Virginia Tech Hokies
2018 record and rankings: 6-7 (No. 55 in S&P+, No. 55 in FPI)
2019 S&P+ projection: 8.3 wins (No. 30)
2019 FPI projection: 8.4 wins (No. 32)
Strength: Experience. What does it take for Bud Foster to field a mediocre defense? A spectacular cocktail of youth and attrition. The 2018 Hokies' defense had to replace its top five linebackers from 2017, plus five of its top six defensive backs. Four starters missed time with injury. Plus, a decent line lost end Trevon Hill to injury just as he looked like he was ready for a breakout season.
In college football, though, when you deal with a season of massive attrition such as that, you probably reap the benefits the next year. Seventeen Hokies recorded double-digit tackles last season, and 15 are back in Blacksburg this fall. The defense is loaded with sophomores and juniors instead of freshmen and sophomores, and after nose-diving to 77th in defensive S&P+, the Hokies should expect to rebound into at least the top 40.
The Hokies have four of last season's top five pass targets back, including Damon Hazelton. Brian Utesch/Icon Sportswire
The offense, by the way, boasts outstanding experience in the passing game. Senior quarterback Ryan Willis took over for the injured Josh Jackson early in 2018 and was at least decent, and he has four of last season's top five pass targets back, including big-play weapons Damon Hazelton and Tre Turner.
Weakness: Big plays. Opponents were probably making more of them than Tech was last season. In 13 games, Tech enjoyed 27 gains of 30-plus yards, 69th in FBS. But the defense allowed 42. Only Georgia State and UConn allowed more. Big plays produce easy points, and Tech's dreadfully young and glitch-prone secondary made sure that opponents scored more easy points than VT did.
Opportunity: A soft early schedule. Tech begins the season at Boston College, which isn't a gimme by any stretch, but the Hokies are still likely favorites. According to S&P+, they are double-digit favorites in four of the five games that follow. After last season's somewhat sour 6-7 season, Tech should be 6-1 or 5-2, with bowl eligibility all but clinched, when the Nov. 2 trip to Notre Dame pops up on the schedule. Positive vibes.
Threat: Both S&P+ and FPI grade three Coastal teams ahead of the pack: Miami, Virginia Tech and Virginia. The Hokies have to play at both Miami and UVA. Granted, the last time UVA beat its in-state rival, George W. Bush was in his first term. But that's still pretty daunting.
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