The Orlando Sentinel has ranked all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country. We’ll take a closer look at a new team daily, counting backward from No. 120 to our projected No. 1 team. We will not be including the four teams the NCAA lists as still reclassifying to the Football Bowl Subdivision level.

Today at No. 17: Virginia Tech

Coach: Frank Beamer (209-98-2 in 25 seasons at Virginia Tech; 251-121-4 overall)

2011 record: 11-3 (7-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference, second in ACC)


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Look back: Virginia Tech’s finish didn’t jibe with the Hokies’ start to the 2011 campaign. Losers of their last two games — the ACC Championship game against Clemson and the Sugar Bowl against Michigan — the Hokies ended the year with a pair of defeats that completely overshadowed their 11-win regular season. Cornerback Kyle Fuller told reporters at this week’s ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, N.C. that he and his teammates still had a bitter taste in their mouths from the way the year ended. During the regular season, rattled off four-game and seven-game winning streaks. Their lone regular-season loss also came against Clemson.

Offensive starters lost/returning: 8/3

Defensive starters lost/returning: 2/9

Key losses: WR Danny Coale, WR Jarrett Boykin, OT Blake DeChristopher, RB David Wilson, CB Jayron Holsey, S Eddie Whitley

Top returnees: QB Logan Thomas, WR Marcus Davis, C Andrew Miller, DE James Gayle, DE J.R. Collins, DT Derrick Hopkins, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Tariq Edwards, CB Kyle Fuller, S Antone Exum, K Cody Journell

Strengths: Virginia Tech’s strengths can be found in all three phases of the game. On the overall, the Hokies’ defense should be stout. Last year, they ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense. Of the nine starters Virginia Tech brings back, two of them, defensive ends Gayle and Collins, combined to have 13 sacks last season.

Offensively, Thomas may be the Hokies’ greatest asset. In addition to possessing a strong arm that completed 61.4 percent of its passes and threw for 25 touchdowns last season, Thomas also has the speed and size of a defensive end. With his big frame, the junior can be tough to bring down in the open field. Because of his big frame, he will be trying often to elude pass-rushers and get into open-field scenarios.

Finally, special teams will always be a hallmark of Beamer-coached teams. The Hokies have long been known for their ability to develop punt and kick returners, and this season should be no different. Where the unit becomes even stronger is in the kicking game, with the late-summer news that Journell was indeed returning for 2012 after being suspended indefinitely last year.

Weaknesses: Offense may be the Hokies’ weakest point on the overall. While Thomas possesses the types of tools Beamer believes he can use this season, his offensive line may give him little time to exploit those tools. Only Miller returns with starting experience on the line, as a young group of blockers comes in this season. How well the Hokies can develop their blockers will have a big impact on just how special of a year this will be for them.

Outlook: Virginia Tech should be back in the ACC Championship game for a third-straight year. With potential off-field distractions at North Carolina and Miami, Georgia Tech emerges as perhaps the only team that can derail those conference title hopes. Thankfully for ACC football fans, the Coastal Division race will have an early leader. The Yellow Jackets and Hokies meet on Labor Day opening weekend in one of the conference’s biggest games. For Georgia Tech, it will be a chance to redeem itself after a heartbreaking loss in Blacksburg, Va. two years ago. For the Hokies, a win would put them in the division’s driver’s seat early.

Another defining moment during Virginia Tech’s season will come Nov. 8, when the Hokies host Florida State in a Thursday night game. The game could be an ACC Championship preview, with the winner of it punching their ticket to the title game. A return trip to a BCS game could be in the cards for Virginia Tech, but it all depends on how the Hokies play in those two — three, counting the ACC Championship — meaningful games.

2012 Schedule

Sept. 3 Georgia Tech

Sept. 8 Austin Peay

Sept. 15 at Pittsburgh

Sept. 22 Bowling Green