The Irish and the Hokies play for the first time ever in football during a Senior Day matchup Nov. 19 in South Bend.
With the hiring of a brand new head coach for the first time in nearly 30 years, it will be a season of change and adjustment for the Virginia Tech Hokies. While there may be growing pains, there is plenty of reason for optimism on the Hokies’ sideline. For one thing, the new hiring will bring Virginia Tech out of the dark ages that was the run-first-grind-it-out-offense and into the modern up-tempo offense favored by most players, coaches and fans.
Virginia Tech’s schedule is rather daunting. Aside from the first week against Liberty, the Hokies don’t really face any “weak” opponents. We Irish fans know not to overlook Boston College, Syracuse or Virginia. The prime time week 2 matchup against Tennessee will be Tech’s first big test. Their schedule also features four very tough road games against North Carolina, Duke, Pitt and, of course, Notre Dame.
Bovada has the Hokies as 13-to-4 favorite to win the ACC’s Coastal Division, trailing Miami (3-to-2) and Pitt (3-to-1). The Las Vegas sportsbook also gives Tech 14-to-1 odds to win the entire ACC this year, which is the sixth best odds of any ACC team. Vegas is unsurprisingly high on Clemson, the reigning champ, and Florida State, who won it the year prior.
NEW HEAD COACH
Last year, Justin Fuente ran an up-tempo, spread offense at Memphis that resulted in nine wins. The 39-year-old has earned a reputation as a “QB whisperer” after having successfully managed both Paxton Lynch at Memphis and Andy Dalton at TCU. (Both now play on Sundays.)
How fast can Feuente right the ship? Who can be Feunte’s next Dalton or Paxton?
Jerod Evans, a junior college transfer, and fifth-year senior Brendan Motley, who captained the team when it lost starter Michael Brewer to a broken collarbone last year, have distinguished themselves from the group.
Evans, the top rated dual threat QB in the junior college ranks, had the best spring game performance – 8-of-15 for 104 yards and touch
down. (Motley was 4-of-10 for 19 yards.)
“I think both of those kids had good springs and made progress,” Fuente said after the game. “I try not to make too much of one practice. This was one of 15, even though it was a spring game and it was a big deal – and we treat it like it’s a big deal.
“We’ll evaluate the entire body of work and see how we feel about those guys. I don’t know about the stats and I’m not concerned with that. I’m more concerned with how many times we were going where we were supposed to go with the football and how we operated. We’ll look at the film and see how we did.”
Fuente originally recruited Evans to play at Memphis, and it’s assumed the JUCO product has the edge leading into fall camp. Sophomore Dwayne Lawson offers depth to the position.
According to collegefootballnews.com, Evans impressed in the Hokies’ spring game and is the presumed leader for the starting job. Evans was also considered the top rated dual threat QB coming out of Junior college. For these reasons, and the fact that Coach Fuente originally recruited the young man to play for Memphis, Evans has the clear edge heading into fall. Senior QB Brenden Motley, who showed glimpses of brilliance in limited time last year will put up a good fight. While, rising sophomore Dwayne Lawson offers even greater depth to the position.
Travon McMillian, the team’s leading rusher with more than 1,000 yards, is back. So too is senior fullback Sam Rogers, who had almost 500 all-purpose yards last year. In addition, the Hokies return experience among the wideouts with Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips and giant TE Bucky Hodges, each of whom are considered to be among the ACC’s best. Four offensive linemen with starts under their belts will also be in uniform next season.
Preseason Award Watch List:
- Travon McMillian — Maxwell (player of the year)
- Isaiah Ford — Maxwell (player of the year)
- Chuck Clark — Bednarik (defensive player of the year)
- Joey Slye — Groza (top kicker)
- Bucky Hodges — Mackey (top tight end)
- Eric Gallo — Rimington (top center)
- Wyatt Teller — Outland (top interior lineman)
- Ken Ekanem — Nagurski (defensive player of the year)
CAN THE DEFENSE BOUNCE BACK?
In 2015-16, Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster and the Hokies had their worst defensive year in decades. After giving up 52 points to Tulsa in their bowl game, they finished the season with an adjusted points per game (defensive S&P+) of 23.9, 37th best in the nation and only four points better than their offensive S&P+.
“Foster needs to shore up a back seven that’s currently pedestrian at linebacker and thin at cornerback,” said College Football News’ Rich Cirminello. “Yeah, the Hokies were air-tight versus the pass last fall, but more help is needed for versatile FS Chuck Clark. In an ideal world, CB Brandon Facyson gets healthy and recaptures his 2013 form, when he looked liked a budding superstar. Fortunately, Foster will lose no sleep over his D-line, which could be the strongest unit of the entire team.”
WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY
Cirminello, College Football News: “The season will be a success if the Hokies avoid a third-straight seven-win campaign, capturing eight games in Justin Fuente’s debut. Tech wants to begin turning the tide, while kicking off the Fuente era with enough positive signs to build upon in 2017 and beyond. The schedule features the usual land-mines, including tough outings with Tennessee, North Carolina, Miami, Pitt and Notre Dame. But the new staff inherited ample talent from Frank Beamer to finish 8-5 or 9-4 and even compete for the always-competitive Coastal Division crown.”
Jon Kinne, Athlon Sports: “The Hokies needed a shot in the arm and they will get it in the young, aggressive Fuente. Fuente teaming with Foster looks like an outstanding long-term combination at Tech. But there will be some bumps next fall. Defensively, a team cannot lose as many key components as Virginia Tech has and stay the same, Bud Foster or no Bud Foster. Basically, from the front to the back the Virginia Tech defense will go through an adjustment period.”
Travis Haney, ESPN Insider: “Hop aboard the Fuente bandwagon while you still can. Coaches around the country, including his mentor, Gary Patterson, believe wholeheartedly in his ability to build a program. And, really, we already know that after seeing him take Memphis from seven wins in his first two seasons to 19 in his final two. It’s hard not to be impressed by that. The Hokies are in a division that could allow them to make a quick rise with better quarterback play — an issue I expect Fuente to quickly resolve. To that point: Look out for JUCO Jerod Evans this fall.”