High expectations are nothing new for Virginia Tech’s football team or its fans. After all, the Hokies have been ranked in the preseason top-10 on six separate occasions since 2000. But this year, Tech is ranked sixth in the preseason coaches’ poll, its highest preseason ranking ever, and even head coach Frank Beamer, always cautious with his words, admits 2010 could be a very special season.
So what to make of all of this? How much of the hype is legit? How good can the Hokies be?
If you’ve been following along, you know this could be a special season.
The Cliffs Notes version is this: the Hokies are loaded on offense with an experienced senior quarterback, two record-smashing tailbacks, an athletic offensive line and productive, big-play receivers. Their defense is athletic and fast, although somewhat inexperienced at key positions, and depth is a concern at some spots.
But with four Coastal Division teams ranked in the top 20, just making it to the ACC championship game in Charlotte will be a major challenge.
What will it take? Here are eight keys to the 2010 season:
1. Stay healthy, particularly at quarterback and on the defensive line. This is, of course, the universal disclaimer for all football squads in August. Championship teams need their key players on the field and not in the trainer’s room. For Tech, it starts with senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor, the hero of last year’s Nebraska game and the ACC’s passing efficiency leader in 2009. He’s also the natural cure-all for offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring’s game-week anxiety.
“The elixir for me is that when I go to sleep at night, or go out on that field on Saturday it’s a great, calming part of my life that Tyrod Taylor is our quarterback,” Stinespring said. “He gives you a chance to win every time he steps on the field.”
Taylor is a 23-5 as a starting quarterback. That’s a mark that will win the Cy Young Award in baseball, or fill a trophy case with shiny hardware, as has been the case with the Hampton, Virginia, native.
While Beamer admits the Hokies are much better off at back-up quarterback today than they were a year ago, Taylor’s presence on the field is paramount to Tech’s 2010 success.
On the defensive line, the Hokies lost three of their four starters, including end Jason Worilds, who left early for the NFL. We learned how valuable tackle John Graves was following his injury in the Georgia Tech game last year. The Hokies will develop depth on that line as the season progresses, but keeping guys healthy up front is a key.
2. Get a great push from the defensive line and build depth up front. To be honest, this is most likely the key to the entire season for the Tech.
The Hokies have a known quantity in Graves. Kwamaine Battle and Antoine Hopkins will battle for the other tackle spot. Other guys like Isaiah Hamlette, Joe Jones and Dwight Tucker will get a close look this August.
“Inside is still the question,” defensive line coach Charley Wiles told me. “Joe, Dwight and Isaiah all changed their bodies this summer, but can they be good enough?”
If not, Wiles says he might look at one of the incoming freshmen and Hopkins’ younger brother, Derrick, “is probably the most ready to play because of his football IQ.”
Two years ago, Chris Drager was a tight end and Steven Friday was a linebacker. Now, they’re the Hokies’ starting defensive ends.
“I think Steven is about to have a monster season,” Wiles said. “And Drager slimmed down to about 255 and will play at 250. He got a bit heavy in the spring, but he’s slimmed down a bit and is much quicker.”
Hokie fans are going to fall in love with freshman defensive end James Gayle, who was named the top newcomer on defense last spring. The product of Hampton’s Bethel High School has thrived in Tech’s strength and conditioning program.
“He has a great motor and he changed his body as much as anyone this summer,” Wiles said. “He is a Super Iron Hokie and a 400-pound bench presser. He’s got twitch. His ‘want-to’ is through the roof. The only thing missing now, obviously, is playing time. He got in the spring game and he had three mental errors. I don’t know if he got caught up in it or what. But that’s why he have spring ball and that’s why we have scrimmages.”
J.R. Collins becomes the fourth end, and Wiles seems comfortable with that quartet. The question remains inside. The Hokies’ defense is based on getting penetration against the run and pass, and Wiles likes to play a lot of guys. They need to perform well in spilling the play to the right area, controlling gaps and rushing the passer.
3. Nick Becton must be an effective left tackle. Becton had a great spring and looks like a guy who will be a star at tackle. He has a shot to be a three-year starter there. But what about this season? He’s replacing Ed Wang, who was Tech’s best lineman, and he’s a guy who’s going to face some hard-charging ends trying to hammer Taylor’s backside. This guy has the look of a future pro, but he’s had limited playing time.
