Virginia Tech at Miami

Virginia Tech's Caleb Farley (3) celebrates following the Hokies' 42-35 victory over the Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium, Oct. 5, 2019.

As of right now, we are only three months away from the start of the college football regular season if all goes well. It has been a while since we last saw football in Blacksburg, and with a lot of new faces on the field and the sidelines, it’s time to take a look at the team and set expectations for the upcoming season. The team went 8-5 last season, returns 17 starters and has high hopes for 2020. Can head coach Justin Fuente finally get the team over the hump in his fifth year or will the Hokies fail to meet expectations in the ACC?

What happened last season:

Senior quarterback Ryan Willis, the incumbent starter, started the season for the Hokies and got off to a rough start. Through the first four games, Virginia Tech went 2-2 and Willis turned the ball over five times. After a 45-10 thrashing by the Duke Blue Devils, coach Fuente made a change at quarterback and inserted redshirt sophomore Hendon Hooker into the lineup. Hooker sparked the offense, leading the team to a 6-2 record throughout the rest of the regular season and accounting for 17 touchdowns. Unfortunately, the Hokies season would end on a sour note with a loss to rival UVA and a bowl loss against Kentucky.

Names to know for this season:

QB Hendon Hooker:

Hooker stepped into the lineup last season and stabilized the position. As the likely starting quarterback for 2020, his play will be extremely important in determining whether or not this team will be successful. Hooker is a smart quarterback with good accuracy who doesn’t turn the ball over, (only two interceptions last season). However, he lacks aggressiveness with the ball and doesn’t have the greatest arm in the world. If Virginia Tech gets down and can’t run the ball, this will be an issue (as evidenced by the UVA and Kentucky games last season). Hooker’s best asset may be his legs, as he is a highly elusive runner at quarterback, running for five touchdowns last season.

WR Tré Turner:

If Hooker does gain a willingness to throw the ball downfield, it will be in large part thanks to junior receiver Tré Turner. Given the nickname “Big Play Tré” for his propensity to make plays 20-plus yards downfield the past two years, Turner is the new leader of a receiving corps that has lost some talent the past couple of years (Damon Hazelton, Eric Kumah, etc.). Turner was plagued by drops last season in what seemed to be a sophomore slump, but his flashes of brilliance still showed through. Turner will have to take on a bigger role than ever this season as the No. 1 receiver in Blacksburg. Expect to hear his name called a lot on Saturdays this fall.

LB Rayshard Ashby:

Ashby is the heart and soul of this team, and more specifically this defense. The team’s leading tackler the past two years is a fast linebacker with a mean streak. His ability to get downhill and make plays in the backfield is crucial to the team’s success and he proved he can do it with consistency by racking up 17 tackles for loss last season. His bowling ball tenacity and consistency are everything you want in a modern linebacker. New defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton should enjoy having a weapon like him on the roster.

CB’s Caleb Farley, Jermaine Waller and Chamarri Conner:

This is the highlight of the team and the main reason for high expectations going into the season. PFF ranked the Hokie secondary as the fourth-best in the country (tied with TCU), and this group of corners is why. These three led a Hokies’ secondary that ranked second in the ACC with 14 interceptions last year. The trio includes Farley, who some are calling the best cornerback in the country and a potential top 20 NFL Draft pick, Waller, who had three interceptions last season and is also a potential high draft pick, and Conner, who plays the slot and makes plays all over the field, recording 10 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, one interception and a forced fumble last season. Opposing quarterbacks should be scared out of their minds to throw against this unit in the fall.

Expectations:

ESPN ranks the Hokies as the 18th best team in the country in their offseason Power Index. Virginia Tech should have a good offense and an elite defense in 2020. If health permits, the team should be able win the ACC Coastal Division for the first time since 2016. The mix of experience and talent on the roster should lead to success for the Hokies. The only questions come with a coaching staff that has underwhelmed the past couple of years. With a tough matchup against Penn State early in the season and two tough road ACC games against Louisville and UNC, the schedule isn’t a cakewalk but the team should finish with a decent record. I expect Virginia Tech to lose two of those three games and to have one surprising loss later in the season.

Record prediction: 9-3 (6-2 in the ACC)

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