It’s a gorgeous day out, so I can’t imagine anybody will be inside reading this, but here’s Part II of the mailbag. If you missed Part I, the Realignment Edition, you can read it here.
The past several/many years now, the Hokies wear 4 or 5 variations of “throwback” uniforms. They seem to end up wearing 7 or 8 different uniforms for their 12 games, several very ugly. Enough already. Are they going to do that again this year or when are they finally just going to consistently wear their “home” uniform and their “road” uniform?
– Michael, Norfolk
Those days are gone. Only a handful of schools these days stick to the traditional home and road uniforms (Alabama, Penn State, Auburn off the top of my head). Even places like Ohio State, Michigan and Notre Dame, who have pretty nice traditional looks, are changing things up with retro uniforms and slight variations. They do it because that’s what recruits like is all sorts of different uniforms. It might sound silly, but watch this video of Ohio’s players reacting to getting black uniforms finally. They’re like grade-schoolers finding out they’re going to an ice cream buffet. It’s madness. So expect Virginia Tech to continue the variety pack look in 2012. We’ll see if it goes back to the all-maroons that I think a lot of the fan base wants.
Where do you think the VT defense finish in national rankings this year? Will VT keep Logan if he has a good or great year, or will he declare? Any comment on why Virginia has taken so many q-back commits with several in the stable already.
– JB, Troutville
The Hokies have a chance to finish pretty high in the rankings on defense. They were 10th last year with a patchwork group because of injuries and have pretty much everyone back. The only major stumbling block I could see is an injury in the secondary. Virginia Tech is perilously thin back there, and losing one guy could have a major effect. As for where the Hokies will finish up, it’s hard to tell, but if you’re talking a top-10 defense again in terms of yardage, that’s doing something right.
Thomas is an interesting case. He has all the tools to go pro, and his stock would be extremely high if he puts up the kind of numbers he did last year again. But quarterback is one position where guys aren’t always in a hurry to go pro. Sure, Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III did it, but others like Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley and Matt Leinart opted to come back, even though they would have been top-five picks. (It worked for Luck but not Leinart. Jury’s out on Barkley.) So it gives Thomas options at least. It’s not like Wilson and Hosley, who had their mind set on the NFL all along. Thomas doesn’t strike me as someone with that mentality, but it’s always hard to judge what someone is thinking. Either way, nothing is definite.
I think Virginia has taken a bunch of quarterbacks because you can never have too many. It’s nice to be able to hand the reins to somebody else like VT did Tyrod Taylor to Logan and, it hopes, to Bucky Hodges. But quarterback depth can become dicey very quickly. And Virginia knows it. The Peter Lalich-Jameel Sewell-Vic Hall-Marc Verica quartet at the end of Al Groh’s run is proof of that. One got booted from school, one was academically ineligible for a year, one was switching positions every other week and one ended up playing quarterback who wasn’t that good. If you’re a coach, you don’t risk that.
How long before Virginia Tech starts scheduling ODU now that the Monarchs are primed to move to Conference USA? The Monarchs have been very impressive in their progression over the past 4 years of having no program at all to competing for the CAA conference crown. It’d be nice to see the Hokies play a home and home with ODU — though I realize this would never happen.
– James Davenport, Portsmouth
I think it’d be a great matchup, and a nice gesture on Frank Beamer’s part. I don’t know if it’s as far-fetched as you say. The Hokies have played home-and-homes with East Carolina, another Conference USA school from that part of the country. Why would ODU be any different? It would give Tech visibility in an area it recruits heavily, which is always a goal in scheduling. And the Monarchs, now that they’re going to the FBS, are a direct competitor for some recruits now. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to have some head-to-head results to show off to recruits as well. The scheduling opportunities will be limited in the future, with nine conference games on the way, but this would be a good matchup. Maybe a 2-for-1 setup would work, but I don’t see it being impossible.
Rivals just released it’s top 250 for 2013 and VT has two 4-star commits, ESPN’s early rankings have us with four 4-star commits (FSU and Miami both currently have more), and J.C. Shurburtt of 247 Sports said we have the top class in the ACC for 2013 so far. I realize that ranking an entire nation of high school football players is an inexact science to say the least, but which of the many ranking services would you say gets it the most right? Or should I say, least wrong?
