Virginia Tech Football: 5 Reasons Why the Hokies Should Be Optimistic About 2016

Bryan Manning@bdmanning4Featured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2016

Virginia Tech Football: 5 Reasons Why the Hokies Should Be Optimistic About 2016

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    Virginia Tech running back Travon McMillian
    Virginia Tech running back Travon McMillianDarron Cummings/Associated Press

    After 29 seasons of being in charge of Virginia Tech Football, head coach Frank Beamer retired this past December. The Hokies sent Beamer out a winner with an exciting 55-52 Independence Bowl victory over Tulsa.

    While it's tough to say goodbye to a legend such as Beamer, Hokie fans have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2016 season.

    The Independence Bowl victory, along with the arrival of former Memphis Tigers Football coach Justin Fuente, has Virginia Tech fans excited about 2016.

    In Fuente's first move, he retained longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster—a popular move around Blacksburg, Virginia.

    Can Fuente achieve success in his first season? There are certainly plenty of reasons to believe he can.

    Here are five reasons why Virginia Tech should feel optimistic about a return to prominence in 2016.

Justin Fuente's Offense

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    Virginia Tech head coach Justin Fuente
    Virginia Tech head coach Justin FuenteJustin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

    Virginia Tech fans have wanted an innovative offense for years. Recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach Bryan Stinespring was criticized for years while he was offensive coordinator. Then, in 2012, Stinespring was moved to tight ends coach, and Scot Loeffler was hired to run the offense.

    For Hokie fans, a return to Stinespring would've been an upgrade over the Loeffler era.

    Now, the Hokies get a young, innovative former quarterback in Fuente to run the offense. Brad Cornelsen, the new offensive coordinator, comes with Fuente from Memphis.

    A big reason for Memphis' turnaround over the last four seasons was Fuente's offense. In 2015, Memphis finished No. 19 in total offense, averaging 487 yards of total offense per game. Those are numbers that VT fans and Foster will be thrilled with.

    Enjoy, Virginia Tech fans. The Hokies will no longer be boring, predictable and afraid to adjust on offense with Fuente in town.

Offensive Playmakers

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    Virginia Tech wide receiver Isaiah Ford
    Virginia Tech wide receiver Isaiah FordTroy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    In two years at Virginia Tech, rising junior receiver Isaiah Ford has caught 131 passes for 1,873 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was a first-team All-ACC selection at wide receiver in 2015.

    He's back...Rising sophomore running back Travon McMillian returns as well. McMillian wasn't even Tech's starter early in the season. But once he took over the position in early October, he never looked back, finishing with over 1,000 rushing yards in his debut campaign. McMillian not only proved that he was durable enough to carry the football 20-25 times per game, but that he was also a home-run hitter.

    Star tight end Bucky Hodges could return too. At 6'7", 242 pounds, Hodges is a nightmare for opposing defenses. He runs like a wide receiver and can line up all over the line of scrimmage. He is contemplating entering his name into the NFL draft.

    The Hokies' No. 2 receiver, Cam Phillips, returns. Phillips isn't the player Ford is, but he improved in 2015 after a solid freshman season in 2014.

    Besides McMillian, at running back, the Hokies get back Shai McKenzie, Marshawn Williams and Trey Edmunds. Each player has flashed during his time at Virginia Tech, but all three have battled injuries. They all should enter 2016 completely healthy. 

    Fullback Sam Rogers is back too. Rogers is arguably VT's most versatile offensive player.

    With or without Hodges, the pieces are in place for an exciting offense in 2016. Fuente just hopes Hodges wants to be a part of it.

Quarterback Position

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    VT QB Dwayne Lawson
    VT QB Dwayne LawsonMichael Shroyer/Getty Images

    Virginia Tech hasn't had outstanding quarterback play since Tyrod Taylor's last season in Blacksburg back in 2010. Logan Thomas had his moments in his three years under center. Michael Brewer had some moments too. However, Brewer's record as starting quarterback wasn't impressive.

    Now that Fuente is in charge, quarterback play should not be an issue for a long time.

    Two of Fuente's former pupils are Andy Dalton and Paxton Lynch. Dalton is enjoying great success in the NFL, and Lynch will most likely be a first-round pick in the NFL draft.

    When he arrived in Blacksburg, Fuente wanted to add depth to the quarterback position. That led to Tech signing top junior college quarterback Jerod Evans. At 6'4", 225 pounds, Evans possesses terrific size in addition to excellent agility. 

    Senior Brenden Motley and sophomore Dwayne Lawson are returning to Tech at quarterback.

    Hokie fans know what they have in Motley. He's athletic, inconsistent and reasonably inexperienced as a passer. He did start six games for the Hokies in 2015 with mixed results.

    Lawson is the wild card.

    At 6'6", 207 pounds, Lawson has size, arm strength and phenomenal athleticism. He's had Virginia Tech fans buzzing since his signing last February. While there's been a lot of debate on whether Tech should've redshirted Lawson in 2015, he now has one year of experience under his belt and a prime opportunity to win the starting job in 2016.

    The Hokies also signed 6'2", 200-pound Joshua Jackson of Saline, Michigan. Jackson, like Evans, will enroll in late January.

Tim Settle

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    Tim Settle
    Tim SettleCredit: 247Sports

    Virginia Tech's defense took a step back in 2015. Overall, the Hokies ranked No. 44 in total defense. That's atypical for a Foster-coached unit.

    Fortunately, for the Hokies, many of the younger players who struggled in 2015 are a year older, and that should pay dividends, especially in the secondary.

    But the biggest reason to be optimistic on the defensive side in 2016 is the debut of redshirt freshman defensive tackle Tim Settle.

    At 6'3", 359 pounds, Settle arrived 35 pounds overweight last summer. But he still made an impact, and coaches faced a hard decision in redshirting him, per Andy Bitter of the Roanoke Times.

    Defensive line coach Charley Wiles offered this assessment of Settle:

    Whew, that’s probably going to be hard. Tim’s getting better. It’d have been nice if Tim had a spring. He’s learning every day. And it doesn’t help him that he’s 35 pounds overweight. Know what I mean? It doesn’t help him. Now, does he have some tools? Absolutely. 350 pounds-plus. And you see quickness. His feet are very good, he can do some things. If we had to play him, we could probably get him ready to play. There would be I’m sure throughout the process some liabilities and things. But Tim is going to be a very good player. I’m glad Tim’s on our football team.

    A player of Settle's size doesn't often come with the athleticism of a tight end. Settle is extremely light on his feet, and this spring will be big for him. If he has a solid grasp of the defense, then you can expect to see him extensively in the big game vs. Tennessee in early September.

Change

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    Former head coach Frank Beamer
    Former head coach Frank BeamerSteve Helber/Associated Press

    Change can be a scary thing.

    People are often afraid of change due to the fear of the unknown. Change is made even tougher when one is replacing a legend.

    Beamer's retirement means the Hokies will be going about things much differently for the first time in almost 30 years.

    However, for Virginia Tech, change is coming at the right time.

    Recruiting had gotten stale in recent years, as some of the top players in the state of Virginia weren't even considering the Hokies. Tech would often be left at the altar as another program would beat the Hokies in the end.

    While there's no guarantee Fuente will be an ace recruiter, he has been active on that front already in his short time in Blacksburg. He's also much younger than Beamer, meaning he's much more likely to hit the road and close the deal with some prospects.

    It's important to remember that Fuente isn't taking over a moribund program like the one he inherited at Memphis. Virginia Tech is an outstanding, football-first school with outstanding facilities. Fuente can make an impact in his first year, and that should energize Hokie fans.