The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 27 Virginia Tech.
Previewing Virginia Tech’s Offense for 2014:
With the departure of three-year starter Logan Thomas, the Hokies have as wide open of a quarterback battle as they’ve had in years. Sophomore Brenden Motley had a slight lead of the three quarterbacks in Blacksburg in the spring, but Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who in 2012 threw for 375 yards and four touchdowns in nine games with the Red Raiders, might be the best bet to win the job after a summer arrival.
Tech’s ground game should be better, if only because it would be tough to be worse. The Hokies had one of the most inept rushing attacks in Frank Beamer’s 27 seasons in Blacksburg last year, averaging only 119.8 yards per game. But sophomore Trey Edmunds (675 yards, 10 TDs) is back after suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale, and 224-pound freshman Marshawn Williams might be the answer to the Hokies’ short-yardage woes. It’ll help if Tech’s underperforming offensive line, which returns five players who started games last year, can come together under Stacy Searels, the unit’s third coach in as many years.
The top three receivers, Joshua Stanford, Willie Byrn and Demitri Knowles, are back. All three caught at least 40 passes last year, but it’s the tight ends who have offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler most excited. Ryan Malleck returns from a shoulder injury that cost him all of 2013, Kalvin Cline is looking to build off a solid freshman year, and converted quarterback Bucky Hodges, a 6'6", 243-pounder with 4.5 speed, will be a matchup nightmare for opponents.
Previewing Virginia Tech’s Defense for 2014:
With seven seniors who started during their careers gone from last year, defensive coordinator Bud Foster has some reloading to do with a group that ranked fourth nationally last season. The first team separated itself in the spring, especially up front. Luther Maddy turned down a chance at the NFL to be the anchor the Hokies need on the interior, and 257-pound tackle Corey Marshall has been a handful because of his quickness. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem have been bookend pass-rushers with good burst off the edge.
The linebackers had a complete overhaul, with fifth-year senior Chase Williams, a heady veteran who’s waited his turn, and Deon Clarke, an athletic junior who came on in the spring, standing out.
The secondary is solid, with beyond-their-years sophomores Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson locking down the cornerback spots. They combined for 11 interceptions as true freshmen. Seniors Kyshoen Jarrett and Detrick Bonner man the safety positions, rounding out the most experienced unit on the defense. It’s not the biggest defense Foster has had, but it might be among the quickest, one that has the potential to be plenty disruptive.
Previewing Virginia Tech’s Specialists for 2014:
A.J. Hughes is solid at punter, although that’s about the only sure thing on the Hokies’ once-proud special teams. Tech missed 11 field goals last year, second-most nationally, and doesn’t appear to have an obvious candidate at kicker this season. Incoming freshman Michael Santamaria, a rare scholarship kicker out of high school, might be the answer.
The offense should benefit from being in Year 2 in Loeffler’s system, but Year 1 didn’t exactly set the bar high. The Hokies had the 101st-ranked offense nationally in 2013, averaging 356.0 yards per game. Fixing the lagging running game would go a long way toward making Virginia Tech more competitive, since there’s plenty of faith in Blacksburg that Foster will figure things out like he always does. Beamer is confident that the changes he made to the offensive coaching staff prior to 2013 are taking root but knows that it will take time. Still, the Hokies should contend in a wide-open Coastal Division this year.