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An 11-1 season and a trip to the ACC title game are within Virginia Tech's reach

 

THE MILESTONE

If you're looking for significant Hokie career moments, there's a lot to choose from on the horizon. Wide receiver Jarrett Boykin needs four catches and 150 yards receiving to become Tech's career leader in both categories. Smithfield High graduate Dyrell Roberts has to get 19 more yards to become the school's career kickoff return yardage leader. The biggest milestone should come in week two at East Carolina, when Tech should move to 2-0 and Frank Beamer should get his 200th win as Tech's coach.

THE COACH

FRANK BEAMER

25th year at Tech (198-95-2 at Tech; 240-118-4 overall, including six seasons at Murray State)

Beamer will be the first to say if he had a start to his Tech career these days like the start he had from 1987-92 (24-40-2), he'd have never made it. In today's restless college football world, he'd have been run out of town early on. Now, he has achieved just about everything in his profession other than winning a national championship. The challenges continue this season — new starting quarterback, running back, kicker and punter, very little defensive depth — but the schedule is kind.

THE STANDOUTS

JARRETT BOYKIN

Sr. | 6-2 | 218 | WR

He's the best security blanket Tech can offer new starting quarterback Logan Thomas. Boykin has the ability to get open through precise route-running, and a penchant for making dramatic catches with oven mitt-sized hands. He came three catches away last season from setting Tech's career single-season record (had 53 catches for 847 yards and six touchdowns), but as mentioned above, he's pursuing bigger career goals this season.

DAVID WILSON

Jr. | 5-10 | 205 | RB

If Tech hands him the ball as much as it's expected to this season, and if he stays healthy, he could end up being a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate. Seriously. He has that kind of speed, and he's that kind of talent. Of course, his kickoff return ability (two touchdown returns last season in pivotal game-changing moments at N.C. State and against Georgia Tech) could also help the case.

JAYRON HOSLEY

Jr. | 5-10 | 171 | CB

After leading the nation with nine interceptions last season, what does Hosley plan for an encore? Well, his season goal is 15 interceptions. That's probably a stretch, considering opponents are likely to target sophomore Kyle Fuller, a new starter, at the other cornerback spot. Still, defensive coordinator Bud Foster hinted two weeks ago he's going to prepare for Hosley's early departure to the NFL. Good idea.

THE STORYLINES

DEPTH ISSUES

For the most part, Foster feels good about his starters, especially on the defensive line, two of his linebacker positions and three of his secondary spots. It's the guys playing in backup roles that have him concerned. A season-ending knee injury to Kwamaine Battle has depleted the defensive tackles. There's zero proven depth at defensive end or in the secondary. Any further injuries on the defensive side could throw Tech for a bit of a loop.

FINALLY THOMAS' TIME

It seems like we've been hearing about how special Thomas is supposed to be for years, but he hasn't had any chance to prove it. His moment is about to arrive. How will he perform against opposing defenses mixing schemes to confuse him? Will he communicate well on game day with new play-caller Mike O'Cain, Tech's quarterbacks coach? Does Thomas have the poise to stand in the pocket and deliver passes as calmly as he has demonstrated in Tech's scrimmages? The answers are coming soon.

SCHEDULE: WHERE'S THE BEEF?

There are two ways to look at Tech's schedule, which includes no games outside the Atlantic Coast Conference against teams from Bowl Championship Series automatic-qualifying conferences, and may not include a game against a nationally ranked opponent until the ACC title game (if Tech makes it that far). It's a slate ready-made for a possible undefeated run. It's also so lacking in quality opponents it may hurt Tech down the stretch when it comes to critical BCS rating time.

IS KICKING GAME SOLID?

In the last two seasons, Tech has featured kickers that were once non-scholarship athletes, but who both went on to become All-ACC first team selections (Matt Waldron and Chris Hazley). This season, the Hokies will go with Cody Journell, a sophomore who came to Tech as a scholarship kicker, but who is completely unproven. It's the same story at punter this season in terms of experience. Beamer has done a superb job finding kickers, but his evaluating skills will be tested this season.

RUN STOPPERS NEEDED

Like Virginia last season, Tech had its issues keeping opposing teams from finding seams — often giving Foster heartburn with poor tackling technique. Tech surrendered an average of 155.9 rushing yards per game last season (64th in the nation), the most against the Hokies since the 1992 season (176 yards per game; also Tech's last losing season). Six players ran for more than 100 yards against Tech last season.

THE SCHEDULE

Sept. 3 | vs. Appalachian State | 12:30 p.m.

Given Tech's 21-16 home loss last season to Football Championship Subdivision foe James Madison, it's probably an awful time for another FCS opponent to be coming to Lane Stadium.

Sept. 10 | at East Carolina | 3:30 p.m.

ECU's Dominique Davis is a great talent at quarterback, but he'll be playing behind an offensive line that'll feature three new starters and he'll have a new starter at running back behind him.

Sept. 17 | vs. Arkansas State | 4 p.m.

This game and the opener may present perfect opportunities for Tech to work on developing a little depth. Arkansas State is 4-23 on the road in the last four seasons.

Sept. 24 | at Marshall | 3:30 p.m.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday is familiar with Tech mostly from his days as an assistant coach from '79-99 at West Virginia, but familiarity won't help the Thundering Herd get the upset.

Oct. 1 | vs. Clemson | TBA

The last time Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd played in Lane Stadium in 2008, he left a winner after leading Phoebus High to a state championship. Don't expect a similar result here.

Oct. 8 | vs. Miami | TBA

If you thought UNC was depleted at times last season with all its player suspensions, Miami may take bigger hits this season with the NCAA hammer hovering overhead. This one could get ugly.

Oct. 15 | at Wake Forest | TBA

Wake Forest running back Josh Harris gained 241 yards last season against Tech, the most rushing yards the Hokies have ever given up to a single player — and the Demon Deacons still lost 52-21.

Oct. 22 | vs. Boston College | TBA

After losing three straight to BC from '06-08, Tech has bounced back to win the last two meetings by a combined score of 67-14.

Oct. 29 | at Duke | TBA

Duke actually gave Tech fits in the Hokies' last visit to Durham, N.C. (Tech won 34-26 in 2009), but the Blue Devils still enter this season with a 42-game losing streak against ranked opponents.

Nov. 10 | at Georgia Tech | 8 p.m.

Georgia Tech's option game creates headaches, and the Yellow Jackets will be amped for this Thursday night affair. The Hokies have 12 days to prepare, just like they did in last season's 28-21 win.

Nov. 17 | vs. North Carolina | 8 p.m.

In '09, UNC came to Blacksburg on a Thursday night and notched a 20-17 upset win. A Thursday night repeat stunner this season seems unlikely.

Nov. 26 | at Virginia | TBA

There's a strong possibility this season's game will mean more than last season's meeting, as Tech could be looking at locking up another Coastal Division crown, and U.Va. might be going for bowl eligibility.

THE EXPECTATIONS

Though Tech has had better equipped teams in the last decade than it has entering this season, the Hokies have gotten through the regular season with fewer than two losses just once in the last 10 years (10-1 in '05 entering ACC championship game). Still, Tech leads the nation with seven consecutive 10-plus win seasons, so expectations are naturally going to be high. An 11-1 campaign and meeting with Florida State in the ACC title game seem within reach.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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