CFN: 2009 Virginia Tech Preview

So what do you give the ACC team that has everything? How about a crack at a national championship?

Head coach: Frank Beamer
23rd year: 177-89-2
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 17, Def. 20, ST 3
Lettermen Lost: 16
Ten Best VT Players
1. DE Jason Worilds, Jr.
2. RB Darren Evans, Soph.
3. OG Sergio Render, Sr.
4. CB Stephan Virgil, Sr.
5. QB Tyrod Taylor, Jr.
6. FS Kam Chancellor, Sr.
7. LB Cody Grimm, Sr.
8. LT Ed Wang, Sr.
9. DT Cordarrow Thompson, Sr.
10. TE Greg Boone, Sr.

2009 Schedule
CFN Prediction: COMING
2009 Schedule: 0-0

9/5 Alabama (Atlanta)
9/12 Marshall
9/19 Nebraska
9/26 Miami
10/3 at Duke
10/10 Boston College
10/17 at Georgia Tech
10/29 North Carolina
11/5 at East Carolina
11/14 at Maryland
11/21 NC State
11/28 at Virginia

2008 Schedule
CFN Prediction: 9-3
2008 Schedule: 10-4

8/30 East Carolina L 27-22
9/6 Furman W 24-7
9/13 Georgia Tech W 20-17
9/20 at N. Carolina W 20-17
9/27 at Nebraska W 35-30
10/4 West Kentucky W 27-13
10/11  OPEN DATE
10/18 at Boston Coll L 28-23
10/25 at Florida State L 30-20
11/6 Maryland W 23-13
11/13 at Miami L 16-14
11/ 22 Duke W 14-3
11/29 Virginia W 17-14
12/6 ACC Championship
Boston College W 30-12
Orange Bowl
1/1 Cincinnati W 20-6

So what do you give the ACC team that has everything? How about a crack at a national championship?

Now that Virginia Tech has won three of the last five league titles, including the last two, it’s thinking bigger in 2009. Much bigger. And why not? By all accounts, 2008 was supposed to be a rebuilding year by Hokie standards. The starting lineup had been pillaged by graduation and the season began with a humbling loss to East Carolina of Conference USA. Yet, by the time all the leaves were off the trees, Tech was back in a familiar place, pounding Boston College in the ACC championship game and beating Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl. This year’s veteran-laden squad figures to be better, which might explain why there was a record crowd of 41,000 at the spring game.

No doubt, there’s offseason tinkering to be done, but the rest of the league would love to have Virginia Tech’s problems. The defense has all the necessary parts to match last year’s top 10 finish in total D and scoring D. The running game has 1,000-yard rusher Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, an early candidate for newcomer of the year. The passing game? Now that’s touching a nerve in Blacksburg.

The Hokies sport a conservative offense and have already proven that a prolific passing game is not a prerequisite for winning 10 games. However, Tech wants more in 2009 than just another Orange Bowl trip, and it knows that a viable passing attack improves its chances. Enter Tyrod Taylor, a winning quarterback and a dangerous quarterback, but not a reliable passing quarterback. He’ll be looking to actually earn the dual in dual-threat by giving defenses a reason to respect his arm as well as his legs.

If Frank Beamer was shrewd, he’d hire Tommy Bowden to speak to his kids in August. Bowden knows a little something about the fleeting nature of lofty expectations. His Clemson team started the 2008 season ranked No. 9, but ended it with a new man on the sidelines. Virginia Tech doesn’t want to be Clemson in 2009. It’s hoping to remain in the national hunt long after the opener with Alabama, carrying the ACC flag on its journey.   

What to watch for on offense: The young skill position players. It’s been years since the Hokies had so many budding stars at running back and wide receivers. It’ll be up to QB Tyrod Taylor to make the most of them, and the beleaguered offensive line to spring them. While Darren Evans is already a 1,000-yard rusher, Ryan Williams is a dynamo, who’ll be hard to keep off the field. At receiver, Danny Coale led the team in receptions a year ago, and Jarrett Boykin was the most dangerous pass-catcher as the season wound down. The one thing that links all of these Hokies? They’re all underclassmen, with yet-to-be-tapped potential.

