While Frank Beamer was far and away the best head coach in Virginia Tech history, things had grown stagnant in Blacksburg. An offense that was rarely explosive became stuck in the mud, putting more pressure on Bud Foster’s defense. The result was a 29-23 record since the Hokies' Sugar Bowl appearance following the 2011 season.
But with Justin Fuente comes a sense of optimism. The new head coach took a Memphis program that was among the nation’s worst and built it into one that made consecutive bowl appearances. He also developed an exciting offense led by a quarterback that became a first-round NFL Draft pick. Fuente’s offensive acumen, combined with Foster’s defensive knowledge, gives hope that a return to glory is near.
But can that be in 2016? Athlon writers and contributors give you their analysis of what is to come for the Hokies this season.
Virginia Tech Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2016
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
New head coach Justin Fuente has some nice offensive parts to work with in running back Travon McMillian and pass catchers Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and Bucky Hodges. But essential to the success of the unit is improved quarterback play and development of an experienced offensive line. Fuente hopes the guys up front can protect his signal-caller, junior college transfer Jerod Evans. The Hokies lose several star defenders. But coordinator Bud Foster has pieced together units before and figures to again this year.
This is a team that can contend in the ACC Coastal Division if things were to break right. Games at North Carolina and Pittsburgh, along with non-conference games at Notre Dame and against Tennessee at Bristol Motor Speedway will be tough. But an 8-4 campaign in Fuente’s first year would have to be considered a success.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
North Carolina and Miami have received most of the attention as the preseason favorites in the ACC’s Coastal Division, but Virginia Tech will be an interesting team to watch in 2016. New head coach Justin Fuente was an A-plus hire, and his first move was to convince longtime defensive coordinator Bud Foster to stick around. With six returning starters, Foster should be able to improve a defense that gave up 26.3 points a game in 2015. The offense has been Virginia Tech’s problem spot in recent years, but Fuente has a strong track record of success on this side of the ball and improvement should be noticeable. Road trips to North Carolina and Pitt in conference play are tough, but Virginia Tech does not play one of the top three teams – Clemson, Florida State and Louisville – from the Atlantic Division in crossover matchups. If the offense takes a big step forward, Fuente’s team could challenge for the Coastal Division title.
Bryan Fischer (BryanDFischer)
It's a new era in Blacksburg and Hokies fans have to be excited at the potential of the program under Justin Fuente after a bit of stagnation during Frank Beamer's final years. The defense should continue to play at a high level with Bud Foster still in charge of that side of the ball and Fuente will provide an instant dose of efficiency on offense. There look to be a lot of potential 50/50 games on the schedule so how far the head coach's side of the ball progresses will determine whether the season is going to be a good one or a great one.
Kevin McGuire (KevinOnCFB)
The Justin Fuente era in Blacksburg should be an exciting one that sees the Hokies rekindle an offensive flair that has been missing for quite some time. Virginia Tech’s defense is expected to bounce back after a rare down year under longtime coordinator Bud Foster in 2015, and that should keep the Hokies in every game. While the future outlook of the offense under Fuente should be an optimistic one, it won't happen over night. It should be improved a little bit but the weapons needed to score some big wins just may not be ready. That's why it could end up looking like a tough season for the Hokies.
If you noticed, all of my predicted losses for the Hokies will come away from home, which means Fuente's tenure in Blacksburg is getting started by protecting Lane Stadium. That's something to take not of moving forward, and it will be what helps push Virginia Tech to yet another bowl game.
Mike Ferguson (@MikeWFerguson)
New head coach Justin Fuente is a good offensive mind with a proven track record, but replacing a legend like Frank Beamer is never easy.
Fuente has some pretty good skill players on offense in running back Travon McMillan and Isaiah Ford, an outstanding receiver. The Hokies also have a decent offensive line, but how potential starting quarterback Brenden Motley progresses as a passer will be the real key.
Defensive coordinator Bud Foster is one of the best in the business, but the Hokies could struggle on that side of the ball, especially for the first half of the season. Kendall Fuller and Dadi Nicolas are both gone and defensive end Ken Ekanem will likely see his fair share of attention.
For Fuente, a winning season in 2016 should be considered a good start. The Hokies' ceiling is probably seven wins during the regular season. Beating Tennessee, North Carolina or Notre Dame will be tough and the Hokies also have to travel to Pittsburgh and Duke. Looking past September, there are really no gimmes for Fuente's team.
(Justin Fuente photo by Dave Knachel - Virginia Tech Athletics)