Big East Preview - Part 2

This is the second in a seven part preseason tour of the Big East. I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at perennial powerhouse Virginia Tech. I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits.



Virginia Tech is the epitome of smash-mouth Big East football. The Hokies have developed a reputation for an aggressive, physical, and tough defense.  The offense is plain as vanilla, based upon a punishing ground game that can include the option, but is effective.  Special teams are the trademark of "Beamer Ball," though.  Virginia Tech is coming off a disappointing season that saw them slip into a three-way tie for 3rd place in the Big East.  The Hokies are looking to reclaim their place as one of the top two teams in the conference.  However, the loss of 12 starters means that the Hokies must improve while overhauling the lineup, especially on defense.  Here's a look at the blue-collar heroes of the Big East.   



Virginia Tech lost 6 starters from a unit that recorded impressive statistics last season: 

  • 33 points per game (#2 in the Big East and #25 of 115 in Division 1A)
  • 374 yards per game (#3 in the Big East and #64 in Division 1A)
  • 195 rushing yards per game (#3 in the Big East and #26 in Division 1A)
  • 179 passing yards per game (#4 in the Big East and #86 in Division 1A)

Virginia Tech entered the 2001 season with arguably the best backfield in the country but a season-ending ACL injury in the season opener to 2000 Big East Offensive Player of the Year Lee Suggs voided that claim.  However, Virginia Tech is poised to renew that claim as RS Jr TB Suggs (1,207 yards rushing and 28 TDs in 2000) and Big East Rookie of the Year So TB Kevin Jones (175 carries for 997 yards rushing and 5 TDs) both return.  The transfer of RS Sr TB Keith Burnell (149 carries for 728 yards rushing and 9 TDs), who started 7 games in Suggs' absence, will likely be offset by the contribution of RS Fr Cedric Humes, whose emergence prompted Head Coach Frank Beamer to move Burnell to WR in spring camp.  Jarrett Ferguson (35 carries for 159 yards rushing, 25 receptions for 256 yards receiving, and 8 TDs) may have been the best pure FB in the country – yet the coaches slighted him when All-Big East honors were awarded.  RS Jr FB Doug Easlick fills Ferguson's underappreciated shoes.  RS So FB Josh Spence will likely backup Easlick. 

Virginia Tech lost two starters off a young and inexperienced OLine – C Steve DeMasi and RT Matt Wincek.  The Hokies return Sr LT Anthony Davis, RS Sr LG Luke Owens, and RS Jr RG Jake Grove.  In spring camp, Beamer switched Grove to C and Owens to RG.  So LG James Miller, a spring 2001 enrollee who played as a true freshman, and RS So RT Jon Dunn will likely be the new starters.  Only one backup has significant experience.  The Hokie OLine is still young and inexperienced. 

QB is a question mark for the Hokies.  RS Sr Grant Noel (146 of 254 for 1,826 yards, 16 TDs, and 11 INTs) tore his ACL at the end of spring camp.  Noel opted for rehabilitation rather than surgery, which would have ended his college football career.  The durability of Noel's knee is uncertain, as is his mobility.  However, Noel's presence on the field will certainly remove the option from the Virginia Tech arsenal.  Whether Noel's passing ability compensates for the restrictions that his limited mobility puts on the rushing offense remains to be seen.  Virginia Tech's offensive struggles in its losses last season were primarily due to Noel's inability to pass against 8-man fronts geared to throttle the Hokie rushing attack.  So Bryan Randall (12 of 34 for 114 yards and one INT) may be a more viable alternative at QB.  Randall is not the passer that is Noel.  However, Randall is a much greater threat in the option and that threat may open the deep passing game that was missing last season.  True Fr Marcus Vick, younger brother of Michael Vick, is also a possibility at QB. 

The Hokie receiving corps was a major disappointment last season as only one receiver averaged at least two receptions per game.  The Hokies lost FL Andre Davis (39 receptions for 623 yards and 7 TDs), whose 2nd Team All-Big East honor was more a reflection of poor competition than of prolific production, SE Emmett Johnson (11 receptions for 105 yards and one TD), and TE Bob Slowikowski (4 receptions for 98 yards).  Backup TE Browning Wynn also departed.  RS Jr TE Keith Willis and RS So TE Jared Mazzetta will compete for the starter's job.  Beamer was so desperate for help at WR this spring that he moved RS Sr TB Keith Burnell and RS Fr TB Justin Hamilton to WR.  Returning Sr WR Shawn Witten (13 receptions for 146 yards and one TD), RS Sr Terrell Parham (14 receptions for 155 yards and one TD), RS Jr Ernest Wilford (8 receptions for 100 yards, one TD, and one HUGE dropped 2XPA), and RS So Richard Johnson will also compete for the starters' jobs.  No clear favorites have emerged.   



Virginia Tech lost 6 starters from an awesome squad that, with the Miami Hurricanes, was one of the nation's two best: 

  • 13 points per game (#2 in the Big East and #2 in Division 1A)
  • 238 yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #2 in Division 1A)
  • 72 rushing yards per game (#1 in the Big East and #2 in Division 1A)
  • 166 passing yards per game (#4 in the Big East and #8 in Division 1A)

In recent years, the strength of the Hokie defense has been up front.  Partially due to an attacking 4-4 alignment that overloads the line of scrimmage.  Partially due to the talent manning those eight positions.  This year, the strength of the Hokie defense will be its secondary.  Virginia Tech lost CB Larry Austin (22 tackles and one INT) but has plenty of experience waiting in the wings.  First Team All-Big East RS Sr CB Roynell Whitaker (53 tackles and one INT) – last seen smoldering on the field of the Gator Bowl after giving up 150 receiving yards and 2 TDs in the 4th Quarter – returns.  As does 2nd leading tackler, RS Sr FS Willie Pile (94 tackles and 4 INTs), who will be backed up by RS So Vincent Fuller.  So DeAngelo Hall (42 tackles and 3 INTs) will likely start opposite Whitaker at CB.  Jr CB Eric Green and RS Jr CB Garnell Wilds are experienced backups.  Virginia Tech's experience in the secondary should take some of the pressure off the front eight. 

