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2018 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Talk about a bad offseason. Terrell Edmunds, Tremaine Edmunds and Tim Settle all declared early for the NFL draft. Adonis Alexander entered the NFL Supplemental Draft after being dismissed from the team. Mook Reynolds was dismissed. Galen Scott was forced to resign. Jeremy Webb tore his achilles tendon. The best news was Josh Jackson’s near miss with an academic issue. Wow. That’s a bad offseason.

But there is hope for 2018. There are a lot of talented young players who will get their opportunity to step up. The schedule isn’t that tough and the Hokies should be in position for another good year if they can get some young guys to step up – particularly on defense.

Offense

Josh Jackson is back 100% healthy after getting banged up in the 2nd half of last season. He’s a smart QB with a good arm and can run the ball when needed. He reminds me a lot of Bryan Randall. He’s never going to draw comparisons to Michael Vick or Lamar Jackson, but he has all the tools to get the job done. He’s good at taking care of the ball and no one knows the playbook like he does. This year he will have more help around him. He can be really good and put up big numbers with the right supporting cast around him.

Virginia Tech will get more production from the running back position. Gone is Travon McMillian but the Hokies have a couple of other guys who are good fits for the offense. I’m most excited about Deshawn McClease. McClease rushed for 265 yards in his last three games with over a 5 yard per carry average in each of those games. And…

That’s some pretty good company. Jalen Holston had his moments in 2017. Steven Peoples can always pick up the tough yards. And you have Coleman Fox who can add some energy and speed when he gets into a game. The guy to watch this season is Deshawn McClease and his progression in this offense.

The wide receivers are young but talented. Damon Hazelton, the sophomore transfer from Ball State, looks like a breakout candidate for the Hokies. Reports are he gave the scout team a lot of trouble last year when he was redshirting. Expect Sean Savoy to build on the big season he had last year. Also keep an eye on Phil Patterson who had the catch of the year in the Spring Game. He could also be a breakout candidate this year. But the guys I will be keeping my eye on are Hazelton and Savoy.

An underrated position group is the tight end group. Dalton Keene looks the part and you can expect to see him have a bigger role in the offense this season. True freshman James Mitchell is already getting rave reviews in practice. And Chris Cunningham will continue to be a dangerous red zone target. This year we will see more production out of this group in the passing game.

The offensive line looks good on paper. They lost Wyatt Teller who brought a lot of toughness to the group but this is a talented and experienced group. It’s also a group of guys playing in their positions of strength. It’s a good mix of experience and young talent for depth. That’s usually a good combination. This position group has 10 guys in the two-deep that are game ready. This should be a good group.

The offense should be better than last season. I think this side of the ball could see a bigger improvement than most are expecting. At Memphis, year 3 under Justin Fuente is when the offense really took off. A healthy Josh Jackson will make a big difference. Fuente has had two years to recruit his players into this offense. The product this year should resemble Fuente’s vision for his offense more than his first two seasons in Blacksburg. They’ll need it with so many young guys on the defense.

Defense

The defense is the area of concern for the Hokies this year. Youth everywhere. This is what you would have to call a rebuilding year. But the Hokies still have Bud Foster. Bud Foster can only cover for so many young players. The beginning of the year might be rough.

The starting defensive line looks really good but it is not a deep group. This is the one area of the defense where there is experience. But there is not much behind the starters. The young guys are going to have to step up to give the starters a breather. The depth is concerning but the Hokies have some young talent that should be able to step up to fill out the two-deep. The Hokies need to avoid injuries from the starters. The guy to watch on the line is Ricky Walker, he has All-ACC and All-American potential. Two breakout guys to keep an eye on are Houshun Gaines and Tyjuan Garbutt.

The linebacker group is young and inexperienced. The linebacker group will have three first year starters this season. But there is an injection of talent in this group. Expect the group to struggle early in the season but they should be pretty solid as the season goes on. I feel good about the talent level here but not the experience level. Names to keep an eye on here are Devon Hunter, Rayshard Ashby and Dax Hollifield.

