The Virginia Tech Hokies check in at No. 16 in Athlon's college football 2012 top 25 countdown. Here's a look at our predictions for the most valuable players, games to watch, breakout candidates and other key categories for 2012.
Offensive MVP: Logan Thomas, QB
A 1,700-yard running back who was the ACC Player of the Year (David Wilson), the top two wide receivers in school history (Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale), and four fifth-year seniors on the offensive line are all gone, so this is clearly Thomas’ team. The junior showed what he was capable of in his first year as the Hokies’ starting quarterback, but now all eyes and opposing defenses’ attention will be squarely fixed on him. Despite all the personnel changes on offense, Virginia Tech’s goals remain the same – win the ACC Coastal Division, win the ACC Championship, and play in and win a BCS bowl game. As good as the defense is, the offense will certainly have to do its part too, and whether that happens or not depends largely on Thomas’ continued development under center and his production on the field in 2012.
Trap Game: at Miami (Nov. 1)
Virginia Tech has won its last three meetings against Miami, and at this point the Hokies appear to have the edge over the Hurricanes headed into this season’s contest. However, Miami gave Virginia Tech all they could handle last year in Blacksburg, Va., as the home team needed a 19-yard TD scamper by quarterback Logan Thomas with less than a minute remaining to defeat the Hurricanes, 38-35. This game also precedes Virginia Tech’s match up against Florida State the following Saturday, so there’s the risk of the Hokies overlooking one team from the Sunshine State for the other, which is always a dangerous mindset for a team to have, especially on the road in conference play.
Upset Alert: vs. Cincinnati (Sept. 29)
The last time these two teams met was in the 2009 Orange Bowl, which Virginia Tech won 20-9. This year’s contest will also take place on a neutral field, FedEx Field in Landover, Md., and the Hokies better not look past this Big East opponent, even as an Oct. 6 date in Chapel Hill against ACC divisional foe North Carolina lies ahead. Last season, North Carolina State traveled to Cincinnati to play the Bearcats on a Thursday night, with a conference game versus Georgia Tech looming on the horizon. The Wolf Pack got destroyed by Cincinnati 44-14 and then proceeded to fall at home to the Yellow Jackets 45-35 that next Saturday.
Biggest Game: vs. Georgia Tech (Sept. 3)
It’s the season opener for both teams as the two ACC Coastal foes will meet on Labor Day night in Blacksburg, Va. Besides this not only setting the tone for the start to each other’s 2012 seasons and conference slates, consider this: the winner of this annual match up has gone on to win the Coastal division the past six seasons. Both Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech each will play seven more conference games after this, but if recent history has shown us anything, this game could once again determine who plays in the ACC Championship game in Charlotte, N.C., in December.
Revenge Game: at Clemson (Oct. 20)
It’s pretty simple, Clemson came to Blacksburg, Va., last Oct. 1 and embarrassed Virginia Tech on its home turf 23-3, handing the Hokies their first, and what turned out to be their only, loss during the regular season. The two met again on Dec. 3 in Charlotte, N.C., to decide the ACC Championship, and the result was the same again as the Tigers manhandled the Hokies 38-10. Both teams went on to BCS bowls (and lost), but Virginia Tech would like nothing more than to get some payback on Oct. 20 in Death Valley. A win at Clemson would not only take some of the sting away from what happened last season, it also could potentially derail the Tigers’ hopes of playing for a second-straight ACC title and getting back to a BCS bowl.
Defensive MVP: Bruce Taylor, LB
They say the quarterback of the defense is oftentimes the linebacker and that’s certainly the case for Taylor. The fifth-year senior led the team in tackles in 2010 and was named honorable mention All-ACC last season despite missing the final six games after suffering a Lisfranc foot injury. Virginia Tech’s defense is expected to be among the nation’s best this coming season. In order for the unit to reach its true potential, defensive coordinator Bud Foster needs a fully healthy Taylor to not only wreak havoc from his inside linebacker position, but also provide leadership both on and off of the field.
Unsung Hero: Dyrell Roberts, WR
Roberts is a fifth-year senior who played in just three games last year after sustaining a broken arm returning the opening kickoff against Arkansas State. Roberts also had his 2010 season end prematurely, after being injured during another kickoff return, which resulted in him having surgery and missing the Hokies’ final five games. When healthy, Roberts has produced both on offense and special teams. Entering this season, Roberts has caught 63 passes for 965 yards (15.3 ypc) and five touchdowns. He also is already Virginia Tech’s career leader in kickoff return yardage with 1,577 yards on 61 returns, good for an average of nearly 26 yards per return. As long as he can stay on the field, Roberts should have a big impact in 2012 as the Hokies are without their top two receivers and No. 1 kickoff returner from last season.
Newcomer to Watch: Michael Holmes, RB
Holmes redshirted last year as the Hokies relied heavily on David Wilson. Now Wilson, the 2011 ACC Player of the Year, and his 1,709 rushing yards have gone on to the NFL, giving Holmes a golden opportunity to establish himself as Virginia Tech’s next great running back. Holmes (5-11, 208) is not the biggest or strongest of backs, but he was a two-time state player of the year while at Harrisonburg (Va.) High School and apparently has earned the first shot at replacing Wilson thanks to his hard work this spring and all-around ability.
Freshman to Watch: Joel Caleb, WR
Rated by many recruiting services as one of the top prospects in Virginia, Caleb is considered the jewel of Virginia Tech’s 2012 signing class, as he chose to stay in state rather than going to Ohio State or West Virginia. The 6-3, 205-pound receiver from Midlothian, Va., definitely has the size that will allow him to make an immediate impact in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring lost three of this top five receivers from last year’s team, so as long as Caleb shows to the coaching staff and his teammates that’s he ready, the true freshman should see some playing time this fall behind veterans D.J. Coles, Marcus Davis and Dyrell Roberts.
Comeback Players: Tariq Edwards, Jeron Gouveia-Winslow and Bruce Taylor, LBs
Virginia Tech’s linebacking corps is considered to be the best in the ACC, but all three projected starters are coming back from injuries that could impact their performance this fall. Taylor, the Hokies’ leading tackler in 2010, and Gouveia-Winslow both went down with serious Lisfranc foot injuries that shortened their 2011 seasons. Taylor got hurt against Boston College, costing him the final six games, while Gouveia-Winslow was injured two weeks earlier, ending his junior season prematurely. Edwards, who was third on the team in both tackles and tackles for loss last season, was the only one to play in all 14 games in 2011, but had surgery in Marchto place a steel rod in his left fibia to relieve pressure from a stress fracture in his shin.
All three missed spring practice as a result of their injuries, but are expected to be ready to go by the fall. The best-case scenario for Virginia Tech is that all three hold up for the entire season, but if injuries continue to keep them on the sideline or limit them when they are on the field, the Hokies’ defense will certainly look different, and quite possibly, play different, this fall.
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