Prediction: Hokies' D returns to form in 2011

Virginia Tech has been a model of consistency over the past seven seasons, and coordinator Bud Foster's defense has been at the heart of it.

Last year, though, it took a noticeable dive.

From 2004-2009, Foster's defense ranked no worse than 12th in the nation in total defense, and ranked among the top five in the nation four times. Last season, the Hokies fell to No. 52 in the country, allowing a total of 5,061 yards (361.5 per game). No other ACC defense allowed more plays of more than 20 yards than Virginia Tech, which had 68 last season.

With three new starters on the defensive line and the graduation of two veterans from the secondary in Rashad Carmichael and Davon Morgan, Virginia Tech's defense will either mature quickly this fall or have another average season.

Prediction: Virginia Tech will rejoin the nation's elite defenses in 2011. Here are three reasons why:

1. Bud Foster. He is the one who set the standard, and his players are well-aware of Virginia Tech's defensive tradition and have said they feel a responsibility to uphold it. This spring, in order to find a little bit of extra motivation and leadership, Foster awarded the storied "lunch pail" to the defender who earned it every practice.

2. The defensive line. While depth up front remains both a question and a concern, the starting four have earned the trust and praise of assistant coach Charley Wiles. Defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins, his brother Derrick Hopkins, defensive end James Gayle, and defensive end J.R. Collins have the potential to bring Virginia Tech's defense back to the standard fans have come to know and expect. They key is for all of them to stay healthy.

3. Cornerback Jayron Hosley is one of the best players in the country. It never hurts to have an All-American in your defensive backfield. He led the nation last season in interceptions per game (nine in 13 games, or .69) and finished fifth in passes defended with 17, or 1.31 per game. He's also one of the top punt returners in the nation.