The secondary is also young and inexperienced. Are you sensing a trend here? I like the talent but there is just not much experience here. This secondary will take it’s lumps early in the season but will build confidence as the season goes on. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of mixing and matching with the group to find the four starters the coaches want to roll with. You can expect Reggie Floyd and Divine Deablo to start at the safety positions. The corners will be manned by whoever can win the position battles this August. The breakout candidates in the secondary are Bryce Watts, Caleb Farley and Jovonn Quillen.

The defense will take a step back to start the season. You can’t lose the amount of talent the Hokies lost and hope to improve. I do think this will be a good defense but it will take a couple of games before it gels. This won’t look like a Bud Foster defense in the first half of the year. Too many young players. Good news is that there is a lot of speed and talent, and you’ll see it come together nicely in October and November.

Special Teams

Aside from Oscar Bradburn expect a lot of new faces on special teams. Brian Johnson should take over field goal duties. The Hokies will need to find new kick and punt returners now that Greg Stroman is gone. Bryce Watts and CJ Carroll should get an opportunity on punt returns. Jovonn Quillen is a candidate to return kicks along with Caleb Farley and Cole Beck (if he doesn’t get redshirted).

2018 Outlook

The Hokies biggest obstacle to a division championship is Miami. The good news about this year is that the Hokies get Miami at home and a lot of national experts like the Hokies chances in that matchup.

The Hokies have some big match-ups this years. They open the season with Florida State in Tallahassee. They get Notre Dame at home in week 6. Then they get Miami at home on the second-to-last week of the regular season. Those three games will be important in determining the Hokies’ season.

Watch out for games at Duke, Georgia Tech at home, Boston College at home, and Pittsburgh on the road. Those are games where the Hokies could stumble if they are not careful. The Hokies need to avoid the upset bug in 2018.

Key games for the Hokies: at Florida State, Notre Dame, Miami
Upset Alert: at Duke

Date Opponent Prediction
Mon, Sep 3 @ Florida State* L
Sat, Sep 8 William and Mary W
Sat, Sep 15 East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 29 @ Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 @ Duke L
Sat, Oct 6 Notre Dame* L
Sat, Oct 13 @ North Carolina W
Thu, Oct 25 Georgia Tech W
Sat, Nov 3 Boston College W
Sat, Nov 10 @ Pittsburgh W
Sat, Nov 17 Miami* L
Fri, Nov 23 Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 8-4 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: Unranked
Predicted Bowl Game: Music City Bowl in Nashville

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2017 Virginia Tech Season Preview

Justin Fuente had a great debut going 10-4 in his first season. This included wins over Coastal division rivals Miami, Pitt and UNC. He also brought back order to the ECU series with a resounding victory. Then he took the Hokies back to the ACC Championship Game for the first time since 2011. There they took the eventual National Champions to the final possession. Pretty good first season all things considered.

For all that Fuente did well in 2016, it will be challenging to repeat or exceed the same level of success in 2017. The Hokies will have a new quarterback and have to replace three of their top four receiving targets from 2016.  This will be a season where the Hokies will have to lean on the defensive side of the ball to have success. We’ve seen this story before.

Offense

Joshua Jackson should be a solid QB for the Hokies. He was close to playing himself into the starting job as a true freshman last year. Justin Fuente likes him because he makes good decisions. He is the type of quarterback who will make the correct read on each play and not turn the ball over. That is very important to Fuente’s offense. Joshua Jackson is the type of quarterback that Fuente has liked in the past. If he had the same supporting cast as Jerod Evans had, I could see him putting up similar numbers. Unfortunately, Isaiah Ford, Bucky Hodges and Sam Rogers are no longer around.

Healthy bodies at the running back position will also help Joshua Jackson. Last season, the Hokies had to rely on Travon McMillian, Sam Rogers and Steven Peoples. The other running backs on the roster were nursing injuries or off-the-field issues. This year McMillian returns along with Deshawn McClease, Peoples and newcomer Jalen Holston. It’s good to have healthy and capable options to choose from in the running game. You should see rushing yards from scrimmage improve from that position group. A lot of that will come from read-option plays like we saw last year.

