The Virginia Tech Hokies are looking for more than a third straight ACC title in 2009; they have their eyes set on a run for the BCS Championship. Frank Beamer's club does not waste any time in their championship quest opening the season against Alabama in Atlanta.
To get more insight into the ACC favorites, I spoke with the guys at Gobbler Country.
Does Tyrod Taylor have to become more comfortable in the pocket for VT to improve on offense?
Tyrod may already be comfortable in the pocket. We just wouldn't know because he hasn't had much time to throw the past two seasons. We need the offensive line to pass block better for our offense to improve.
Where do you see Darren Evans (1310 yds LY) ranking in the ACC running backs? Note: This interview was completed before the season-ending injury to Evans.
He'll be a lot lower in the rankings this year because he will get a lot fewer carries. Josh Oglesby had a solid spring and Tech has two speedy newcomers (Ryan Williams and David Wilson) who will get carries this season.
It's important for Evans to get significantly fewer carries in 2009 to keep him from breaking down. Other guys like [Jonathan] Dwyer (obviously) and Jermaine Thomas from FSU will have more rushing yards than Evans.
The top five pass receivers are back from last year, but none had overwhelming stats. Are we going to see one break away and become the go to guy?
I don't think we are. Jarrett Boykin appears to be our only wide receiver who can stretch the field vertically, but he wasn't utilized until late last season. Dyrell Roberts is supposed to be a playmaker, but didn't earn as much playing time as I thought he would last year.
Our most sure-handed guy is Danny Coale, so he's the safe pick to lead the receivers in catches. Plus, we tend to throw a lot of screens, especially to him [Coale]. We need Boykin and Xavier Boyce to be bigger threats down field.
The offensive line allowed the third highest percentage of sacks in FBS (14.2 percent). With three starters back, can this unit protect Tyrod Taylor better this year?
You would think it would, but you also think, "these are the same guys who couldn't block to save their families last year." I really like the interior linemen, including Jaymes Brooks who started in the Orange Bowl and was the best lineman in that game.
The questions I have are with the tackles, Ed Wang and Blake DeChristopher, who were inconsistent last year. If we can get consistent, solid play from Wang and DeChristopher, we'll give up half as many sacks or fewer as last year's total.
Where is the strength of this defense? Is the LB corps the weakest part?
The strength is the defensive line. There isn't a lot of depth yet, but the defensive ends are really good, especially Jason Worilds. He just the next great defensive end to come through Virginia Tech and will be making a lot of money very soon. We have a couple of veteran defensive tackles that improved as 2008 went on.
I don't want to call the linebackers the weakest link because I have a lot of respect for the two Whip linebackers (Cam Martin and Cody Grimm). Grimm is a little undersized for a linebacker but plays at full speed every play and makes a lot of plays you don't expect him to make.
The young guys that are going to play the other two linebacker spots have very high ceilings, but are unknown commodities.
I'd say the secondary is the weak link on this year's defense. There were a lot of communication issues between Kam Chancellor and whoever was playing rover (Dorian Porch or Davon Morgan) and we gave up a lot of big plays in the middle of the field last year. Stephan Virgil is moving from field corner to boundary corner after having an excellent year in 2008.
The move means he's going to be left in man coverage more so we'll find out just how good he is. The field corner position is going to be the key for the defense. If someone can step up and have the kind of year Virgil had last year at the same position, we'll be fine.
Why do you think Bud Foster has not gotten a head job yet? Is he waiting around to take over after Beamer?
He's not a head coach yet because he doesn't want to make a lateral move to be the defensive coordinator somewhere else and doesn't want to go be a head coach at a non-BCS school. He says he wants to be a head coach and I know he'll make a damn good one, but I don't see why he doesn't want to go pay his dues somewhere like Miami, OH.
If he's waiting to take over for Beamer, he's going to be pretty old when he gets his shot.
Who are the top freshmen who could make a significant impact this year?
I'm including both redshirt and true freshmen.
Ryan Williams, RB. Williams was the highlight of the spring game for Virginia Tech fans and his debut might be the most anticipated since Kevin Jones. He's a home-run-threat-type running back, not a bruiser like Darren Evans. He should get the second most touches on the team this year.
Logan Thomas, QB/TE/WR. Thomas played quarterback in high school, was listed as a tight end by most recruiting services and signed as an athlete by Tech. He's fast for how big he is and has a very strong upper body. I expect him to win the No. 2 QB job and get snaps out of the Wild Turkey formation.
David Wilson, RB. Wilson is a true freshman who might be the fastest guy on the offense already. He'll at least see some time returning kicks this year.
Cody Journell, K. Journell is a highly-touted kicker who could win the starting job in preseason practice.
Antoine Hopkins, DT. He was the defensive star of the spring game and plays a position that doesn't have a lot of depth. I think he'll see significant playing time.
Georgia Tech is likely VT's biggest challenger in the Coastal; Alabama is likely the best team on VT's schedule and from the SEC. Which is the bigger game to Hokies' fans?
Alabama for a couple of reasons. First and foremost is it's the first game of the year. We've been thinking about, talking about and dreaming about this game since the Cincinnati game ended. Also, beating Alabama would do a lot for Virginia Tech's national reputation, which took a beating after the embarrassing losses to LSU and Kansas.
We've started to rebuild that reputation thanks to winning the Orange Bowl. But a win against a Top Five team on a national stage like that would do more than I can even imagine for how people view the Hokies.
What do you predict Va. Tech's record will be this season?
I think the Hokies will go 10-2 with losses to Alabama and Georgia Tech and will win the ACC. But then again, I'm a homer.
My thoughts on Virginia Tech...
Hokie fans may have thought their championship (conference and national) hopes were dashed with the season ending injury to Darren Evans, but VT has some depth here that can fill in.
The key to the season will be the development of Tyrod Taylor as an all around quarterback. The offensive line should be the best he had in Blacksburg giving him more time to look down field.
We know Va Tech will be good on defense regardless of who the bodies are. Foster consistently has his team ready to play and flying to the ball. Look for Tech to continue to cause turnovers from the opposition like last year when they were +14 in turnover margin.
I think the winner of the league comes out the Coastal for a third straight year. The Alabama game is huge for ACC pride to erase the performance of the conference last year. The Hokies have to travel to Atlanta for the ACC showdown in October.
But the biggest trip up could be the second of back to back Thursday night game at East Carolina. Even with the loss of Evans, I still give Virginia Tech a slight edge over Georgia Tech for the ACC race.
9-3, 6-2, BCS Bowl Game
BCS Championship 25/1 (started 20/1)
ACC Championship 5/2 (favorite)
Win Total: 9
Thanks again to the guys at Gobbler Country for their insight.
Where do you see Virginia Tech's record at the end of the year? Will they win the ACC?