Here to help us open the 2011 season is friend of the blog Chris Colston. Chris is the writer/editor/publisher/ink-stained-wretch behind the Hokie Football Annual and about as dedicated a Hokie as you'll find.
GC: The Hokies haven't won all of their non-conference games since 2006. Their non-conference schedule is significantly weaker this year than in recent years, but which opponent is most like to beat the Hokies in September?
CC: Nope, there are no Alabamas, LSUs, Boise States or Nebraskas on this year's non-conference schedule. But if Virginia Tech isn't mentally ready in its four non-ACC games, things could get dicey.
Appalachian State's coaches and players are convinced they can come into Lane Stadium and beat the Hokies, just as they went to Ann Arbor and beat No. 5 Michigan in 2007. The fact that James Madison beat Tech in Lane last year only emboldens them. The Mountaineers went 10-3 last year and made it to the FCS quarterfinals, so they're no slouch, and they have a very good dual-threat QB in DeAndre "Champagne" Presley. If the Hokies defense isn't properly fired up, Appy State will hang some points on them.
Traveling to East Carolina won't be a gimme, either. The Pirates beat the Hokies in Charlotte in 2008, so everybody knows they're capable of the upset. And last year ECU led Tech 24-21 in Lane Stadium at halftime. QB Dominique Davis returns with two of this top three receiving threats from a year ago.
Those games will be first-year starter Logan Thomas's first two collegiate starts, so if you're going to get Tech, that's the time to do it.
Of those two, ECU probably has the best chance of pulling the upset.
GC: What have you seen from Logan Thomas so far in the fall that has you most excited about him and what has you the most worried?
CC: From the video I've seen he's continued his progress from the spring. The thing that excites everybody about Logan is his size. I can't wait to see what he can do, on a consistent basis, against somebody other than Virginia Tech. He's a threat to run it, but so was Tyrod Taylor ...what he can really do is see over the line, make those quick passes over the middle, let Tech's athletic receivers work their magic after the catch. I really like the potential of guys like Dyrell Roberts and Marcus Davis getting the ball on the move.
No question, the big worry is his accuracy. He's been just under 50%, which really isn't acceptable at this level. But i expect him to improve as the season goes on.
GC: Why do you think Tech had so much trouble stopping the run last year and what have they done in the fall to correct it?
CC: To be honest, they didn't have great size or depth up front last year. They really missed Barquell Rivers, a big-time run stuffer; his replacement, Bruce Taylor had a good year, but he would've been more comfortable at Backer last year. And Lyndell Gibson, at times, was just not up to the standard of what Tech's coaches expect. Whip Jeron Gouveia-Winslow wasn't as strong as he needed to be, and he had a couple of open-field missed-tackle gaffes that allowed huge runs. The secondary admits it also blew some reads, allowing some long plays, which you can attribute to youth and a lapse of focus.
This year the front four is stronger, physically, although depth is still an issue. James Gayle is a huge upgrade over last year's DE starters. Bud Foster likes his depth at both inside linebacker spots, Gibson is gone, and whip Gouveia-Winslow is much, much improved over last year. Overall the defense is a year older, so there should be fewer blown reads. This unit should continue to improve as the season goes on. I expect a rebound to the type of quality defense Tech fans have come to expect from Foster.
GC: Other than David Wilson and Logan Thomas, which player that didn't start last year is going to be a household name in the ACC by the end of the year?
CC: Defensive end James Gayle. He's been a pure beast this August.
GC: Finally, what's the biggest road block between the Hokies and winning a national title both in 2011 and beyond?
CC: I guess I'd have to say Florida State. The Hokies schooled the Seminoles in last year's ACC title game, thanks to Tyrod Taylor's heroic effort. But he's now in Baltimore, where he's earning effusive praise from future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis.
But I will say this: the running ability of Logan, along with the explosiveness of David Wilson, a great pass receiving corps, an offensive line with finally some depth, and a Bud Foster defense all mean that--if the Hokies can stay healthy--they will be a real national title threat this year.