For the second time in three years, Virginia Tech finished with a sub-.500 record and since beating Duke just before Halloween of 2017, at which point the Hokies were 7-1 on the season and No. 13 in America, the boys from Blacksburg have gone 21-21. The transfer portal always seems to have a former Hokie looking for a new home and after not playing in a bowl game for the first time since 1992, the head coach enters the 2021 season on a very hot seat.
And you say there are things to be optimistic about?
Well, there are. Here are three reasons why Virginia Tech football will be worth watching next fall.
1. Pass-catching talent
Everyone has waited for Tre Turner to really explode. In three years, he has been very consistent with roughly 30 catches for more than 500 yards each season. But he is capable of so much more. Tight end James Mitchell is also a player that could see his numbers improve and running back Raheem Blackshear is a receiving threat that should see an uptick in opportunities with Khalil Herbert gone. Plus, Tayvion Robinson led the team in both receptions and yards in 2020 while Jaden Payoute, who impressed coaches in preseason camp before injuring his leg, should be ready to go.
No, the Hokies do not have Alabama-esque talent level out wide. But there's more than enough to have a solid passing attack…provided Tech gets competent quarterback play. Without Herbert running and left tackle Christian Darrisaw opening holes, the running game is going to take a hit. The best playmakers on offense next fall will be the pass catchers and head coach Justin Fuente has to figure out a way to get them the ball.
2. Solid defensive front seven
Linebacker Rayshard Ashby and lineman Justus Reed depart, but there still should be some strong pieces for the Hokies up front. Dax Hollifield will probably move into Ashby's spot in the middle and perhaps that will be what he needs to become the player Hokie fans envisioned when he signed back in 2018. As a senior, this will be his defense. Alan Tisdale, who had 59 tackles in eight games, is another second-level defender that will return.
Up front, the return of Amare Barno makes the defensive line a formidable unit. The junior college transfer led the ACC in tackles for lost yardage with 16 and his 6.5 sacks were good for eighth in the conference. The front will also be bolstered by the return of TyJuan Garbutt, who opted out last season before opting back in late in the season. He started 11 games in 2019. Plus, Emmanuel Belmar returns for a fifth season after playing just four games last year. His experience will provide quality depth along the offensive line.
3. The return of Jermaine Waller
Waller entered the 2020 season as a second-team All-ACC selection at cornerback by Athlon Sports. But a 2019 ankle injury slowed his progress in camp and then he hurt his arm in the Wake Forest game. In total, Waller played just two games in his junior season.
In 2019, Waller was fifth in the conference in passes defended and had three interceptions. He also proved to be more than just a cover corner as he registered 46 tackles. When Caleb Farley opted out and Waller couldn't really contribute, the Tech secondary went south quickly, finishing 13th in the ACC against the pass.
Farley is off to the NFL, as is three-year starting safety Divine Deablo. But leading tackler Chamarri Conner is back along with corner Dorian Strong, who made 247Sports True Freshman All-American team in 2020. A healthy Waller gives this unit even more hope.
— 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.
(Top photo courtesy of @HokiesFB)