BLACKSBURG For some college football programs, seven wins, including a bowl victory, would be seen as success. For Virginia Tech, that type of season is expected to beget major changes.
The Hokies did extend their streak of reaching a bowl game to 20 years, the third-longest active streak in the nation. But Tech’s run of eight 10-win seasons came to an end.
Squeaking out a 13-10 overtime win against Rutgers in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando last week helped the Hokies avoid their first losing season since 1992. But fans won’t be satisfied with a repeat performance in 2013.
Here are five questions facing Tech in the new year:
1. Will quarterback Logan Thomas stay or go?
Earlier in the season, it sounded as if Thomas, a junior, was a lock to return for his senior season with the Hokies. But Thomas, 6-foot-6, who struggled on the field this year, still is being projected by some experts as a first-round draft pick. He was scheduled to meet with Tech coach Frank Beamer this week, after getting back his paperwork for the NFL’s Draft Advisory Board. By the end of the season, Thomas sounded more and more like a player who was open to making the jump to the NFL.
Tech cornerbacks Antone Exum and Kyle Fuller and defensive end James Gayle, all juniors, also are considered pro prospects. Exum and Fuller are fully expected to return for their senior years, while Gayle’s position could best be described as 50-50.
2. What will the offensive coaching staff look like?
The worst-kept secret in Blacksburg is that Tech is on the verge of overhauling its offensive coaching staff. Wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman reportedly is bound for an assistant’s job at Purdue, and offensive line coach Curt Newsome is likely to be hired at James Madison. The futures of offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring and quarterbacks coach and play-caller Mike O’Cain are unclear. Only running backs coach Shane Beamer appears a lock to be on the staff next season.
But how different will the Hokies’ attack look with new men leading it? The two names most frequently linked to Tech’s expected opening at coordinator are Stanford offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton and South Carolina co-offensive coordinator Shawn Elliott. But both the Cardinal and the Gamecocks employ pro-style, run-heavy offensive schemes that wouldn’t be wildly divergent for the Hokies’ strategy.
3. Can the defense live up to the hype it’s sure to get next preseason?
Touted as possibly the best defensive unit in Virginia Tech’s history, this year’s defense didn’t really get rolling until midway through the season. Assuming Gayle, Exum and Fuller all return, the Hokies will have nine starters back on defense next year. Linebacker Tariq Edwards should finally be fully healthy and will slide into senior Bruce Taylor’s starting spot. Defensive tackle Antoine Hopkins was the only senior this season on the defensive line, and the Hokies have a host of capable players ready to fill his spot.
Redshirt freshmen defensive tackle Kris Harley and defensive end Dadi Nicolas had moments this season when they looked like impact players.
4. Who will play running back?
This is a question the Hokies never really answered in 2012. The season opened with Frank Beamer likening Michael Holmes to a pre-2011 Logan Thomas — a star in waiting. But Holmes never established himself, and by the end of the year, true freshman J.C. Coleman was the team’s top tailback. Tech opted to redshirt true freshman Trey Edmunds this year, when it appeared it had a loaded backfield. Edmunds could be a major factor next season, as could Drew Harris, a recruit who spent the year at Fork Union Military Academy after failing to qualify academically for the Hokies last season.
5. Can Tech improve its offensive line despite losing both starting tackles?
Left tackle Nick Becton and right tackle Vinston Painter started all 13 games this season for the Hokies, while the guards and centers dealt with injuries. They might not have been dominant, but there’s something to be said for being durable and available. Tech also loses versatile senior Michael Via, who was able to fill in at any spot along the line.
Redshirt sophomore Mark Shuman could be the top tackle coming back, but classmates Brent Benedict and Laurence Gibson, both of whom practiced at guard for most of this past season, also should be in the mix.