– Pete B., Arlington
They all have hits and misses. I will say that I go to Rivals and 247 Sports more often than the other sites. They seem to be putting a lot into their product, with analysts out at all of these camps and showcases. And it’s their thing. Recruiting drives both of those sites, whereas ESPN has so much else going on that it’s almost an afterthought. The rankings, honestly, are about the same wherever you go. Occasionally you’ll see a guy who is a four-star at one place and a two-star at another, but they generally have players ranked about the same. I think if you go through the history of the rankings, they both have their share of hits and misses when it comes to the rankings.
Andy it’s been about a year since you started your new job with Landmark covering the Hokies. Like to hear your observations similarities and differences than with your previous assignment and any ideas for new unique perspectives for the board.
– Jerry Zekert
Well, it’s actually only been 7½ months. Seems like longer than that, but it’s not. I think the biggest difference between Virginia Tech and Auburn is that although Hokies fans dislike Virginia, they don’t loathe them the way Auburn fans do Alabama and vice versa. It’s pure hate in a lot of cases down there and it makes people do crazy things. And if you don’t believe me, read up on the Alabama fan accused of poisoning the iconic oak trees in Auburn. I get the feeling that while Virginia Tech fans do not like Virginia, they’re not threatened by them the way it is in Alabama, where there’s definitely a big brother-little brother feel that permeates everything involving the two schools.
Professionally, I’ve found the coaching staff to be much more open and helpful up here than in Auburn. I think that probably comes from the top down. Beamer is like that, and his assistant coaches follow suit. As a reporter, you appreciate that.
I have a question for you. VT picked up a 2014 commitment from Vincent Mihota, brother of a former UVa player. My question is, how many times does this happen that a sibling of a player at one school winds up at the rival school? I don’t know of any, although I’m aware that Tiki and Ronde Barber, former UVa stars, were sons of a Tech grad. Seems to me like TE John Phillips was too, but I could be wrong about that one.
– Paul Kohler, Midlothian
I could not think of any off the top of my head and didn’t hear back from Doug Doughty, our recruiting guru. So I’ll crowdsource this one. Can anybody think of a situation involving UVa and Tech in which this applies?
My question is why do you think there is a perception that VT “never” has a good offensive line and that coach Newsome is a “poor” OL” coach? Perplexes me given that Evans, Williams, and Wilson in succession have had 1,200 plus yard seasons and Taylor and Thomas haven’t been bad at QB. Not all of Tyrod’s sacks were on the OL(the feet giveth and the feet taketh away). Just interested in your take.
– Steve, Botetourt
It’s an odd perception, for sure. Newsome, from what I gather, still gets a lot of flak from last year, when his group tied for the ACC in fewest sacks allowed, paved the way for Wilson to break the school’s single-season rushing record and kept Thomas upright enough to throw for 3,000 yards. He also had the ACC’s top blocker in Blake DeChristopher. If Newsome isn’t going to get credit for that, when is he ever going to get credit?
I think it comes back to old habits dying hard. The offensive line has been a punching bag for a while now, especially since the 2007 season when it gave up 54 sacks. Everyone rails about how many tight ends have been converted to offensive line, as though that’s a bad sign. The best lineman Tech has had in the last decade (Duane Brown) was a converted tight end, and several others have made successful switches.
Yes, this year’s group might take some time to come together. And it will have its rough patches. And I’m sure Newsome is going to get the brunt of the criticism like he always has. I just don’t think it’s always warranted. But fans have to complain about something it the team loses. It’s in their contracts. So somebody will be the target. Most of the time, it seems like Bryan Stinespring or Newsome. That’s probably not going to change.
Frank Beamer has made it an obvious goal of his to win a national championship. There are several areas where this goal is unrealized – where there are glaring errors to this argument. One is the Offensive Coordinator and the play calling. ’m going to leave this to others to pick apart Stinespring and O’Cain. My problem is with the culture of leaving early for the NFL or getting the max out of players. And there are several reasons, whether it’s because of the small town in rural SW Virginia, the level of talent (4 senior OL leaving in one year) staying, or better opportunities and pay as a professional. Still, it seems the programs that are legitimately making a run for the championship do have a culture where their players fulfill their eligibility. These thoughts were triggered last year before the UVa game when my cousin asked who my favorite running back is, and I couldn’t name one. We’ve had a bunch of great backs, but none have put in three years of solid work. We get one great year out of a back and then they’re gone either to eligibility or the NFL. And now we might have the best quarterback ever, and there are questions if he will stay for his senior year.
