If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders. The Hokies are up next.
Why they’re a contender: The defense could be the best in the ACC. Virginia Tech returns nine starters from a defense that ranked No. 18 in the country last year in total defense. All four defensive linemen return, including all-ACC defensive end James Gayle and run-stopper Derrick Hopkins. All-ACC and leading tackler Jack Tyler is back at linebacker, and all four defensive backs return, including Antone Exum, once he recovers from an injury. Kyle Fuller, Kyshoen Jarrett, Detrick Bonner and Corey Marshall are also headliners, and there are big expectations for true freshman Kendall Fuller. There are also plenty of young, talented players who redshirted last season and will earn their way into the rotation.
Why they’re a pretender: Offensive questions remain. Coach Frank Beamer made sweeping changes to his offensive staff, including the hire of first-year offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, offensive line coach Jeff Grimes, and receivers coach Aaron Moorehead. While most who paid attention to the Hokies last season would agree change was necessary, it’s a new playbook to learn, and the offensive line remains a concern. Virginia Tech still needs to establish a leader in the running game, still has to find physical, dependable receivers willing to block, and still needs to see improvement from quarterback Logan Thomas. Those things will take time, especially with new faces on the coaching staff.
Final verdict: Contender. Beamer is one of the best coaches in the ACC, as evidenced by eight straight seasons of 10 wins or more. The staff and players are determined to regroup and prove that last season’s disappointment was an anomaly. Thomas certainly didn’t come back to Virginia Tech to finish 6-6. The talent on defense will be enough to shoulder the team as the offense works out its kinks under Loeffler.