Head Coach Frank Beamer, along with the rest of Hokie Nation, knows very well that his defense and special teams are the spark of the Virginia Tech's football program. Not since the days of Michael Vick have the Hokies' offensive units struck fear in the eyes of opposing defenders.
To be fair, they have had their share of talented athletes on offense (Eddie Royal, Marcus Vick, Kevin Jones, Josh Morgan, Ernest Wilford and Andre Davis come to mind). In spite of all this talent, though, the Hokies have had a difficult time moving the ball and putting up points over the past several years.
In fact, over the past three years the Hokies have not finished ranked any higher than 99th in Total Offense.
Offensive Coordinator Brian Stinespring has taken a lot of heat from the Hokie faithful but Beamer still stands behind his man, for now.
I think you look at your football team and you do what you need to do to win. I think offensively we've done that. There are kind of some unselfish coaches involved there, too. Sometimes you've got to do what your talent says you can do and play to your strength. I'm pleased that we're one of three teams that's won 10 games each of the last five years. You think about that, and offensively, I think we've gotten behind in a couple of positions, and I think we're really getting caught up now and I feel better about it.
Any optimistic thoughts regarding an offensive uptick were muffled by the loss of RS So. Darren Evans for the season after he tore his ACL two weeks ago in practice.
Evans emerged as a star last year for the Hokies running game, setting numerous freshman rushing records and earning the MVP award for his performance in last year's Orange Bowl.
Without his presence the Hokies are still equipped with a stable of skilled running backs including RS Fr. Ryan Williams (a former Notre Dame recruit), Fr. David Wilson, and RS So. Josh Oglesby. All-world athlete Jr. QB Tyrod Taylor is always a threat, too.
Keeping all of these facts in mind please follow me as I take you through my outlook on how the Hokies will fare in each of their games for the 2009 season.
1. Virginia Tech vs. Alabama @ Atlanta, GA, 8p EST on ABC, September 5
No cupcake opener for the Hokies this year (I actually commend the Hokies for playing strong out-of-conference games unlike other top teams) as they take on Nick Saban's Crimson Tide in the Georgia Dome in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Given the loss of Evans the 'Bama defense will apply pressure early and often on Tyrod Taylor. In order to play competitively one of the youngsters at RB will need to have a breakout performance. That's an unlikely scenario, though. Both teams have solid defense but the Crimson Tide have the more dangerous of the two offenses. The Tide will be breaking in a new quarterback under center this season in Jr. Greg McElroy, but Julio Jones is an absolute stud who can make any QB look good. Jones will have a 2 TD performance to help "Roll Tide" past the Hokies.
Final Score: Alabama 21, Virginia Tech 17
2. Virginia Tech vs. Marshall, 1:30p EST on ESPN360, September 12
An unsettled offense that did not impress in week 1 will take out the disappointment of an opening loss on the Thundering Herd. VT and Marshall have met twice this decade, with the Hokies lighting up the scoreboards for at least 40 points in each matchup. They will light it up again in this one, but fall a few points shy of this decade's benchmark.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 35, Marshall 13
3. Virginia Tech vs. Nebraska, 3:30p EST on ABC, September 19
If not for having home field advantage this would probably be the second hardest game on the schedule for VT. Last season the Hokies emerged victoriously from the matchup against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, NE by a final score of 35-30. Looking back, it's hard to imagine VT putting up (relatively) so many points in one game.
This year's matchup won't be as high-scoring as last year - at least not for the Cornhuskers. The Hokies let Bo Pelini's Nebraska team back into the game late last year but I don't think lightning will strike twice. The home crowd is enough to push VT over the edge in this one.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 27, Nebraska 20
4. Virginia Tech vs. Miami, time TBA, September 26
After a 41-14 trouncing in 2007 the Hurricanes rebounded with a 16-14 win last season in Miami Gardens, FL. The Hurricanes received a scare last week as their leading rusher the past two seasons and the ACC's 6th leading rusher last year, Graig Cooper, went down on August 17 during practice. Head Coach Randy Shannon said the injury was minor, though, and Cooper will be ready to go for their week 1 clash against the Seminoles.
Not much has changed for either teams since last season, although the Hokies did lose one of their best players to the NFL in Safety Macho Harris. Similar to week three, though, home field advantage will be the game changer in this one.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 20, Miami 17
5. Virginia Tech at Duke, time TBA, October 3
Duke has always played the Hokies with everything they've got in the tank, but that isn't saying much. Unless the entire Hokies team gets wiped out by the swine flu in the week leading up to this bout there's no way the Blue Devils stand a chance. Speaking of swine flu, I hope the Duke players are recovering.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 30, Duke 3
6. Virginia Tech vs. Boston College, time TBA, October 10
Last time the Boston College and Virginia Tech met at Lane Stadium the Eagles pulled off an improbable come from behind victory led by current Atlanta Falcons starter Matt Ryan. Without Ryan at the helm, though, this game should not be too close. BC will be breaking in a brand new starter at quarterback and lost all-world linebacker Mark Herzlich to a bout with cancer (good luck in your recovery, Mark). New head coach Frank Spaziani has been to Lane Stadium before but never as the head haunch-o.
