By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
It wasn’t a typical season for Virginia Tech in 2012. The Hokies had to win their final three games just to finish 7-6, and avoid its first losing record since 1992.
What lies ahead in the upcoming campaign is a mystery. How will the offense respond to three new staff additions, and questions all over the place? The defense appears to be the strength of the team, but the same could be said last season, and that unit allowed at least 27 points in six games, all of which resulted in defeats.
Logan Thomas regressed last season, and didn’t look any better in the spring game despite the presence of Scot Loeffler, throwing three interceptions, two that were returned for scores. Virginia Tech needs to find a dependable back, which didn’t happen last season, some receivers who can catch the ball, and they have to replace the left side of the offensive line.
Defensively, Bud Foster won’t allow the Hokies to have a repeat of last season, and has weapons in James Gayle, Jack Tyler, Kyle Fuller and a healthy Antone Exum. Giles’ product Cody Journell is back, but ‘Beamer Ball’ has been non-existent and needs to return to past success.
As for the schedule ahead, the Hokies avoid both Clemson and Florida in the Atlantic, but will have to visit two of four schools — Miami and Georgia Tech — that figure to challenge in the Coastal. North Carolina does have to come to Blacksburg.
Here is an early guess for each game with practice slated to start in Blacksburg on Monday.
Aug. 31. Alabama (Loss): Not a good way for a struggling offense to get on track. Virginia Tech is 1-11 against the Crimson Tide, and will have to ride what should be an improved defense to stay close in this one. The clubs met in a similar kickoff to the season in Atlanta in 2009, and the Hokies led late, but Alabama rolled, and began a run of three national titles in four years.
Sept. 7. Western Carolina (Win): Virginia Tech is covering nearly every direction in the Carolina schools, beginning with the Catamounts. The Hokies are 16-1 in home openers over the last 17 years, with that loss coming in a shocker to James Madison. That won’t happen this year, Western Carolina was 1-11 in 2012.
Sept. 14. At East Carolina (Win): Honestly, a loss here wouldn’t surprise me. The Pirates have done it before, beating the Hokies in Charlotte in 2008, and only lost by 7 in ’11, even though Virginia Tech had 220 more yards than East Carolina. The Pirates should be considered the favorites in the Conference USA East Division, but Marshall might be closing in.
Sept. 21 Marshall (Win): Speaking of Marshall, the Herd will visit Blacksburg, having lost seven straight to the Hokies, including the last four since 2002 by an average of 29 points a game. Marshall last beat the Hokies way back in 1940. The combination of Rakeem Cato to Tommy Shuler will have an issue against Virginia Tech’s experienced secondary.
Sept. 26. At Georgia Tech (Loss): Virginia Tech used Thursday night football to build its program, but this one is in Atlanta. The Hokies are 7-3 in the last 10 meetings, including wins in the last three. The Yellow Jackets face all three Coastal Division favorites in succession, beginning with the Hokies. Facing the triple-option attack after Marshall’s aerial show will be a challenge.
Oct. 5. North Carolina (Win): The Tar Heels are eligible for the postseason after a 8-4 mark last season, including a convincing win over the Hokies. Three of the last five games have been decided by three points, with Virginia Tech winning both of them. North Carolina will face Georgia Tech and the Hokies in a span of three weeks. Go with the Hokies on a Journell field goal.
Oct. 12. Pittsburgh (Win): It was a lopsided loss in Pittsburgh that started Virginia Tech’s downward spiral in 2012. Now the Panthers are an ACC foe, and the Hokies have lost four straight against Pitt, dating back to their days together in the Big East. Pittsburgh is 1-4 in Blacksburg, but won the last meeting in 2002. Pitt’s first season in the ACC won’t be good.
Oct. 26. Duke (Win): Duke was 6-7 last season and played in a bowl game for the first time since 1994, but still loss the game. Virginia Tech has won 12 straight in this series, not only by an average of 21 points a game, but have outgained the Blue Devils by more than 200 yards in each contest. Duke will drop to 0-8 in Blacksburg.
Nov. 2. at Boston College (Win): Thanks to ACC expansion, the Hokies get to visit Boston two years in a row. Virginia Tech needed overtime to be at the Eagles last year to keep alive their hopes for six wins and a bowl bid. That won’t be an issue this season, with the Hokies claiming their sixth win in this one in what will be their sixth straight win over Boston College.
Nov. 9. at Miami (Loss): Is Miami really back? That seems to be a prevailing thought every season, and it never seems to prove reality. The Hurricanes are expected by many to play in the ACC Championship Game for the first time. The Hokies also had to travel to Miami last year and lost by 18. Miami hasn’t won two straight in the series since they were Big East foes in 2001-02.
Nov. 16. Maryland (Win): The Terrapins might as well get used to losing records because they will have plenty of them in the Big 10. Virginia Tech has won the last five in this series by an average of 26 points a game. The Hokies won their last nine home finales by an average of 18 points a contest. Maryland hasn’t beaten Virginia Tech since the Hokies joined the ACC.
Nov. 30. Virginia (Win): Virginia Tech will seek a 10th straight Commonwealth Cup title, and they’ll get it in Charlottesville.
Virginia has a brutal schedule that doesn’t bode well for improving much on last year’s four-win campaign. Two of the last five meetings were decided by three points, including a late Journell field goal in Blacksburg last season.
There will be no ACC Championship Game this season for Virginia Tech, but a 9-3 record would certainly beat 7-6.
They could actually lose to East Carolina and North Carolina, but still finish with seven wins and keep its bowl streak alive.
Virginia Tech could actually do better, but the Hokies will need improvement on both sides of the ball, especially on offense. Foster won’t allow the defense to get treated like it did in ’12.
As for the offense, Trey Edmunds or someone else must be able to provide the running game that was non-existent last year.
There aren’t a lot of playmakers at receiver, which could put more pressure on Thomas to make plays, which last year meant trying to force a ball into coverage or use his 260 pounds to run the ball straight ahead.
A return to ‘Beamer Ball’ on special teams would help too.
Here is calling for as many as nine wins or as few as seven.
Clemson and Florida State will claim the Orange Bowl and Chick-fil-A Bowl berths — no national championship game for either team — leaving scraps for the rest. Look for the Hokies in the Sun, Russell Athletic, Belk or Music City bowls, but let’s hope they can avoid something called the AdvoCare V100 Bowl.
Football season approaches. ‘Enter Sandman’, one of the best entrances in all of college football, awaits.
Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He encourages feedback at bwoodson @ bdtonline. com.