Either Josh Jackson or Ryan Willis should lead an improved Hokies passing attack this fall
Oftentimes, year three in a coach’s tenure is when a team makes an ascension. They have recruited enough of the right players for the system and those that are left from the previous regime have had to buy in by this time.
But the only hard and fast rule when it comes to developing a football program is that there are no hard and fast rules. At Virginia Tech this past fall, it was a struggle. Justin Fuente’s third group of Hokies suffered unexpected personnel losses both before and during the season, and coupled with those that they knew would move on following the 2017 season, Tech regressed to 6-7 this fall.
Despite this year’s problems, there are reasons for hope going forward. Here are three of them with an eye towards Virginia Tech's 2019 outlook.
1. The passing game
Ryan Willis will return, though he will have competition from a hopefully healthy Josh Jackson. Whoever wins the starting job will have plenty of capable receivers to target. The top five pass catchers will be back, including top target Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner, the exciting rising sophomore that had a big close to the 2018 campaign. An offensive line that started three freshmen in the Military Bowl should make strides and be able to give the quarterback enough time to make things really click. Finding a reliable running back to ease the burden on the passing game will be a high priority this spring.
2. Defensive improvement
The only late-season contributor that will move on is tackle Ricky Walker. That is a big piece, but everyone else on the defensive side of the ball returns. While it is true that this unit had its problems this fall, the defense was exceptionally young, as eight of the 11 starters in the Military Bowl were either freshmen or sophomores. And with Bud Foster coordinating the group, it stands to reason that the Hokies will be much better on this side of the ball next year. Linebacker Dax Hollifield showed in his freshman season that he has the makings of a star and he will have leading tackler Rayshard Ashby right next to him once again.
3. Schedule sets up nicely
The Hokies play at Notre Dame on Nov. 2, but assuming they can get by Old Dominion this time around, the rest of the non-conference schedule is easy. More importantly, the ACC slate provides Virginia Tech with plenty of winnable games. No one in the Coastal brings back more starters than Virginia Tech and the division once again should be a convoluted mess. The Hokies' yearly crossover rival Boston College will be solid and though Wake Forest isn’t bad, the Demon Deacons are not Clemson. With a large number of starters back in Blacksburg and a friendly conference schedule, the Hokies should be considered one of the Coastal favorites going into 2019.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.