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Athlon high on Hokies’ defense, little regard for VT RBs

If Virginia Tech can get a surprise in the backfield, we may be in for a step forward.

Virginia Tech v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

In a little over 10 weeks Virginia Tech is set to kick off the 2020-21 football season. The Hokies are scheduled to host Liberty on September 5th, but it still seems so far away and with so many hurdles still to overcome. But for now let’s focus on the positives and think about the Hokies’ roster for the upcoming year.

After going 8-5 last season, 5-3 in the ACC and that loss that we won’t name, Justin Fuente needs a strong response in 2020. On paper Virginia Tech look to have nearly all the pieces to pull together a season that would lift the team closer to where fans expect the school to be. As preseason content continues to roll out, the team at Athlon revealed their ACC predictions and positional rankings. There is a clear missing piece, or unknown, for the Hokies.

The team at Athlon are unsurprisingly high on the Hokies defense as the group returns 10 starters from last year. Their experts see Tech as the top linebacker unit in the ACC and the best secondary in the league. Add in the 5th best rated defensive line, and Justin Hamilton is in a great spot to begin his career as the new Defensive Coordinator in Blacksburg.

The offensive line is ranked 3rd in the ACC and the WR group as the 6th best. Combine that with the return of rising junior Hendon Hooker and the Hokies have nearly all the pieces of a solid offense to pair with what should be a classic Tech defense. There’s just one giant question mark...sitting in the backfield.

Last season VT averaged 176 rushing yards a game, 5th best in the ACC. Deshawn McClease, the team’s leader rusher averaged 64.8, 11th in the ACC, and the Hokies’ only runner to finish in the top 25. His exit leaves the Tech backfield wide open, except for Keshawn King, who likely starts camps as the #1.

Three of VT’s top five rushers last season were the team’s three QBs. So there’s no surprise no one is high on the upcoming RB committee in Blacksburg. Joining King is Jalen Holston, who only had 19 yards last season, and a trio of incoming transfers - Khalil Herbert (Kansas), Raheem Blackshear (Rutgers), and Marco Lee (Coffeyville Junior College).

Can King deliver as the #1 running back? Will a new name eventually step in and take over the lead role? Or will Tech find success by rotating multiple backs by committee rather than a standout player? The answer to this overarching question is likely the difference in a season that is 8-5 once again and one that is 11-2.

There were a few other interesting notes/selections by the Athlon team in regards to Tech:

  • Best Coordinator Hire - Justin Hamilton, DC (Mark Ross)
  • Must-See Game - Virginia Tech at North Carolina (Steven Lassan)
  • Breakout Player - Hendon Hooker (Mark Ross)

Let’s hope we get to the see the 2020 Virginia Tech football season, because the team could really be in store for a surprising year. A strong running back emerging from the pack will give Justin Fuente an excellent chance to rebound from last season.