Can Justin Fuente and the Hokies successfully defend their ACC Coastal Division title?
Forget the departure of Jerod Evans. Never mind the losses of Isaiah Ford and Bucky Hodges and Woody Baron. Head coach Justin Fuente has instilled new optimism into the folks at Virginia Tech and the long-term future appears to be bright in Blacksburg.
But what about 2017? After losing so many stars, especially off the offense, can Virginia Tech contend in the ACC Coastal again this season? Athlon polled a few writers to get their take on the Hokies’ realistic win/loss projection for 2017.
Virginia Tech Football Game-by-Game Predictions for 2017
Jon Kinne (@JonRKinne)
Virginia Tech has traditionally had a stellar defense under coordinator Bud Foster and the Hokies should be strong on that side of the ball again this fall. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is an emerging star and the secondary is deep and talented. There are plenty of changes on offense, however, and the first step will be to eliminate the mistakes that haunted the team last year. Assuming the Hokies get by West Virginia in Week 1, the schedule sets up pretty nicely. It will be raucous when Clemson comes to Lane Stadium at the end of September. But even a setback in that game won’t take Virginia Tech out of the Coastal race. Road trips on consecutive weeks against Miami and Georgia Tech will be difficult, but following up year one with a 9-3 record would have to be considered a great success.
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Despite losing quarterback Jerod Evans, receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges, don’t count out coach Justin Fuente’s team in the Coastal Division title picture. Fuente has a strong track record of finding quarterbacks, and redshirt freshman Josh Jackson could be in for a breakout year. In addition to finding a quarterback, Fuente needs to generate more production out of the running backs and restock the receiving corps. While a few growing pains on offense are expected, the defense should be among the best in the ACC. Coordinator Bud Foster has one of the nation’s best defensive backfields and linebacker units at his disposal. Additionally, there is plenty of talent returning to quickly restock the trenches. The Nov. 4 date at Miami is likely to decide the Coastal Division title. However, don’t be surprised if Virginia Tech upsets Clemson on Sept. 30.
Bryan Fischer (@BryanDFischer)
The ACC Coastal remains a toss-up of a division to predict every year but I think it’s safe to assume that Virginia Tech will be in the running to win it just about every season under Justin Fuente. He worked wonders in getting the offense to a passable level in his first year in Blacksburg and, despite the loss of key starters, I’m not sure there is some huge regression coming in 2017 even with new faces involved. The defense remains loaded with a smart, aggressive coordinator in Bud Foster running the show and the Hokies will certainly lean on that unit early in the year. The ceiling for this squad isn’t as high as some of their peers in the conference (especially division rival Miami) but this will remain a top-25-caliber team all the way through bowl season.
Adam Kurkjian (@AdamKurkjian)
Justin Fuente did an admirable job in his first season in Blacksburg. While the Hokies should once again contend for the ACC Coastal Division title, this program's best days under Fuente are not quite here yet.
The unexpected early entry to the NFL draft by quarterback Jerod Evans puts this team in a hole to start the season, although outside of a tough opener with West Virginia, most of the first month is manageable. That game and a home date with Clemson should be an uphill climb.
Back-to-back road trips to Miami and Georgia Tech to begin November also will be rough, as those teams figure to be the other main contenders in the Coastal Division. Combined with a home date with another dangerous Pittsburgh team the week after, and the Hokies aren't going to just cruise to another ACC title game.
But this program, even if it doesn't truly break through for another year or two, is back on the rise. Fuente will make sure of that.
Antwan Staley (@antwanstaley)
Replacing a head coach who put a football program on the map is never easy. In his first year as head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies, Justin Fuente won 10 games and played in the ACC Championship Game. Now Hokies fans will likely expect more, though it will not be easy.
Virginia Tech will need to replace quarterback Jerod Evans, receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges, who left early for the NFL. Cam Phillips, who caught 76 passes for 983 yards and five touchdowns a year ago, does return, but the Hokies lack experience behind him.
The Hokies will likely rely on their defense if they're to make a return trip to the ACC title game. Virginia Tech's defense has talented players coming back such as Andrew Motuapuaka (114 tackles, fifth in the ACC) Tremaine Edmunds (18.5 tackles for a loss) and Mook Reynolds.
The Hokies will be tested right away when they open against former Big East rival West Virginia at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. If Virginia Tech can beat the Mountaineers then 10 wins could be possible.
Even with a season-opening loss, the Hokies should be in the thick of the ACC Coastal Division once again.