him—next year, he will be ready.
On the other side of the ball, senior free safety Kam Chancellor will call signals for Bud Foster's extremely proficient defense. Chancellor will be settled into his position, and, if the end of last season was any indication, he will become one of the most valuable defensive backs in the country.
Small questions linger on the defensive line, but Foster’s dynamic defensive abilities will be able to quell any skepticism.
With all of these tools, it seems that the 2009 Orange Bowl champions would have a paved road to the 2010 National Championship Game in Pasadena.
But, many factors hamper the certainty of Tech’s ability to succeed this upcoming year—recent shoddy offensive presentations matched with a track record of inconsistency in key games, lead many to believe that a National Championship is still years away.
The squad, particularly under Taylor, have proved that they can win big games, but, year after year, unnecessary losses have plagued the team’s reputation—Kansas in the Orange Bowl two years ago, East Carolina, Boston College, and Miami in 2008.
Until the team can clean up their record with a one or two-loss season, finding their name next to Oklahoma or Southern California will prove difficult.
Much of this responsibility falls in the hands of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. Stinespring, who has called plays for the Hokies since 2001, has had trouble producing the offensive numbers that are expected of a top team, choosing instead to execute a style of play called “Ball Control Offense.”
This offense prefers running the ball and sitting on it: bleeding out the clock and not giving the other team a chance to make long drives down the field.
Unfortunately, though, plays are often called too conservatively and opportunities are missed. The offensive scheme has been too weak against competitive teams, particularly those with very strong defenses.
For the Hokies to consistently win, they have to produce impressive offensive numbers in every game, and, in the ACC, a league known for high-powered defenses, they have not been able to do so.
Prioritizing the run is good, especially with star running back Darren Evans, but dismissing the passing game has led to a lot of punting the ball away and poor red zone performance.
It turns out to be too easy for opposing defenses to read, or even guess, the plays being called.
In theory, this can be an effective system, forcing the opposing team’s defense to stay on the field without rest and keeping their offense out of rhythm.
But, Stinespring will have to improve as a decision-maker before fans will climb aboard his bandwagon.
This year, he has the outfit to run an efficient, effective offense. Taylor, who has needed so often to rely on his feet, will be able to exercise his throwing talents by finding any number of talented receivers or tight ends and continue to develop into a top dual-threat quarterback.
Running backs Evans and Ryan Williams have almost nothing to prove—a brilliant inaugural year for Evans last year and an unreal level of raw ability for Williams.
Because of this, Stinespring should be able to put the Tech offense well inside the top 100 in the country and lead them to success.
If not, the uncertainties about his competency as a coordinator will be largely confirmed, and there will be an enormous backlash from the many fans that want a national title.
For the Hokies, expectations run extremely high, and they are well built to do it. With a strong defensive front and experience at skill positions, the Virginia Tech Hokies have all the parts to make a convincing title run, but only if they are used to their full potential.
This year will be Stinespring’s and Taylor’s proving ground.