4. Tech must get consistent performances from its kickers. The Hokies lost All-ACC kickers Matt Waldron and Brent Bowden, and to their credit, the replacements, Chris Hazley and Brian Saunders, have performed better this preseason than they did in the spring. We’ve grown accustomed to great field-goal kicking and punting in these parts: the Hokies have missed just six field goals under 40 yards over the past five years and have made 85 percent of their kicks overall. That’s remarkable.
There will be too many close games this season to expect to win with an inconsistent kicking game. Hazley has looked good in August, and Saunders has worked very hard on his mechanics. Tech’s had good kickers for years here and has had a remarkable run of senior kickers over the past several seasons who were rock solid. Not to sound like an investment prospectus here, but “past performance doesn’t guarantee future results.”
“I think they’ll be good, but we don’t know how they’ll perform in front of 90,000 people,” Beamer said.
5. Bruce Taylor, Alonzo Tweedy and Jeron Gouveia-Winslow need to be household names. The Hokies will get their leading returning tackler, Barquell Rivers, back from a torn quad muscle at some point early this fall, but Taylor has been taking every rep since the spring and appears to be ready to shine. Tweedy and Gouveia-Winslow are replacing Mr. Everything in Cody Grimm and play that important whip linebacker spot. If you’re hearing their names a lot, that’s a good sign.
6. Big plays must continue. The Hokies have a bunch of big-play weapons on offense, so this should be happening in 2010. With Ryan Williams and Darren Evans, Tech has backs who can break a long run at any time. Watching those two backs, plus David Wilson in the preseason, has really been a treat. So on the ground, the Hokies have some real explosiveness.
Last year, Tech receivers averaged 17.5 yards per catch, the highest at Tech since the Michael Vick-era. That number could be even higher this year. Don’t be surprised if the Hokies have a lot of short scoring drives (under five plays) in 2010.
7. Win turnover margin. The Hokies led the ACC in turnover margin last year (+9). For the year, the Hokies had just 15 turnovers (10 fumbles and five interceptions) during their 13-game schedule. In fact, over the past five years, the Hokies have done a great job of taking care of the football and have been among the top three teams in the ACC in turnover margin each year.
Taylor is an efficient passer, Tech’s runners rarely put the ball on the ground and the defense has been adept at creating extra possessions for the offense. That’s been the norm for five years and must continue in 2010.
8. Time of possession is a key. The Hokies led the ACC in time of possession last year, holding the ball on average for 33 minutes per game. That’s a number that Beamer and Stinespring really like. Now, that number might be skewed a bit this year if item No. 6 from above is true and the Hokies’ offense scores quickly (which isn’t a bad thing of course).
But in general, this will be a key stat to watch for the 2010 Tech team, particularly in the Boise State game. If the Broncos have the football for 16 possessions (four times per quarter), they are going to score some points. It’s just a fact. And Boise usually runs a lot more plays than its foes. For example, in its game last year against Oregon, Boise ran 89 plays to just 44 for the Ducks. That was against a Pac-10 team that went to the Rose Bowl.
So even against talented BCS teams, Boise can get it done. How do you beat ’em? Think back to Tech’s game plan against Cincinnati’s high-powered offense in the 2008 Orange Bowl and replace the Bearcats with the Broncos. In other words, run the ball, turn the clock, move the chains, and keep quarterback Tony Pike (Kellen Moore) and receiver Mardy Gilyard (Austin Pettis) on the sidelines next to Brian Kelly (Chris Petersen).
Hokie Football Annual a must-have for Tech fans
If you’re a Hokie fan, you’ve got to get a copy of Chris Colston’s inaugural Hokie Football Annual. It’s available at the University Bookstore, Volume II Bookstore or on-line.
For Colston, the former editor of the Hokie Huddler, this was a labor of love.
“Every summer I looked forward to the preseason publications like Athlon and Lindy’s and Street & Smith’s,” Colston said. “I’d pay $8 for a couple of pages of Hokies coverage. But those magazines always left me wanting more. I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if there was a preseason annual devoted to nothing but the Hokies? Something with real insider information, lots of color pictures, and could be a keepsake that you could pull out as a handy reference guide?’ I have strong ties to the athletics department from my days as editor of the Hokie Huddler, so I decided to do it myself.”
