It’s been over a full year since Justin Fuente took over from Frank Beamer as head coach of the Virginia Tech Hokies. Been an interesting year at that. One of the wildest and oddest 10-4 rides I’ve seen. But getting a decent bowl win and winning the ACC Coastal should be thought of as a stepping stone…but I want to be honest, I’m going to hold my over-eager fawning over the program and its future for next year…maybe even two or three years down the line.
This isn’t me doubting the staff at all- it’s WAY too early to ‘doubt’. This is me noting that we might end up with a mediocre record because of what we’ve got to replace on the field. I don’t expect Coach Fuente to be able to just suddenly go 12-2 or something with the following people to replace:
Isaiah Ford, the program’s all-time leading receiver. Bucky Hodges, the fifth leading receiver and a multi-year starter. Sam Rogers, who’s one of the most universally beloved Hokies- oh, and one of the most versatile players- of the past decade. Two multi-year offensive line starters in Augie Conte and Jonathan McLaughlin. And let’s not forget the huge season we got out of one-year wonder quarterback, Jerod Evans. That’s just OFFENSE. Defensively we’re returning a total of one true starter on the defensive line- losing Nigel Williams, Woody Baron, and Ken Ekanem. We’re losing the leader of the secondary in Chuck Clark. And yes, replacing Mitchel Ludwig with a true American football rookie could prove to be hazardous.
So I want to let everyone be aware: expectations should be measured. I feel good about the future of the program; this is not some sort of slam job. But I’m taking the unsure future one step at a time. The class of 2017 looks fairly interesting and impressive on paper- and yet I know that some of them won’t contribute that much. The Class of 2018 has a chance to be about as good or better, from what I see. But that could still take a while to cycle up and through the team even when they come in NEXT year. The players that Fuente has to work with, for the most part, are people recruited for Frank Beamer’s collective offensive systems. And as part of our continuing gripes of our offensive linemen, that’s FOUR coaches or so of different offensive line parameters- Newsome, Grimes, Searels, and now Vice. It’s no wonder the parts don’t seem to fit and the team always seems to be grasping for straws.
So while I do love all the exciting stuff coming out of the team’s twitter accounts…
And I can’t wait to get down to Blacksburg for the spring game, I can’t help but realize that it’s still going to be a mostly scripted event with vanilla schemes and implementations just to prevent espionage and information leakage. We’re not going to see what this team really is until probably…the Clemson game? Now, granted, we saw more of what Fuente’s team could be with the Liberty game. I can look forward to the potential ceiling of what this offense could be much more than I would a former Virginia Tech offense could muster. I’m pretty sure Bud will figure out how to cobble together a defensive line from talented backups- he’s done it before (see: last year, when Ken Ekanem was the only returning starter). We return some talented players, still: Wyatt Teller, Cam Phillips, Tremaine and Terrell Edmunds, Brandon Facyson, Andrew Motuapuaka…there’s still plenty of work to do. I look forward to seeing it come to fruition on the field. There’s plenty to look forward to- the Coastal, almost without exception, is in disarray. UNC has to replace everyone and has the NCAA FINALLY bearing down on them. Miami has to replace a few multi-year starters (including Brad Kaaya and Corn Elder). Georgia Tech replaces Justin Thomas, and has something of a ceiling. Pittsburgh loses Peterman, Conner, and Price- and their offensive coordinator, Matt Canada. Virginia is…Virginia. When Duke is potentially the most stable team in this side of the conference? Yeah. It’s up for grabs.
So I suppose let me clarify. I temper my expectations for the season because I know that there could be a high ceiling: Jackson/Bush/Hooker succeeds, the OL gels, offense storms back with a more efficient running game, and the defensive becomes awesome. There could just as well be a low floor: No QB on the roster is the answer, the offensive line and running game never get going, none of the young receivers step up, and our thin defensive depth chart is exposed after a year of good health. The answer likely lies in the middle. So I don’t get super excited for the results of this season at this point, I look forward to the story, to the process, and the journey. Just as last year ended up being a one year trip on a wild roller coaster, this year could be much the same in an entirely different manner.