After a thousand years the reign of Frank Beamer has come to a close and Virginia Tech has moved on to a new coach for the first time since many of us have been college football fans. This new guy knows offense, too! Can he turn it around quickly?
Starters Returning: 8/11
Key Losses: QB Michael Brewer, RB J.C. Coleman, TE Ryan Malleck, RT Wade Hansen
Key Returnees: RB Travon McMillian, FB Sam Rogers, WR Isaiah Ford, WR Cam Phillips, TE Bucky Hodges, LT Jonathan McLaughlin, LG Wyatt Teller, C Eric Gallo, RG Augie Conte
FEI Offense Rank: 96
S&P Offense Rank: 72
S&P Rushing Rank: 84
S&P Passing Rank: 74
Turnovers: 21 (14 INT)
Everyone is talking about the quarterback competition surrounding Virginia Tech. Gone is former Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer who was limited to 7 starts last year. He had the Hokies competitive against Ohio State in the opener before leaving in the 3rd quarter with a broken collarbone. Upon his return later in the season Tech would go 3-2 with a pair of close losses.
Depending on who you ask the competition is some variation of a 3-way battle. Rising 5th-year senior Brenden Motley picked up the other 6 starts last year but didn't really impress. He finished with 14 touchdowns but completed only 56.4% of his passes and tossed 7 interceptions. From an experience standpoint he's the front-runner but there are doubts about his fit in the new system among other questions.
Rising sophomore Dwayne Lawson burned his redshirt last year for not much work. He finished with 9 pass attempts and 106 total yards of offense, 55 of those yards coming on the ground. He might fall into the background because Hokie fans are really hoping for the emergence of the top dual-threat JUCO quarterback in Jerod Evans who enrolled in January.
The Trinity Valley product is big, mobile, and has drawn some comparisons (fair or not) to Cam Newton. In just 8 games at the junior college level last year Evans completed 62.3% of his passes for 3,164 yards and an impressive 11.0 yards per attempt average. Evans averaged over 447 yards of offense per game and threw just 3 interceptions.
Steady at Offensive Line
The Hokies bring back 5 players who started games last year on the offense line and 4 full-time starters. After spring there doesn't appear to be much of a shakeup. Mostly everyone is expecting these starters to remain atop the depth chart.
A lot of blame will go towards the scheme from last year but the line could certainly improve in the run game. Virginia Tech finished 105th nationally with a paltry 3.80 rushing average last year and barely eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark on the season.
They were inconsistent, too. In 4 games the Hokies rushed for at least 200 yards but in 8 other contests they were held to 165 yards or less.
Quarterback is so important as usual but more so because Virginia Tech has weapons in place to do some damage. Running back Travon McMillian is coming off a nice redshirt freshman season in which he gained 1,042 yards at a healthy 5.21 average.
Pass catchers shouldn't be an issue as the top two receivers (Isaiah Ford & Cam Phillips) return after posting 124 combined catches last year. The Hokies are losing tight end Ryan Malleck (21 receptions) but bring back redshirt junior Bucky Hodges who was one of the best in the nation last year with 40 receptions.
Depth could be an issue, though. Especially at receiver and running back there are precious few options with experience and production. By switching to a more fast-paced offense you'd think developing the two-deep is going to be a huge part of the summer in Blacksburg.
Virginia Tech is getting a lot of love as a team that could make a big jump in year one under Justin Fuente. As you can see, there are pieces to put together a really nice offense.
Still, this was a poor offense by all standards last year and until they figure out the quarterback situation, and that quarterback proves he's good enough, there is reason to be a little skeptical that Fuente will have things humming in 2016.
For Notre Dame's perspective, the biggest worry is that this will be a late-season game and that by then Jerod Evans could be living up to his potential. That's probably the best-case scenario for the Hokies.