Colston met with Tech officials and put the plan in motion this past spring.
“The Hokie Football Annual 2010 gave me the opportunity to do what every Tech fan wants to do: sit down with Coach Beamer and talk about the season, get a bunch of knowledgeable beat writers together and talk about Hokie football, learn about all the players and figure out where the strengths and weaknesses are,” Colston said. “You know, all the stuff Tech football fans are doing right now. And since most fans don’t have the access to do those kind of things, I’m the lucky guy who gets to do it for everybody else and share that information. Now, instead of sinking $8 for a few pages on Tech, Hokie fans can get 112 pages of 100 percent Hokie football (and no ads!) for $19.95. I think even a Georgia Tech graduate would have to agree that’s a much better deal.”
And the initial reaction has been very positive among Hokie fans.
“Those who’ve read it so far absolutely love it,” Colston said. “They’re blown away. You pick the thing up and it’s hefty. It’s built to last. And I believe it’s written in a voice they’ll enjoy. I mean, I’ve written four prior books on Virginia Tech football, and I worked as a national sportswriter for the last decade. I’d like to think my writing offers a certain level of quality and authority.
“I think if you have the Tech Media Guide, the preseason issue of Inside Hokie Sports and the Hokie Football Annual 2010, you’re going to have everything you need heading into the season. I think all three complement each other beautifully.
“The battle I face right now is getting the word out. I attended a recent Hokie Club Kickoff event and asked one gentleman, ‘Have you seen the premier Hokie Football Annual 2010?’ He looks at it and says, ‘Oh, I get that every year.’ I say, ‘No sir, this is brand new.’ He says, ‘Doesn’t the Hokie Club send that out?’ I had to explain that this was a new publication independent of the athletics department.”
Tickets still available
Remember, tickets are still available for the Tech-Boise State game at FedExField. Click on http://www.kickoffinthecapital.comfor more info.
“We are excited to have two premier collegiate football programs compete at FedExField,” said Mitch Gershman, the Redskins Chief Marketing Officer. “There is a significant Virginia Tech alumni base in the Washington metropolitan area. “It is a tremendous intersectional, non-conference match-up and one of the most anticipated games on the college football calendar. Fans will have the opportunity to watch two perennial powers who once again are expected to be among the best teams in the country entering this season.”
Tech last played at FedEx in 2004 when the Hokies opened their season against the University of Southern California. The crowd of 91,665 for that game remains the largest crowd ever to have seen a Tech football game and the largest crowd (for an NFL or NCAA game) in FedExField history.
Live Sports Radio also new for 2010
We’re excited about our new partnership with Live Sports Radio (http://www.livesportsradio.com/store/) for this fall. Tech joins with 22 other major college teams, and six NFL teams, who will offer this service to fans this year.
Live Sports Radio is a specially designed and patented radio receiver that receives the feed of the Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network broadcast with no delay at both home and away football games. No more searching for frequencies to find the Tech broadcast on the road. Just turn on the Live Sports Radio, and you’ll hear our ISP broadcast in any stadium in any city.
The sharp-looking radios have the Tech logo on the side, and the triple tune radio features increased volume control, noise-isolating ear buds, and AM and FM tuners, as well as AAA batteries. You can buy them online, or at Lane Stadium.
Check out a video demo here: http://livesportsradio.com/ecards/virginia_tech/
What else is new for 2010?
We have four new radio stations on the Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network. Fans in northern Virginia and Washington can follow the action on 106.7 The Fan, WJFK-FM. The powerful FM signal covers all of northern Virginia and the Capitol region.
In the Shenandoah Valley, WSIG-FM 96.9 has joined the network. In Danville and Pittsylvania County, WMNA-FM 106.3 is on board. And WIGO-FM in White Stone provides added coverage in the Northern Neck and middle Peninsula. All four of these new stations will carry Tech football and basketball broadcasts as well as Tech Talk LIVE!
They join all of our other affiliates. Here is a complete list: http://www.hokiesports.com/radio/stations.html
Here is the lineup for Tech Talk LIVE guests for the first few shows:
• Monday, August 16: Coach Beamer, Jim Weaver, Bryan Stinespring, Tyrod Taylor, John Graves.