My question is how does Frank change the culture and get his players to stay and fulfill their eligibility? Is it going to take a leader like Logan (and probably a few others) to stay in school and compete for the title? How can Frank dissuade the Jayrons, Ryan Williams, and Darren Evans to forgo the paycheck and buy into the team? I feel like it’s going to take that extra talent to get over the hump. And you have to fill us in on the culture of Auburn or Alabama, where it seems that Saban and Chizik are getting the most out of their players.
– Kevin, Harrisonburg
I don’t know if other programs keep their star players around any more than Virginia Tech does. Stars leave school early for the NFL. It’s just the way the system works. Look at the last few national champions and players who went pro early.
2011: Alabama – Trent Richardson, Dont’a Hightower, Dre Kirkpatrick
2010: Auburn — Cam Newton, Nick Fairley
2009: Alabama — Rolando McClain, Kareem Jackson
Big-time talent doesn’t stick around for four years, no matter where you go. That’s especially true at running back, where the injury risk of staying around for four years is so great. And that’s one position that Virginia Tech excels at. It’s the economics of being paid millions to do what most of these guys dream of doing their entire lives and staying in school on a scholarship that covers the costs of going to school for a year. College will not win out in most cases. You’re not going to be able to convince most players to stay.
I will say that players having enough college success to go pro early is a sign that you’re doing something right on the recruiting trail. Producing elite players that can make it to the NFL is the sign of a strong program. Where programs like Alabama and LSU and Florida, who have won multiple BCS titles, separate themselves is in the depth of that talent. Yes, they’ll lose a few to the NFL each year, but there’s a pipeline of elite talent right behind them ready to take the field. That’s a luxury most schools don’t have, and it’s a place that I think Virginia Tech is still trying to get to.
Based on the analysis you have already done plus your own observations my questions are:
1. Who will be this season’s breakout RB?
2. Who will be this season’s breakout WR?
3. Who will be this season’s breakout DB?
4. Who will be this season’s breakout DL/LB?
5. Which opponent will be this season’s surprise opponent (the tough game we didn’t see coming)?
6. Which opponent will be this season’s surprise weakling?
No weasel words or maybes. I want predictions!
Breakout RB: I don’t think there’s any question that it will be Michael Holmes. He showed what he can do in the spring. Although not flashy, he’s reliable and does everything you want from a back. And he’ll have ample opportunity, with no other really experienced backs on the roster. This is the pick I’m most confident in.
Breakout WR: I’ll go with Marcus Davis. He’s had big games in the past, but I think this is the year he puts it all together. He’s a physical freak in about everything he does. If he can show that he can be a consistent force on the field, the sky is the limit for him.
Breakout DB: Since Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum are pretty well-established, I’ll go with Detrick Bonner here. It’s a new position for him at safety, but he took to it well in the spring. He’s got a nose for the ball, has cover skills at a safety position and seemed to be coming along with the play-calling responsibilities.
Breakout DL/LB: This is a tough one because a lot of guys are established at their spots, but I’ll say Luther Maddy. Coaches heaped praise on him in the spring. And Bud Foster is looking for play-makers at the tackle spots, not just space-eaters. Maddy looks like he could be that guy. He’ll compete with Antoine Hopkins for a starting spot, but even if he doesn’t get it, I think he’ll have plenty of snaps to make his impact felt.
Surprise tough opponent: I don’t know if people don’t see this coming (especially Phil Steele), but North Carolina is kind of off the radar because it’s ineligible for the Coastal Division title this year. That’s a team that returns a lot on offense (QB Bryn Renner, RB Giovani Bernard, a bunch of linemen) that could thrive in Larry Fedora’s spread offense. And the defense seems to always be loaded with talent, even though it lost a bunch to the NFL. Plus, the Tar Heels have a fresh start now that the tainted Butch Davis era is over. With someone permanent in charge, that could make a big difference. Everyone looks at the Clemson-Miami-Florida State stretch as crucial, but don’t sleep on this game in Chapel Hill.
Surprise weakling opponent: I know Al Golden is a good coach, but I don’t think Miami will be much of a threat on the field this year. That team lost a ton from last year, including six underclassmen who entered the NFL draft. The offensive situation looks very unsettled right now, especially at quarterback. Golden recruited well, but are those players ready to play right away? And if so, will they be effective? The logo might be The U, but I don’t think this year’s team will be all too great.