Virginia Tech lost two starters off one of the best DLines in the nation – First Team All-Big East DT David Pugh and Second Team All-Big East DT Chad Beasely.  Both backup tackles also departed.  Virginia Tech will be young and inexperienced at DT.  RS Jr DT Mark Costen and RS So DT Kevin Lewis are the likely starters.  The backups are all inexperienced redshirt freshmen.  In contrast to the inexperience at DT, the Hokies return the two-deep at DE.  RS Jr DE Nathaniel Adibi (41 tackles and one sack) is a returning starter.  Former backup Jr DE Jim Davis (38 tackles and 4.5 sacks) will likely move into the starting lineup opposite Adibi.  Former starters RS Sr Lamar Cobb (46 tackles and 2 sacks) and RS Jr Cols Colas (37 tackles and 3.5 sacks) are the likely backups.  The DLine appears to be strong on the edges but suspect up the middle. 

Virginia Tech lost three starters from its LB corps – First Team All-Big East ILB Ben Taylor, two-year starter ILB Jake Houseright, and Rover Kevin McAdam.  Top reserve ILB Brian Welch is also gone.  RS So OLB Mike Daniels (28 tackles) switched from FB to OLB and started the last 4 games of the 2001 season.  Former starter RS Jr OLB Deon Provitt (22 tackles), who was lost with a season-ending ACL injury after four games, will battle Daniels to regain his starting job.  RS Jr ILB Vegas Robinson (14 tackles) was the backup behind Taylor and likely will replace him.  RS So ILB Mikel Baaqee will likely replace Houseright.  The backup ILBs are inexperienced.  RS Sr Rover Billy Hardee was the backup last season before a knee injury sidelined him.  Hardee likely will start if he has recovered.  RS Jr Michael Crawford is the likely backup (and starter if Hardee cannot play).  As with the DLine, the LB corps will be young and inexperienced up the middle. 



Special teams are truly special at Virginia Tech.  Beamer coaches special teams and puts his best athletes on the field.  The Hokies blocked 7 kicks and scored 3 TDs.  Virginia Tech lost home run threat PR Andre Davis (12.5 yards per return and one TD).  RS Sr Roynell Whitaker will attempt to fill Davis' big shoes.  So DeAngelo Hall will likely be the backup PR.  Top punt blocker Jr Eric Green returns.  RS So KOR Richard Johnson (22 yards per return) is the incumbent starter.  Beamer may pair RS Fr Cedric Humes alongside Johnson on kickoff returns.  RS So P Vinnie Burns (38 yards per punt) and RS Jr PK Carter Warley (11 of 21 FGAs and 44 of 44 XPAs) both return.  Beamer was disappointed with his special teams play last season and has made improved play a goal for the 2002 season.  



Virginia Tech plays an expanded 13 game schedule with 8 home games, including one exempt "pre-season" game on August 25 (Hispanic College Fund Football Classic vs Arkansas State).  The Hokies play twice on Thursday nights – vs Marshall and at Boston College – and once on Wednesday night – vs West Virginia.  The early start and late finish combine to give Virginia Tech the luxury of scheduling these mid-week games following bye weeks.  Virginia Tech has substantially upgraded the non-conference schedule with games vs Louisiana State, Marshall, Texas A&M, and Virginia.  The home slate has an imposing game against Louisiana State and tough games against Marshall and Pittsburgh.  The road schedule is brutal – at Texas A&M, at Western Michigan, at Boston College, at Syracuse, and at Miami.  


August 25

Arkansas State

September 1

Louisiana State

September 12


September 21

@ Texas A&M

September 28

@ Western Michigan

October 10

@ Boston College

October 19


October 26


November 2


November 9

@ Syracuse

November 20

West Virginia

November 30


December 7

@ Miami



I predict Virginia Tech will finish the season with a 10-3 (7-1) record.  I am convinced that the Hokies can't win at Miami this year – still too much firepower.  The road game at Boston College will be the most important conference game for Virginia Tech, as it will likely decide the battle for second place behind Miami.  I give the nod to the Hokies until the Eagles show me they can actually beat Virginia Tech.  A road win at Syracuse is certainly no guarantee as Virginia Tech's win two years ago broke a string of beatings at the hands of the Orangemen in the Carrier Dome.  However, Syracuse lost too much last year and is much more vulnerable than the young and inexperienced Hokies.  The home game against Pittsburgh will be a tough game, as it was the past two years.  But Beamer is a much better coach than is Walt Harris.  Thus, the nod to Virginia Tech. 

The home game against Louisiana State is the key to the non-conference schedule and any hope Virginia Tech has for an at-large BCS bowl invitation.  Although the defending SEC champs start a new QB, I think the Tigers will prove too much for the Hokies.  Texas A&M has fallen off in recent years but I don't think the Hokies have the maturity and experience needed to win at College Station.  The Hokies will apply enough pressure to control Byron Leftwich and defeat Marshall.  And Virginia Tech will continue its recent domination of Virginia. 

Regardless of whether Virginia Tech finishes ahead or behind Boston College, the Hokies will get the invitation to the Gator Bowl for the third consecutive year.  They will face the Maryland Terrapins. 


Coming Next:  Big East Preview, Part 3.  I'll continue my pre-season tour of the Big East with a look at rising power Boston College.  I'll review lost starters, expected replacements, and incoming recruits. 

Please send any comments to  I welcome and appreciate your feedback.

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