ACC Football 2013 Season Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Logan Thomas Tried Too Hard and It Cost the Hokies Last Year; What About 2013?

Logan Thomas Tried Too Hard and It Cost Virginia Tech Last Year; What About 2013?

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

2012 W-L: 7-6 (4-4)

Head Coach: Frank Beamer (216-104-2; 27th season)

Returning Starters: 13 (4 Offense, 9 Defense)

Last year was a bit rough for Virginia Tech. It would be a nice season for some programs — in fact, many in the ACC — but when you’ve won 10 or more games every season you’ve been in a league, it becomes second nature to succeed at that level. When you don’t though, it’s a shock to the system. For the fans and for the players who’ve all grown accustomed to winning, there’s a gut reaction to hit the panic button and point blame. But every program goes through struggles here and there, no matter how powerful they might seem. And for Virginia Tech, it looks as if last year was just one of those years where the cards didn’t fall right. SB Nation’s Bill Connelly gets into whether or not this was a one-year event, which is a discussion well worth having, but for our purposes here, we’ll simply focus on the season immediately before us.

Last year’s offense was bad. But you probably knew that. After years of a solid running game to guide them through, there was no rushing attack to be found this past fall. On the year, the team averaged just 145 yards per game on the ground, and the Hokies’ leading rusher was QB Logan Thomas — who had 65 more carries than any of the team’s running backs. Thomas is an athlete and a threat to run, sure, but to carry the ball 174 times for just 3 yards per is unacceptable. The running backs, of course, weren’t helping their own respective cases either. J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes all struggled with consistency and without one differentiating themselves from the pack, it was impossible to hand any of them the bulk of the carries. Tech also put the young backs behind an inexperienced offensive line which exhibited difficulty both run- and pass-blocking all season. Several of those linemen are gone, but are replaced by even less experience. Gregory’s also out for the season, so that leaves the entire run game up to Coleman, who’s unlikely to be ready for the job just yet either. This leads us to the offense’s biggest issue last year (and possibly again this year): its quarterback.

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ACC Preseason Top 50 Players of 2013: #25, Logan Thomas

Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas is #25 in Our Countdown of the ACC's Top 50 Players

Virginia Tech’s Logan Thomas is #25 in Our Countdown of the ACC’s Top 50 Players for 2013

Two weeks (!!!) until college football kicks off! In the past, we’ve limited these lists to just the top 25 players, but this season, we’re upping our game to 50. So just about every day until the season starts, there will be a new player profile up here as we count down to the top ACC player for 2013.

Obviously these lists are always completely subjective — and thus “completely bulletproof” — so feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments, too.

No. 25, Logan Thomas, QB/Virginia Tech (Last Season: NR)

Yes, I watched Virginia Tech football last season, as hard as that may have been sometimes. And I noticed just how poorly Logan Thomas played the quarterback position in many of those contests. But as I mentioned over and over again last season while not necessarily making excuses for his poor play: it’s tough to say it was his fault. From 2011 to 2012, Thomas went from playing behind a veteran offensive line to an inexperienced one that lacked the size necessary to block the ACC’s elite pass-rushers. He also had a phenomenal running back in now-New York Giants starter David Wilson in 2011, versus absolutely nothing in terms of a ground game in 2012. Needless to say, based on this ranking, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt that things will get better.

And they pretty much have to, don’t they? Throwing 40 more passes in 2012, his completion percentage dropped by a full 8.5 points, touchdowns went down by one, and sacks and interceptions went up by eight and six, respectively. The Logan Thomas we watched in 2012 looked like the tight-end-turned-QB he actually is. But I do think he’s learned from the experience. Last year, Thomas suffered from a desire to do everything for the team — a behavior he’s likely to correct this fall. There were glimmers of the 2011 version of Thomas against Georgia Tech, Florida State (until late) and Boston College; we know he’s not gone for good. It’s just going to take some help to get him back to that level of production consistently.

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ACC Football Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC's Running Backs for the 2013 Season

Devonta Freeman and Florida State Headline the ACC’s Running Backs for the 2013 Season

While we’re still over two months away from the season, it does indeed seem to be that time of year — when college football blogs like this one and so many others start churning out season preview materials. We’ll be holding off till July and August for the team-by-team season previews, but in the meantime, there’s nothing wrong with taking a look at each position on the field and evaluating ACC squads’ respective strengths and weaknesses.

This week, we’re on to the running backs (you can check out last week’s feature on quarterbacks, too). Though there’s not a whole lot of experience at the position — just one returning back (Syracuse’s Jerome Smith) rushed for 1,000 yards last year — this group makes up for a lot of that in potential. Many of the most talented runners this year will be sophomores or juniors, so that aforementioned experience will come with time. As for those who are seniors, many possess a significant leg-up, which you’ll find reflected here as well.