Tyrod Taylor will run and throw all over the Eagles' defense in this one.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 24, Boston College 9
7. Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech, time TBA, October 17
Paul Johnson is in his second year as head coach of the Yellow Jackets and looks to improve upon their 9-4 finish a year ago, including a 20-17 in Blacksburg. 18 starters are back from that same squad and they appear poised to enact revenge with home crowd support. I've been to Bobby Dodd Stadium before, though, and I must say it was the least bit intimidating. The true question in this game is whether or not the Hokies can slow down the Yellow Jackets' running game. Paul Johnson teams are used to rushing for two bills (a feat they accomplished in last year's bout). Can their combination of almost zero passing game with an electric running game outpace a mediocre Tech passing game with an above average running game? Barely.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 27, Georgia Tech 19
8. Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina, 7:30p EST on ESPN, October 29
No more waiting until November for the first Thursday night game in Blacksburg this year. Coming off of a bye week this has all of the makings for a Hokies letdown. Maybe if Hakeem Nicks was still wearing a Tar Heels uniform or if it weren't a Thursday night game (VT is 14-3 all-time on such games at home) I would pick the "upset" here. Don't get me wrong - UNC has the ability to win this game. But QB T.J. Yates will be throwing to a new core of receivers and has never taken a snap under the lights in Blacksburg,
Final Score: Virginia Tech 28, North Carolina 21
9. Virginia Tech vs. East Carolina, 7:30p EST on ESPN, November 5
Last year I was probably one of the few people outside Greenville, NC who thought the Pirates belonged on the same field as the Hokies. Skip Holtz has been working wonders but wonderboy will meet young nastyman in Tech Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster, whose defensive unit is hungry to show the nation it can do better than the 3 TDs it allowed from the Pirates' offense last year.
Beamer's crew won't look beyond the Pirates as they did this season. Even on special teams the Hokies surrendered a TD. As uncharacteristic as that was history will not repeat itself this year. Taylor will not be as green at the QB position and the entire team is eager to to get their revenge.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 26, East Carolina 15
10. Virginia Tech at Maryland, time TBA, November 14
It's not that the Terrapins won't be competitive this year. Ralph Friedgen's teams have typically played very well at times. But their propensity to play well certain nights and follow up with subpar performances other nights is their achilles heel and defining characteristic of the program. Sure, Maryland will win a few games this year they aren't supposed to but this is not one of those games.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 27, Maryland 16
11. Virginia Tech vs. North Carolina State, time TBA, November 21
Tom O'Brien is in his second year as commander of the Wolfpack. Year 1 got off to an extremely rough start (2-6) before upset wins over Wake Forest and UNC helped propel them into the postseason with a 6-7 final record. Not a bad start for the new guy after the previous two years saw the Wolfpack at home during bowl season.
Without Jr. LB Nate Irving (off-season car accident) will be no small task. What does losing your team's best player mean? A shoe-in loss at the hands (or feet) of a Hokies team that will run circles around State's defense all day.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 35, NC State 17
12. Virginia Tech at Virginia, time TBA, November 28
Wohoo for Wahoos! In the final game of the regular season the Virginia Cavaliers will finally have the opportunity end a 5-year winless draught against the Hokies. In order for the 'Hoos to have a shot in this one they will have to improve upon an offense that finished last year with the following rankings: 115th (out of 119) in scoring, 108th in rushing offense, and 110 in total offense. Head Coach Al Groh brought in new assistant coaches almost across the board and installed the spread offense during spring ball in an effort to right last season's woes. He better hope his players learn and execute quickly because there are fewer seats hotter in college football than his. Hokies pull out a close one in Charlottesville with their eyes set on the ACC Championship Game.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 24, Virginia 20
13. Virginia Tech vs. Florida State, 8pm EST on ESPN, December 5
If anyone but the Florida State Seminoles meets the Hokies in the ACC Championship game it will be because their entire team was arrested (in case you hadn't heard, the 'Noles of old are back).
Seriously though, the Hokies and Seminoles have two of the most difficult schedules in all of college football this year. Making it to the ACC Championship game will be testaments in their own rights for these two programs. However, despite the grueling regular season both schools are primed to earn a BCS bid (given the ACC's automatic berth to the conference champion).
Virginia Tech and Florida State squared off last year in Tallahassee, FL with the 'Noles emerging 30-20 victors. More interesting, though, Bobby Bowden's teams have owned the Hokies in championship games dating back to 1999 when Michael Vick still played for Tech.
History will not repeat itself in this game as long as the Hokies aren't forced to insert their third-string quarterback. Bowden sings Beamer's praises - a possible prelude to his press conference speech for the 2009 ACC Championship game. The Hokies defense will help real in Florida State's quarterback Christian Ponder. At least one special teams TD will be scored by Tech in this game.
Final Score: Virginia Tech 22, Florida State 17
Will the winner of the ACC Championship Game earn a bid to the national championship game? Perhaps. In the case of Tech, they will likely come into this matchup with only one loss from very early in the season. Assuming other teams trip up elsewhere a bid in the national title game is not out of the question. If the Seminoles make it to this game undefeated or with just one loss including a win at the Swamp their national title presence would certainly be justified.
I don't think either of those scenarios are possible but that's why they play the games.
Good luck to VT this season.