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2013 ACC Previews: Virginia Tech

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Pass less, run more: Might that be the formula that helps Quarterback Logan Thomas bounce back this season? Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images.
Pass less, run more: Might that be the formula that helps Quarterback Logan Thomas bounce back this season? Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images.

As the college football season draws closer it is time to take a look at each team in the ACC and their outlook for 2013. We will look at what to expect from your favorite team and what it will take for 2013 to be a success. We will follow the predicted finishing order released during ACC media day, alternating between the Coastal and Atlantic Division. Next up is Virginia Tech.

Head Coach: Frank Beamer (27th season)

Last Season: If there ever was a team that could be Exhibit A for being a victim of its own success, it’s Virginia Tech. After eight straight 10-win seasons since joining the ACC and six BCS bowl appearances in that span, the Hokies inexplicably fell to 7-6 a year ago. Virginia Tech started 4-6 and snuck into bowl consideration with close wins over Boston College and Virginia before eking out an overtime win over Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Rereading that last sentence shows the plight the Hokies faced a year ago. There is plenty of blame to go around for the failures of 2012, but most if it fell on Logan Thomas and his (in)ability to guide to offense in crucial games.

Key Losses: Wide receivers Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller combined for 1,768 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2012. Neither had an outstanding catch rate, but their departures left a major void in terms of outside threats. Linebacker Bruce Taylor was an important cog in the defense'schristophersmith.CTrecord late-season resurgence, but nine other starters return to the group. The Hokies lost a pair of offensive tackles in Nick Becton and Vinston Painter.

What To Expect On Offense: Beamer overhauled the offensive side of the ball, bringing in new offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler and new offensive line coach Jeff Grimes. It’s unclear whether Loeffler will fix the embattled quarterback Thomas, but his attempt likely will involve a run-heavy offense designed to use Thomas’ size and strength. The line in front of Thomas remains in flux; there is enough depth to survive injuries, but the group lacks top-end ability. There appears to be a shortage of playmakers at running back and wide receiver, which will not aid Thomas’s cause. Tailback J.C. Coleman sprained both of his ankles in a recent practice and may miss the first couple of games of the season, but should be ready in conference play. D.J. Coles should be the No. 1 target, but has battled weight and consistency issues.

What To Expect On Defense: Beamer and defensive coordinator Bud Foster have built their empire based on defense and special teams, and even during down years that has not changed. If not for the excellent performance by the unit down the stretch last season (18.8 points per game against), Tech’s record would have been far worse. The secondary figures to be the strength of the group this fall with all four starters returning. Antonie Exum is one of the best defensive backs in the conference, but is rehabbing an injury and it doesn’t look like he will return until conference play begins. The Hokies were 25th in the FBS in yards per game allowed (346.3) and should improve with the quality they return. Linebacker Jack Tyler led the team in tackles (119) and is a leader-by-example type on the field.

Breakout Star: Demitri Knowles. Choosing a breakout star for the Hokies was difficult, because many potential candidates — Mark Shuman (season), Ronny Vandyke (season) and Coleman (2-to-4 weeks) — find themselves out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Knowles missed most of last season with a knee injury but will have plenty of targets this fall with most of the depth chart in tatters. At 6-foot-1, 180 pounds, speed is Knowles’ greatest asset; if he can avoid drops and inconsistencies that usually accompany young players Knowles will produce a big season.

Big Games: After the Hokies take their lumps against Alabama, they finish their out-of-conference schedule with easy wins against Western Carolina, Eastern Carolina and Marshall before beginning ACC play. Virginia Tech gets a huge break in this regard, avoiding both Clemson and Florida State from the Atlantic. A visit to Miami on Nov. 9 could be a de facto Coastal Division title game.

Outlook: Virginia Tech sports the best defense in the Coastal Division, but its offense remains a work in progress. It's difficult to imagine the offense moving the ball with any amount of consistency unless Thomas takes a massive step forward. If he can develop into a run-first quarterback who takes advantage of 1-on-1 matchups on the outside, the offense could at least remain competitive. This, combined with a schedule that gives the Hokies some breaks, an appearance in Charlotte is not out of the realm of possibility. But injuries may prevent that from happening.

Predicted Record: 8-4, third ACC Coastal.