People always say you never want to be the guy after “the guy.” However, after winning 7.3 games on average in legend Frank Beamer’s final four seasons, Virginia Tech won 19 in Justin Fuente’s first two years at the helm. Large roster turnover led to a step back to 6-7 in 2018, but despite some key guys transferring, a lot of the top producers from last year are back.
There are a lot of ways this season could go because of the high expectations of Tech fans. Another 6-7 year and we could be looking at a new coaching search, a bump back to nine or ten wins and Fuente may be on to something.
For the first time in his tenure in Blacksburg, Fuente will not have a first-year starter at quarterback thanks to the return of Ryan Willis. Willis was alright last year (59%, 24 TDs, nine INTs, 7.5 YPA) and should improve with an extra year of experience and continuity in the receiving corps, where four of the top five return in a group led by Damon Hazelton (802 yards, 15.7 YPC, eight TDs). Sophomore Tre Turner and tight end Dalton Keene were both good options last year that return as well. The group also adds a couple of interesting freshman in Darryle Simmons and Jaden Payoute.
The run game was solid in 2018 but leading rusher Steven Peoples is gone, as are three starters on the line. The new top back will be junior Deshawn McClease, who averaged 4.5 yards a pop last year.
There are some interesting young guys on the line and they add a Coastal Carolina transfer on the interior, Brock Hoffman. With Willis and most of the receiving corps back I think this offense will improve despite the holes up front.
Bud Foster’s defense last year was, for maybe the first time ever, bad for a power five team. Granted, almost the entire starting lineup from 2017 was gone and the Hokies dealt with a ton of injuries.
The defense was really young last year, but on the bright side, that means that pretty much everyone is back from last year. LB Rayshard Ashby (8.5 TFL, leading tackler) and rover Reggie Floyd (9.5 TFL, #2 tackler) both return, as does end TyJuan Garbutt, who racked up 5.5 sacks as a freshman. Dax Hollifield is back at outside linebacker after six TFL and two sacks as a true freshman, and both corners return as well.
None of those players were close to perfect, and probably the best player on the defense is gone in Ricky Walker, but with every starter but him returning, this defense should take a massive step forward as it gets older and more experienced.
The Coastal is up for the taking, and if some of the young guys can show out and the line doesn’t completely collapse, this team absolutely could contend for a division title. The Hokies will have to travel to play the other two top Coastal contenders, Miami and Virginia, but they draw Boston College and Wake Forest from the Atlantic and will be favored in nine of 12 games this year. This should be one of the most improved teams in the country thanks to the continuity.
|at Boston College
|at Notre Dame
|at Georgia Tech
Average Projected Record: 7.8 wins, 4.2 losses (4.7 wins, 3.3 losses)