Preseason practice is over.
One week from today, Virginia Tech’s football team will face top-ranked Alabama at the Georgia Dome to kick off the 2013 season. It’s an opener – and a season – that Hokie faithful have been eagerly waiting to see.
Looking back over the past month, this was one of the most unusual preseason camps ever at Tech. Attrition and injury were among the major stories. Some players left school (both voluntarily and not voluntarily), and others were injured to varying degrees. The biggest loss might be whip linebacker Ronny Vandyke, who suffered a shoulder injury and was poised not only to start against Alabama, but also was poised for a breakout season. He’ll be back for 2014.
But more than attrition and injuries, the story of the past four weeks in Blacksburg has been intensity.
“I think it’s the most intense preseason camp we’ve had here,” head coach Frank Beamer told me in a television interview which fans can see tomorrow on the season premier of Virginia Tech Sports Today.
Beamer mentioned the addition of three new assistants as one of the reasons for the hotter-than-normal preseason. But he also credited his players, who still have a bad taste in their mouths over 2012’s pedestrian 7-6 record.
As a team, the Hokies have never had supermodel looks during preseason scrimmages. Even Tech’s highest scoring, most talented offenses were usually shut down in August camp. That’s the nature of how the Hokies – and many teams, to be honest – run their programs. The defense is usually ahead of the offense. But objectively observing this team from Aug. 5 until today, there has been a huge improvement. I’d suggest that trend will continue, and the 2013 Tech football team that takes the field at Charlottesville in November will be much improved over the one we’ll see in seven days at the Georgia Dome.
That, of course, doesn’t help much with Alabama looming. But it’s a fact.
Guys like tailback Trey Edmunds, tackle Jonathan McLaughlin, and defensive backs Kendall Fuller and Brandon Facyson have never played in a college game. They’ll never forget opening night in a Tech uniform, that’s for sure. But as the season progresses, the upswing for those four specifically could be really fun to watch.
As for next week? Well, Alabama has some new players, too, particularly up front on the offensive line, where the Tide lost three linemen (all NFL draft picks). First-time starters will be going up against the strength of Virginia Tech’s team, its defensive line. That will be a key matchup for the Hokies in this game.
But in many ways, this season is about Logan Thomas for the Hokies. He has prepared extremely well for his senior year and seems to be much improved. While his spring-game and preseason scrimmage stats haven’t been great, those numbers have never been historically accurate predictors of how the Hokies will be when the real season begins.
Think of the seasons that quarterbacks like Bryan Randall and Tyrod Taylor had as seniors for Virginia Tech. There’s something special about having a senior quarterback, and with his mechanics tweaked and his confidence high, Thomas should have a terrific final year for the Hokies. Traditionally, senior quarterbacks at Tech have excelled during the Beamer-era, going back to Maurice DeShazo and Jim Druckenmiller. Experience is huge at that position, and Beamer is confident that Thomas will end his career as one of the most prolific and successful quarterbacks we’ve seen in Blacksburg.
By the end of this season – maybe by the end of September – Thomas will be the career passing leader at Tech. He’s third behind Taylor and Randall, but needs just 921 passing yards to pass both on the all-time list.
Like Beamer, Alabama coach Nick Saban has the luxury of a senior quarterback running the show. A.J. McCarron has led Alabama to back-to-back national championships and led NCAA in passing efficiency last season. He threw 30 touchdowns and had just three interceptions. In fact, during his career, McCarron averages just one interception ever 86.25 passes, which is the best ratio in SEC history. He has enjoyed one of the finest careers in college football history.
As for Thomas? A great sophomore season was followed by a not-so-great junior season.
“I think what we need is for the people around Logan to be better, to play better,” Beamer said.
Newcomers like Edmunds and several new receivers will have to play well early in this season. What McCarron has, that Thomas doesn’t, is really proven skill guys around him. The Tide lost tailback Eddie Lacy a year early to the NFL, but sophomore T.J. Yeldon will be the featured back for Saban’s team, and he set an Alabama freshman record last year rushing for 1,108 yards. Receiver Amari Cooper, who had 59 receptions for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last year as freshman, is back as well.
