I'm not sure how we'll end up remembering the 2009 edition of Hokie football. For me they were the most exciting team to watch this decade. The offense was good, the defense was disruptive and they dominated their fair share of teams. While the 2000 team was better and the 2004 team was more special, these guys offered an exciting, extremely watchable brand of football. I think they were one of the best teams Tech saw this decade, probably No. 2 or No. 3.
There are reasons to be disappointed with this season, but there are a whole lot more to be proud of. I said at the beginning of the year that this wasn't the year to expect a national championship. But if everything goes right and the Hokies get extremely lucky, 2010 might be. So hold your head high because 2009 was a good year to be a Hokie.
- This year will go down as the year of Ryan Williams. The freshman exploded on the scene and set Virginia Tech's single-season rushing record. I don't think we'll ever see this kind of production from Williams again. He'll have to split carries with Darren Evans next year and hell, next year could be the last one we see of him in a Hokie uniform. But I do think you'll see him be much more fun to watch. Instead of having to be the big-play guy and the grinder, Williams only has to provide the home runs we often saw from him this year. He'll be fun to watch next year, but the stats won't be as eye-popping.
- Holy hell, Tyrod Taylor. I wasn't sure the kid had it in him, but he finally became a quarterback in 2009. Add that to his athleticism and leadership abilities and his senior year could be special. Taylor stopped throwing interceptions and became one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country this year and his pass/run decision making also improved by leaps and bounds.
- The offensive line still needs a lot of work at pass blocking, but I expect that to improve next year when the Hokies shuffle their tackle position. However, their run blocking may see a decline with the loss of Sergio Render. In the end, this was the same offensive line we saw in 2008.
- We are going to really miss Cody Grimm. When the defensive ends weren't able to get pressure on the quarterback, there was Grimm making his life hell. Grimm was one of those guys that didn't fit the specific mold of any defensive position, but he was just a football player. That made him perfect for the whip linebacker spot and he may be the best whip we ever see at Tech.
- I expected a whole lot more from Kam Chancellor this season. He had a great Orange Bowl and looked like finally had a grasp of the free safety position. However, his 2009 started and ended the same way: By getting burnt deep in a crucial situation. Fortunately in the Peach Bowl the receiver dropped the ball. I think if they'd kept Kam at rover for four years his draft stock and overall perception would be much higher.
- Next year's defense will depend entirely on whether or not Jason Worilds returns for his senior season. He's the linchpin to a successful 2010.
- Who are you and what have you done with Bryan Stinespring and Mike O'Cain? Both had successful seasons as O'Cain helped develop Taylor into an honest to goodness quarterback and Stinespring finally learned to get out of the way of his own offense. We will never have a high-powered offense at Virginia Tech, but Stinespring finally turned the Hokies into a highly efficient one. The key to improving next year is consistency from both the offensive line and Stinespring himself.
- We thought a few games into the season that this was going to be a rebuilding year for Bud Foster's defense. You would think we would have learned our lesson by now.
- Last year Frank Beamer did his best coaching job at Virginia Tech, meaning this year was going to be a tough act to follow. While I don't think Beamer did a bad job at all this year, he didn't do as good a coaching job this year nor did he have to. But I get the feeling he's starting to get tired of the all-or-nothing mentality some Hokie fans have. At this point he probably wants a national championship just to get it over with. Unfortunately for Beamer and the Hokies we may never have good enough athletes to compensate for bad luck. Look at it this way. If the Hokies had opened their season with UL-Monroe and gone 13-0, they still wouldn't be playing for the national title and they'd still be making a third consecutive trip to the Orange Bowl.
The 2009 team was one of the more dominant teams Tech has seen in a long time. Usually when they beat teams there was no question who was the better team on the field.
The Nebraska game was a miracle and a loss in that game would have change the whole complexion of the season. Would Taylor have been as good a quarterback the rest of the year if Tech hadn't won that game? Would Stinespring even have a job right now? I'm not sure. But the Nebraska game was a huge turning point.
That's the game I'll remember most from 2009 mainly because most of the other games were either losses or blowouts. Tech crushed Marshall, Boston College, Miami, Maryland, NC State and Virginia. In most of its games this year we were already celebrating victory by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
The other big win was the one against Tennessee. Yes, the Vols were 7-5 going into the bowl, but they represented a lot more than a mediocre 7-5 bowl team. They represented the SEC, Virginia Tech's SEC curse and were a team loathed by many Tech fans.
The win also gave the Hokies another 10 win season and a reason to look forward to 2010.
The Hokies had a lot of successes this season, but had their share of disappointment. However, the only one that is unforgivable is the loss to North Carolina. In hindsight, that game doesn't matter in the grand scheme of the season. Even if Tech had beaten the Tar Heels, it still wouldn't have played for the ACC title. But it's the other factors that make that game inexcusable.
We lost at home. On Thursday night. To a team that wasn't Boston College. And we did it in the most unimaginable way when our star running back fumbled deep in our own territory on what proved to be our last offensive play of the game. And while North Carolina went on to have a solid season and had one of the best defenses in the ACC, there's no way we should have lost that game.
What happened was a perfect storm of suck during the 10 days leading up to that game. After the Georgia Tech loss, coach Beamer erred when he allowed himself to get caught up in a war of words with Paul Johnson over whether or not some blocks by the Jackets were illegal. In my opinion this made the team unfocused going into the North Carolina game. Once the game started, the offense struggled to convert good field position into points and the defense failed to make crucial stops in the second half. The loss was a team effort.
But while that defeat will stick in my craw for years to come, the other two losses will not. Alabama may very well win the national championship and go 14-0 this year. The Tide took the Hokies best shot and needed a fourth-quarter comeback to win that game. The second loss of the season came on the road against a highly-motivated and well-coached team. Josh Nesbitt was clutch and the Jacket defense was turnt up (all the way turnt up) in that game. So in the end, even the disappointments of 2009 weren't all that disappointing, at least not to me. I wasn't one of the crazies who legitimately thought this team could go 14-0. They were too young and this wasn't the year for ridiculous expectations.
Next year, however, may be another story. In the coming weeks we'll look at the Hokies' 2010 depth chart, 2010 schedule and prospects, if any, for winning the national title.