• Monday, August 23: Coach Beamer, Jim Weaver, Bud Foster, Beau Warren, Davon Morgan.
• Monday, August 30: Coach Beamer, Jim Weaver, Billy Hite, Andre Smith, Steven Friday.
Since the Tech-Boise State game is on a Monday night, there will not be a Tech Talk LIVE show that week.
Virginia Tech Sports Today set for another season
Once again this year, Virginia Tech Sports Today will air in 11 markets each Sunday, including our flagship station, WDBJ-7 in Roanoke. The show can be seen in Washington and Baltimore on CSN-Washington, and over the air on stations in Richmond, Norfolk, Bluefield, Bristol, Harrisonburg, Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro each week. Here’s a list of the stations that will carry Virginia Tech Sports Today each Sunday: http://www.hokiesports.com/radio/programming.html
The 2010 debut is set for Sunday, August 22. Here’s what you can expect for the first few weeks:
• August 22: Coach Beamer will provide an update on practice so far, Travis Wells profiles the 2010 offense, Tyrod Taylor will join Grant Kittelson for the KFC Hokie Spotlight, we will look back at the 2004 VT-WVU game, preview the ACC’s Coastal Division, and more.
• August 29: Coach Beamer will join us again to update the preseason, Wells will preview the defense and we are producing a profile on John Graves. Plus, we’ll look back at the 1995 win over UVa and preview of the ACC’s Atlantic Division, and more.
• September 5: The day before the VT-Boise State game, Coach Beamer will join us to discuss last-minute preparations for the game, plus a feature on the ties between the Redskins and Hokies, and DC’s importance to Tech. We’ll preview Boise State’s offense and examine how Chris Petersen continues to produce excellent football teams. We’ll also look at Broncos quarterback Kellen Moore. Also, Tech safety Davon Morgan is ready for his senior year and will focus on the opener and his final year at Tech.
Where can I get some of the old-school Fighting Gobbler gear? I would love it if Virginia Tech would bring the Gobbler design back and put it in a line of shirts or other Virginia Tech merchandise. I think you should recommend this to the people at Volume Two or the University Bookstore. Thanks and keep up the good work. Harrison Poole, Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Thanks for the note. There is a nice collection of old-school, black-and-gray hats with the VPI logo at the stores now. But I’ll pass on your suggestion as well.
Had a great time at the dinner in Richmond. Question about the Boise game: what officials will be used? Thanks. Scott Culley, Ashland, Virginia.
The ACC’s Doug Rhoads confirms that Big Ten Conference officials will work the game between Virginia Tech and Boise State on Labor Day. Doug is a proponent of using neutral crews in games such as this.
My brothers and I have been transplanted to Dallas, but we’re all still Hokies at heart. We have a ‘theme week’ dinner get-together every week and the upcoming theme is food inspired by the Hokie football coaches. You did that whole article about French Toast. Do you have any insight to the coaches’ favorite foods? Thanks! You’re a rock star! Jo, Dallas in Body, Blacksburg in Spirit, Texas.
Coach Beamer loves grilling burgers. Charley Wiles goes with steak. Bud Foster likes his mom’s baked spaghetti. Billy Hite, of course, is a gourmet chef who can whip up a variety of dishes with shrimp and wine. Sounds like you guys are having a blast. Enjoy! By the way, this year National French Toast Day is November 28.
How do you think Boise will perform under the bright lights of D.C.? Think they’ll be intimidated by the big stage? Stan, Roanoke, Virginia.
Under Coach Chris Petersen, Boise State is 24-2 in nationally televised games, including a 2-0 mark in the Fiesta Bowl. They’ll be just fine.
Where you surprised Tyrod Taylor was not named all-conference quarterback? He didn’t get much preseason hype. Ron Simpson, Greensboro, North Carolina.
The ACC has a ton of very solid quarterbacks. Georgia Tech’s Josh Nesbitt was first-team all-conference last year and Florida State’s Christian Ponder was having a brilliant season before he got hurt. Ponder will put up big numbers this year as will N.C. State’s Russell Wilson. Tyrod might not put up the stats of Ponder or Wilson, but he wins games, may lead the league in passing efficiency again, and is a true leader. I wouldn’t trade him for any other QB in the ACC … and neither would Coach Beamer.
For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).