Virginia Tech suffered heavy losses on offense, but the Hokies are once again a threat to win the ACC’s Coastal Division. Josh Jackson finished spring with a slight lead over junior college recruit A.J. Bush and true freshman Hendon Hooker to replace Jerod Evans at quarterback. Replenishing the skill talent at quarterback is another top priority for coach Justin Fuente after the offseason departures of receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges. The defensive line must replace three starters but the back seven is among the best in the ACC. The Nov. 4 showdown at Miami could decide which team wins the Coastal Division.
Previewing Virginia Tech Football’s Offense for 2017
It’ll be a changing of the guard for the Hokies offense, with quarterback Jerod Evans, receiver Isaiah Ford and tight end Bucky Hodges all turning pro a year early, not to mention some big senior contributors graduating from last year.
Quarterback will be the focus, although coach Justin Fuente is more concerned about the surrounding pieces. Redshirt freshman Josh Jackson figures to have a leg up in the quarterback battle after displaying maturity and decision-making beyond his age in his first year on campus.
But Tech needs playmakers to complement him. Receiver Cam Phillips returns and could finish his career as the Hokies’ all-time leading receiver, but the experience drops off quickly after him, with youngsters Eric Kumah and Phil Patterson vying for snaps.
A veteran left side of the line led by Yosuah Nijman and Wyatt Teller could help out what was an inconsistent group of running backs last year. Travon McMillian (671 yards, 10 total TDs) returns, but the tailback competition should be wide open.
Previewing Virginia Tech Football’s Defense for 2017
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Bud Foster’s defenses thrive when they have experience, and
will have that in bunches in the linebacking corps and secondary this season. The linebackers are the strength of the group, led by Andrew Motuapuaka (114 tackles, fifth in the ACC) and Tremaine Edmunds (18.5 tackles for a loss) on the inside and Mook Reynolds, an effective hybrid player with cover abilities, on the outside.
Terrell Edmunds, who had a breakout 2016, slides over from rover to take the departed Chuck Clark’s free safety spot, while the cornerback trio of Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander could be one of the best in the ACC. That group helped the Hokies intercept 16 passes last year, second in the ACC.
The line had significant turnover, but Tech has some talent coming up the ranks. Ricky Walker, who started four games last year, and 328-pound Tim Settle move into the starting defensive tackle spots. Vinny Mihota started last year at end, and Trevon Hill is a breakout candidate rushing off the blind side.
The Hokies figure to find a spot for prized safety signee Devon Hunter, who’s drawn Kam Chancellor comparisons.
Previewing Virginia Tech Football’s Specialists for 2017
Placekicker Joey Slye should pass Shayne Graham as the Hokies’ all-time leading scorer sometime in the first half of the season, although his strong leg still hasn’t produced a 50-yard field goal in eight college attempts. Aussie Oscar Bradburn is expected to take over the punting job as a true freshman. His only experience is in Australian rules football, but he comes from the same kicking camp that’s produced the last four Ray Guy Award winners. Stroman’s a threat to take every punt to the house, and the kick return game got a boost from Henri Murphy late last year.
Fuente had plenty of success after succeeding the legendary Frank Beamer as Virginia Tech’s coach, returning the school to its 10-win standard, claiming the Coastal Division title for the first time since 2011 and giving Clemson all it could handle in the ACC title game. Now comes the harder part: restoring the Hokies to their former mantle as ACC champions. The offensive exodus will challenge this team, particularly early, but Hokies fans hope a full year in the new system, several key returning pieces and Fuente’s offensive acumen can offset some of the loss of talent. It helps to have Foster’s always-trusty defense. In a Coastal Division that doesn’t figure to have a clear-cut frontrunner, there are plenty of reasons to believe Virginia Tech has as good a chance as anybody.
NATIONAL RANKING: 25
ACC COASTAL PREDICTION: 2
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