The Hokies might just have the best pass rush in the country, and with Kendall Fuller locking up one side of the field they just might have the best pass coverage unit in the country too. So yeah, I think it’s safe to assume that not even that big fire demon guy could pass on the Hokies. (Fine I’ll admit that I’ve read Lord of the Rings and know that the “big fire demon” thing is called a Balrog). The problem might be that over the past few years is that the Hokies have struggled to pass the ball too, but with eight starters on offense that might be ready to change in 2015.
Isaiah Ford, Cam Phillips, and tight end Bucky Hodges all return to give the Hokies what should be a formidable trio at receiver. Ford and Phillips combined to catch 96 passes for 1,207 yards last year as true freshmen. Hodges is a senior tight end who caught 45 passes for 526 yards as a junior in 2014.
The return of Ford, Phillips and Hodges also means that returning starter and Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer has no excuse not to put up solid numbers this year. Brewer completed just under 60% of his passes for 2,692 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last season. That completion percentage needs to go up a little and it would be helpful if that interception total could go way down. Brewer has the talent and the weapons, now it’s time to produce.
Virginia Tech could also benefit from some players stepping up at the running back position. Marshawn Williams and J.C. Coleman combined for 1,029 rushing yards and seven touchdowns last season. Those are not awful numbers but still fairly pedestrian from a pair of highly recruited backs. Williams was a freshman last year, though, so a big step forward could be in store, and would certainly be a welcome sight for the Hokie faithful.
Juniors Jonathan McLaughlin and Augie Conte return to the offensive line in 2015, both of whom have double-digit starts under their belts in their first two years in Blacksburg. McLaughlin should be a fixture at left tackle having started 22 games their in the last two years. Conte will likely start at right guard where he started nine games last year, but he did show some versatility starting a game at right tackle. They will be joined by sophomore Wyatt Teller, who started the last six games at left guard last season and should play there again this season.
Kendall Fuller may very well be the best cornerback in college football. Fuller has an NFL pedigree with three older brothers who all played or currently play in the NFL; Kyle, a Bears cornerback, being the most famous. Fuller lived up to his name and reputation last season with two interceptions and 15 passes broken up. The guy across from him isn’t half bad either. Brandon Facyson should return at corner after a shin injury cost him nine games last season. As a freshman in 2013, Facyson had five interceptions and was a 247Sports Freshman All-American. Chuck Clark is a force at safety too; he filled in some at corner last year and had an interception and 11 pass break-ups.
This defensive line was stout last year and every player of note returns, including Luther Maddy who was limited to only four games because of a torn meniscus. Maddy had 13.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in 2014. Dadi Nicolas and Ken Ekanem were monsters on the end of the line last season combining for 33.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks, plus defensive tackles Corey Marshall and Nigel Williams combined for 19 tackles for loss themselves. All in all, this group is one of the surest bets in college football.
Linebacker is the least sure position group on this defense, but it should still be very good. Deon Clarke and Andrew Motuapuaka were both solid last year with over 40 tackles. Clarke was also disruptive in the backfield with 11 tackles for loss and five sacks. Ronny Vandyke should fill in the other spot next to these guys. Vandyke didn’t do much last season, but he also didn’t have a huge role either.
The defense alone should be good for about eight wins, and if the offense can take a step forward with the returning players at receiver and quarterback, then ten or eleven wins is certainly within reason. Apart from the season opener against Ohio State, the non-conference schedule isn’t too tough and the Hokies managed to avoid Florida State and Clemson in-conference. If Virginia Tech can pick up a road win at Miami or Georgia Tech, then ten wins and a division title could be in store for Frank Beamer’s team.