The ACC Kickoff (aka media days) is fast approaching. I’ll be using the blog to count down to what we media members consider the unofficial start of the football season. This isn’t a list of the 25 best players on Virginia Tech’s roster. It’s a list of 25 things/people that will determine whether the Hokies’ 2012 season is a success or not. That includes players and coaches from both Virginia Tech and, occasionally, a few of its opponents.
No. 18: Bud Foster, defensive coordinator
Bud Foster has had defenses ranked No. 1 in the country before. The Hokies accomplished that in both 2005 and ’06 in total defense. With nine starters back, the return of several injured players and the experience their replacements got last year, there might be a chance that group gets back within shouting distance of that top spot this year.
Virginia Tech ranked 10th nationally after giving up 304.64 yards per game. That came after an uncharacteristic 2010, when the Hokies gave up 361.5 yards per game and were 52nd nationally.
Now, Foster has the pieces to have another dominating defense. The entire two-deep returns on the defensive line, led by James Gayle, J.R. Collins and Derrick Hopkins. Bruce Taylor will be back from a Lisfranc injury that cost him the end of 2011, one of three returning starters at linebacker. And Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum form an intriguing pair of cornerbacks in a talented, albeit thin, secondary.
Foster has known how to push the right buttons over the years, although his challenge is expanding as the ACC diversifies its offenses.
While the Hokies held Clemson’s up-tempo, spread offense somewhat in check in the first game last year (a 23-3 loss in Lane Stadium), the rematch in the ACC championship game was rough, with the Tigers gaining 457 yards in a 38-10 rout.
As he usually does in the offseason, Foster spent time with Missouri’s coaching staff, undoubtedly getting some pointers on how to handle the spread offense (add North Carolina to the mix of spread teams the Hokies will face now that Larry Fedora is in charge). How Virginia Tech counters Clemson’s offense after being beaten soundly twice last year could be the difference between winning the ACC and watching somebody else hoist the trophy.
Other defensive challenges dot the schedule. Georgia Tech’s option offense is up in the opener, Paul Chryst brings his power-based, pro-style scheme to Pittsburgh and Florida State could have one of the better quarterbacks in the country in EJ Manuel.
Virginia Tech is never going to stray far from its preferred winning formula: a ball control offense buoyed by a standout defense and strong special teams.
Well, despite the return of quarterback Logan Thomas, there are questions about an offense that must replace eight starters and the special teams play has been sub-par in recent years. As usual, that will put a lot of the onus on Foster’s defense to carry the day. The group appears to have the talent to do so.
Coming Thursday: Could be a senior, could be a freshman.