McCarron has all that around him, and more.
“They’ve done a great job of recruiting,” Beamer said of Saban’s staff. “They have players. They have depth. This game is going to give us a great starting point to see where we are this year.”
It’s also great to get the season going again. Remember, the Hokies begin the 2013 season on a three-game winning streak and hope to get off to a great start to this season with a terrific opening month.
There have been a lot of questions asked about this team since the spring staff shakeup and the opening of camp.
Is this team truly talented enough to reach its goals?
Is it too young at too many positions to expect to be a contender?
We’ll have a sense one week from tonight. And like you, I can’t wait to hear “Enter Sandman” welcome the Hokies onto the Georgia Dome turf.
TV and Radio Info
Our Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network radio programming begins this weekend.
Virginia Tech Sports Today debuts tomorrow on television stations throughout the region. On tomorrow’s show, we’ll have complete previews of both the offense and defense, plus my sit-down interview with Coach Beamer. We’ll also flash back to the 1998 game in Nashville between the Hokies and the Crimson Tide. Also, linebacker Jack Tyler will give us his personal scouting report on this year’s team.
You can see Virginia Tech Sports Today tomorrow, and every Sunday on these stations:
|Comcast SportsNet||10:30 a.m.|
|Fox Sports South||9:30 a.m.|
Again this year, Comcast SportsNet has been designated as the “Official Regional Sports Network of Virginia Tech Athletics.” You’ll be able to see Virginia Tech Sports Today each Sunday at 10:30 and than again the following Saturday at 10:30 each week. CSN will also carry “Hokie Playback” on Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m.
For those of you in the Carolinas, Georgia and other southeastern states, FoxSports South is on board again for Virginia Tech Sports Today. If you live outside the mid-Atlantic or southeastern U.S. and don’t get either CSN or Fox Sports South, contact your cable or satellite provider and ask about adding their sports tier. Those channels are included in most sports packages.
On Monday, “Tech Talk Live!” makes its 2013 debut. We’ll be on the air at 7 p.m. on our radio affiliates on the Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network and live at Bull & Bones in Blacksburg. Monday’s guests are: Frank Beamer, Logan Thomas, Jack Tyler, Jim Weaver and Bud Foster. We’ll see you in person. As always, get there early to ensure a good seat. Just like at Lane Stadium, we’ve enhanced the P.A. system at the restaurant this season, and we hope it’s a better experience for everyone who attends.
Next Saturday, we’re on the air from the Georgia Dome at 4 p.m. You can hear us in Atlanta at 102.1 FM.
Let’s go Krogering
Finally, a thank you to Kroger. This is the 15th year that Kroger has sponsored my column here on hokiesports.com, and I’m grateful for their support of the Hokies over the years and for sponsoring my report year after year.
As you can see on the right panel on this page, since we moved the Kroger Roth Report to hokiesports.com, more than 3 million people have read it. That’s a lot of Krogering!
Anyway, over the summer, we went back and, using Google Analytics, we were able to see how many unique users have actually clicked on the Kroger Roth Report over the years and other interesting data such as:
- where readers are from (Blacksburg, Richmond, Arlington, Roanoke and Midlothian are the top five), and
- what’s the average time spent on the page (more than three minutes on average)
- readership numbers are higher following a Tech loss than a win. That’s interesting.
This, of course, takes into account online readers only. We’re not counting folks who read the Hokie Huddler back in the 1980’s or Inside Hokie Sports magazine today.
This season, we’re on pace to hit 4 million online readers, and to celebrate, Kroger is giving away a $500 shopping spree to some lucky fan. See the details on the right side of the page. You can register as often as you’d like, and be sure to keep track of the counter as we near the 4 million mark.
Thanks for reading over the years, for contributing mailbag items, and for being so engaged with your favorite team.And we’ll see you in Atlanta one week from today.
For updates on Virginia Tech Athletics, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@hokiesports).