The Hokies were tagged with a preseason ranking of 6th and 7th by the coaches poll in 2010 and 2009 respectively. The charge, same as it's always been, was to win the national championship. A familiar blueprint laid out the plan. A made for television game against a top ranked opponent to offset a weak conference schedule and... run that table. Things didn't quite pan out.
2011 was supposed to be a rebuilding year. Same goal, just not realistic to achieve. New quarterback, running back, an offensive line that's never really clicked and a young thin defense still licking its wounds and searching for an identity after an uncharacteristic campaign last year. I thought because of the uncertainty at some positions, and turnover of superstars at others, this would be the year we'd escape the lofty expectations of a championship from the media, prognosticators, and fans alike. Take a break, go play some football, and see and appreciate what goes down.
That didn't happen. The media marveled all off season over Logan Thomas' skills and athleticism, preseason magazines ranked the Hokies as high as 5th nationally and there's a chatter buzzing throughout Blacksburg not unlike the past couple of years. An encouraging month of spring practice convincingly answered questions concerning potential shortcomings. It's probably a combination of optimism and talent that has most people feeling good about the 2011 Hokies.
The schedule has me expecting more than I should from this team. A team can really only be judged by how they play their schedule, anything else is speculation, intelligent or otherwise. Luckily for the Hokies their schedule is the easiest of the ACC era. There's no big non-conference showdown, the Hokies aren't even playing a BCS school outside of the ACC. Lane Stadium plays host to the three best ACC teams: Miami, Clemson and North Carolina, they'll face all year. At the beginning of the season the they'll most likely be favored in every game. Right now, when analyzing the schedule, I can't pick out a single game and believe we'll lose it. Miami, Clemson, North Carolina, Boston College and even Virginia all figure to be better this year, but I wouldn't bet my money on any of them against the Hokies.
The schedule sets up perfectly for this team's inexperienced quarterback to get his feet wet. Inexperienced is the word that should precede every analysis of Logan Thomas. He's a supremely talented and imposing athlete, and from everything I've seen he's learning, quickly, how to be a college quarterback, but it's going to take time. I don't expect LT to be as polished a passer as Tyrod was last year in his first year, especially because first year quarterbacks under Beamer aren't very productive. However, I do believe Mike O'Cain being made play caller is part of a philosophy to tailor the offense around Logan. Plugging Logan in the middle of what the Hokies did offensively the last couple of seasons would be like fitting a round peg in a square hole. I expect Thomas to use his size and strength to his advantage. He'll carry the ball on designed runs more than Tyrod did, and he could very well become the player we rely on to get the tough couple of yards when we need them.
David Wilson will be responsible for gaining the majority of the yards on the ground. He'll try to replace two Tech legends, Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, in the backfield. Is he an every down back? That remains to be seen. It may not be that big of a deal because he'll have help if he needs it. Josh Oglesby is a capable back whose downhill running style will compliment Wilson's sizzle.
Thomas, Wilson, Oglesby or any other skill player will only do as well as the offensive line allows them to. This is the year Tech will have a dominate offensive line. Yeah, I know, that record is so played and normally I ignore it because the hook annoys me until no end. But the tune has been remixed a bit this year. Stinespring is coaching the tackles, freeing up Newsome to focus on the center and guards, which means more individual coaching. Not to mention the starters looked pretty good at the Maroon-White Game. The line has four senior returning starters and a handful of versatile qualified backups. If this isn't the year for them to bust out, then when is.
I miss the days when talking about a Tech defense all you had to write, "Bud Foster, 'nough said." Last year was the first time in a long while that the defense just didn't go out and take care of business each week. There were miscues and total breakdowns each game throughout the season. The defense was raw and dinged up. For the most part, the cast of characters remains the same, including stars Hosley and Taylor, and everyone has 14 more games of experience under their belts now. At his chalk talk Foster seemed very impressed with how much players like Jeron Gouveia-Winslow who struggled last season have improved. And he didn't preface discussions with a caveat of how young the players were like he did in 2010. 2010 was an outlier of an otherwise stellar track record for Foster's defenses. I have to believe a more experienced unit will improve from their 52nd overall ranking last season.
I guess I've done a pretty good job of buying into this team's potential. I do it every year. That's what makes the triage of the first loss so difficult for me. My expectations for a team with a green quarterback, new backfield and unproven offensive line and defense are lofty. That's big boy football, reload not rebuild. The schedule is as manageable as it can be though, and there are actual reasons to believe the Hokies can address the major areas of concern. At the bare minimum the Hokies should get back to the Charlotte to defend their ACC Championship.