Look for Cam Phillips to have a huge year as the Hokies’ primary pass catcher. I’m expecting him to be first or second team All-ACC this year. He should see around the same amount of targets as Isaiah Ford did last year. Phillip Patterson and Eric Kumah should fill that 2nd receiver role on the outside. They lack experience but will get better as the year goes on. There are a variety of options in the slot like CJ Carroll, Henri Murphy, Hezekiah Grimsley and Sean Savoy. This inexperienced group will need to step up for the Hokies to have an effective offense.

Defense

On defense, the Hokies should be stout. This is a defense that could be better than last year’s group which finished 18th in total defense. The Hokies have a talented secondary. They also boast one of the most experienced group of linebackers in the country. The biggest question mark is on the defensive line where there is not much experience or depth. The Hokies will need some young players step up.

The defensive line returns four players with starting experience. The starting line features Vinny Mihota, Trevon Hill, Tim Settle and Ricky Walker. While all have enough talent to be front line starters, the depth behind them is full of unknowns. The good news is that the Hokies have a lot young players to choose from. In previous seasons, the Hokies have been able to work with lineups like this. A mix of experienced starters and inexperienced backups. They need to make sure to avoid the injury bug. That would cause major issues for this position group.

For the first time in a long time, the Hokies linebackers are a major strength. They are one of the most talented and experienced groups in the ACC. Andrew Motuapuaka was third team All-ACC and a statistical leader in the conference. Tremaine Edmunds was second team All-ACC and could choose to leave early for the NFL at season’s end. That leaves Mook Reynolds, who was one of the best hybrid linebackers in the conference in 2016. And came on strong at the end of last season. This is an elite group and one of the best in the ACC.

No surprise the secondary is full of talent. This is DBU after all. The corner position will cycle between Brandon Facyson, Greg Stroman and Adonis Alexander. Terrell Edmunds and Reggie Floyd will split duties at the safety positions. Add in all-everything true freshman Devon Hunter who can step in and provide support. This is a talented unit.

Special Teams

Special teams went back to being special under James Shibest. #Shibestball became a thing in 2016. I look forward to more special teams plays like the fake punt he drew up against Clemson last season. Joey Slye is back to boom the ball on kickoffs and be very accurate inside 50 yards on field goals. He has one last chance to prove he can make those 50 yarders. New Aussie punter Oscar Bradburn has a canon for a leg but he will need to adjust to American football. I wouldn’t expect a huge drop-off in the punting game. I think the Hokies should be able to win the field position battle in most games. I would also expect big things from Greg Stroman in the return game. He already has 2 career punt return touchdowns. It would be surprising if he didn’t add to that this year.

2017 Outlook

The good news for the Hokies is that the Coastal division is full of teams with question marks. Only UVA and Duke return their quarterbacks from last year. The team that is able to re-load the best on offense is the team that will win the division.

One of the Hokies biggest challenges this year, is to win all the games they should win. Last year, the Hokies should have beaten Tennessee, Syracuse and Georgia Tech. At the end of the season, the Hokies were statistically better than those three teams but they stumbled when they played them. The Hokies will look for more consistency this season. But it will be difficult with so many new faces on offense.

* Key games for the Hokies: Clemson, at Miami, at Georgia Tech

Date Opponent Prediction
Sun, Sep 3 West Virginia W
Sat, Sep 9 Delaware W
Sat, Sep 16 @ East Carolina W
Sat, Sep 23 Old Dominion W
Sat, Sep 30 Clemson* L
Sat, Oct 7 @ Boston College W
Sat, Oct 21 UNC W
Sat, Oct 28 Duke W
Sat, Nov 4 @ Miami FL* L
Sat, Nov 11 @ Georgia Tech* L
Sat, Nov 18 Pittsburgh W
Fri, Nov 24 @ Virginia W

Final Regular Season Record: 9-3 (5-3 ACC)
Expected finish: 2nd in Coastal Division
Final Regular Season Ranking: 19th
Predicted Bowl Game: TaxSlayer Bowl in Jacksonville, FL

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