What to watch for on defense: Same old, same old. Year after year, Virginia Tech has been one of the most consistent, dependable defenses in the country. Expect to see a rerun in 2009. Sure, there are holes that need to be plugged, but nothing so egregious that the Hokies won’t have one of the nation’s dozen or so stingiest defenses for a third straight season. This time last year, the interior of the defensive line was the biggest question mark. Today, it has no holes, featuring borderline all-stars Cordarrow Thompson and John Graves, and valuable backups Demetrius Taylor and Antoine Hopkins.

This team will be far better if
… the offensive line plays a full season. Yeah, the passing attack has been feeble, but the line has been undisputed weak link of the program for the last two years. The unit has underachieved on a consistent basis, especially at protecting the pocket. It’s incumbent upon the starting five to create space for a vastly improved set of backs and receivers. Ed Wang, in particular, needs to finally deliver a next-level season as the left tackle.

The Schedule: The defending ACC champions will know exactly where they stand in the college football pecking order after day one with a battle against Alabama in Atlanta. September games against Nebraska and Miami (along with Marshall) will make for an interesting start to the season. Getting a rematch of the last two ACC title games against Boston College will make for an interesting October, with games against Georgia Tech and North Carolina which will likely determine whether or not the Hokies will get to a third straight championship game. November eases up a bit, even with three road games in the final four weeks, with trips to East Carolina, Maryland, and Virginia wrapped around a home game against NC State.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB Darren Evans. After Branden Ore was kicked out of the program, Tech was forced to hold auditions for the feature back opening. Evans answered the call in his first season of activity, rushing for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns. A tough inside runner at 6-0 and 213 pounds, he can also bounce outside to pick up more yards, and has the soft hands to be a viable outlet in the passing game. With just one year of experience, he figures to be even better as he gets older. 

Best Defensive Player: Junior DE Jason Worilds. While it was common knowledge around the program that Worilds was a great athlete, he didn’t become a great pass rusher until last fall. In his debut as a full-timer, he broke through with 62 tackles, and team-highs with 18.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks, and 21 pressures. He’s a blur coming off the edge, flashing suddenness off the snap and uncommon speed for a 6-2, 240-pounder.  

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Tyrod Taylor. Can the Hokies win the league if he remains a one-dimensional player? Well, they’ve already answered that question. However, Virginia Tech has loftier goals than the last two seasons, which include remaining in the hunt for a national title throughout the year. To do that, it’ll need Taylor to be more than just a running threat, progressing as a thrower in order to get young receivers Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale, and Dyrell Roberts more involved with the offense.

The season will be a success if
... the Hokies win a third straight ACC championship. It’s certainly there for the taking, especially after they took the crown in 2008 with so many question marks on both sides of the ball. Tech will be the league’s highest ranked team in the preseason polls and a heavy favorite to three-peat. There’s only one truly daunting league road game, an Oct. 17 return to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech.

Key game: Sept. 5 vs. Alabama. Having already conquered the ACC in back-to-back years, the Hokies have their sights fixed on a bigger prize in 2009—a shot at a national championship. To get there, they’ll need to survive this doozy in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A College Kickoff. If they can’t get past the Tide, it’ll be shades of Clemson all over again and a crushing blow to both Tech and the ACC.

2008 Fun Stats: 
- Sacks: Opponents 42 for 224 yards - Virginia Tech 35 for 270 yards
- Time of possession: Virginia Tech 33:00 - Opponents 27:00
- Interception return average: Virginia Tech 16.8 yards - Opponents 6.3 yards

- 2009 CFN Virginia Tech Preview | 2009 Virginia Tech Offense
- 2009 Virginia Tech Defense | 2009 Virginia Tech Depth Chart
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