Justin Fuente has done a good job in keeping Virginia Tech near the top of the ACC Coastal Division in his first two years but he will be dealing with some new challenges this fall. There is continuity at quarterback, which is a good thing, but he'll also need improved production from the spot especially with so many question marks at receiver. Fuente also is hoping for more consistency from the ground game. On defense, coordinator Bud Foster remains and while Virginia Tech continues to recruit well, it will not be easy to replace six starters, including a pair of early departures that wound up as first-round NFL draft picks. The Hokies catch some breaks schedule-wise, which they may need as they look to knock Miami from its perch atop the division.
Previewing Virginia Tech Football's Offense for 2018
Get full team previews, schedules, scouting reports, conference predictions, and national rankings. Click here to buy a copy today or visit your local newsstand!
The Hokies had their ups and downs with a young group last year, and they hope that the experience will pay dividends this season. Justin Fuente finally has an incumbent at quarterback: It's Josh Jackson's job to lose after he started 13 games as a freshman in 2017 and threw for 2,991 yards with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, though he was inconsistent down the stretch.
He'll need help, with proven playmakers in short supply. The tailbacks haven't impressed, with Tech averaging 3.9 yards per carry last fall, next to last in the ACC. Senior Steven Peoples won't win a lot of foot races, but he's a load at 5'9", 221 pounds, and his absence was felt last year when he missed six games with an ankle injury. Expect him, Deshawn McClease and Jalen Holston to get the bulk of the carries. An offensive line that returns three starters, led by 6'7", 322-pound tackle Yosuah Nijman, could be steady.
Receiver is a major question now that the school's all-time leading pass catcher Cam Phillips is gone. Sean Savoy and Eric Kumah are expected to take the next step, and shifty senior C.J. Carroll is back. Ball State transfer Damon Hazelton, who had 505 yards as a freshman before sitting out last year, should have a big role.
Previewing Virginia Tech Football's Defense for 2018
The Hokies had one of the best defenses in the country last year, finishing fourth in points allowed at 14.8 per game. But the early NFL departures of linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, defensive tackle Tim Settle and safety Terrell Edmunds will test defensive coordinator Bud Foster's ability to reload.
Ricky Walker was every bit Settle's equal last year, an agile playmaker on the interior, and there's plenty of experience along a defensive line that routinely applies pressure. There's not much experience at linebacker. Sophomores Rayshard Ashby and Dylan Rivers got on the field on special teams last year and should have the inside track at starting, but keep an eye on prized recruit Dax Hollifield. Senior Mook Reynolds at least brings some experience at whip linebacker.
The secondary must replace three starters and suffered another setback in June. Projected starter and potential all-conference candidate Adonis Alexander was ruled ineligible, and junior college recruit Jeremy Webb suffered an Achilles injury. Caleb Farley moved back to defense after he injured his knee last August and is an intriguing prospect. The Hokies need him to step up with Alexander and Webb out of the picture for 2018. At safety, Divine Deablo could be a breakout coming back from a broken foot.
Previewing Virginia Tech Football's Specialists for 2018
Two record-setting specialists - punt returner Greg Stroman and kicker Joey Slye - are gone. Carroll has been Stroman's backup for years. Either Brian Johnson or Jordan Stout will be the kicker, but Slye's strong leg will be tough to replace. Aussie Oscar Bradburn is back at punter for a unit that allowed 47 return yards all year.
Virginia Tech fans couldn't have asked for much more from Fuente in his first two years in Blacksburg, where he's gone 19-8, won a division title and seamlessly handled the transition from legend Frank Beamer. It's possible that 2018 might be his greatest challenge so far, however, with three-quarters of the roster being sophomores or younger. Fuente and his staff have recruited well, but those classes are just now starting to hit a turning point in their development.
The schedule's manageable, with Clemson rotating off, Miami at home and the Coastal Division not overwhelming, but the Hokies will need to do a lot of growing up at key positions if they're going to make a run at the division title again.