Keep in mind that these are full unit rankings — not just one player — so just because one individual quarterback is better than another, it doesn’t necessarily mean the team’s entire crop of passers is. Still, disagree with any of these picks? Share your own selections below.

ACC Positional Rankings 2013: Running Backs

1. Florida State Seminoles: Injuries ravaged the Florida State backfield in 2012. But because of that, the team’s top two returning rushers, Devonta Freeman and James Wilder Jr., actually have quite a bit of experience under their respective belts (221 carries between them last year). They’re both vertical runners for the most part, doing most of their work in the middle of the line, but Wilder, in particular, also has some pass-catching ability out of the backfield (19 catches for 136 yards and two scores last year). Expect that role to expand this year, while also incorporating Mario Pender, who’s the quickest back on the roster and anxious to contribute after red-shirting last season.

2. Miami Hurricanes: Miami’s ranking here is purely on the strength of sophomore Duke Johnson, and his success is likely to decide how far the ‘Canes go this season. Despite splitting carries with Mike James last year, Johnson still ran for 947 yards and 10 scores, while tacking on another 1,133 yards from receiving and kick returns. With that on his resume in just one season, he’s now being listed among the most dynamic players in the country and will be the focal point of every gameplan against Miami. He won’t be acting alone in the backfield, but there’s no telling what to expect from backups Dallas Crawford or Eduardo Clements either.

3. Syracuse Orange: SU’s offense was largely seen as a pass-first attack in 2012, but its success in the season’s second half was heavily reliant on the running game. The Orange bring back everybody this year, and arguably have one of the deepest backfields in the country. The group will be guided by Jerome Smith (1,171 yards last year), but this will be a multi-back, run-first system. Expect Prince-Tyson Gulley to approach the 200-carry mark as well, while the team gets additional contributions from short-yardage specialist Adonis Ameen-Moore and jack-of-all-trades Ashton Broyld in hybrid WR/RB slot role.

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ACC 2013 Spring Football Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Logan Thomas is the Obvious Focal Point of a Turnaround for Virginia Tech This Year

Logan Thomas is the Obvious Focal Point of a Turnaround for Virginia Tech This Year

As the ACC‘s spring practices get under way, we’ll be previewing the big storylines for each of the league’s 14 (15, in this case) teams. Check back on weekdays for what to look out for during your school’s spring practices and spring game.

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

Spring Practice Start Date: March 27

Spring Game Date: April 20

Following last year’s disappointing campaign, Virginia Tech’s spring is all about diagnosing issues. From the futile offensive attack, to a defense that certainly needs some course correction, Tech’s coaches have been diving into what went so wrong in 2012 — and how to fix those problems (at least in part) over the course of the next month. And while those calling for long-time coach Frank Beamer’s job may be a bit off-base right now, it’s likely that the 2013 season is a key point in the narrative of his career; be it a positive upswing after one lackluster year, or the start of a steady downfall.

Offensively, Virginia Tech struggled mightily in 2012, and there’s no one trouble spot there either. Behind an inexperienced line, Logan Thomas and his very green backfield repeatedly failed to find success, and never truly adjusted as the year wore on. With more experience all across the board, the test this spring will be to see just how much everyone learned. While Thomas should certainly be held accountable for his errors as the team’s leader, it must also be acknowledged that far too much was expected of him week-in and week-out, causing him to over-compensate. Newly installed offensive coordinator Scott Loeffler must understand both sides of this coin from the beginning, and stress additional accountability. Beyond Thomas, that means stark improvement across the line, and a more effective running game. At least at the onset, J.C. Coleman, Tony Gregory and Michael Holmes should be handling the bulk of the carries, and hopefully one or two emerge as a better runner than he has been in the past.

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ACC Football 2012 Power Rankings: Week Eight

The Tar Heels May Be the Coastal Division’s Top Team, But Unfortunately, Are Ineligible to Play for the ACC Championship

The ACC continues to be a riddle, and as such, so do these power rankings. Beyond the top two, who’s a true conference championship contender? Will the Coastal champ finish with a better record than 4-4? Based on what we’ve seen so far, we’re really no closer to finding out any of this, but as we do every week, we’ll take our best guess here in the power rankings.

1. Florida State Seminoles (6-1) (3-1) (LW: 1): EJ Manuel had a field day against the BC secondary on Saturday, throwing for 439 yards and four touchdowns, en route to a 51-7 victory. Of course, it helps when your defense played the way it did, too. The Eagles came to town with one of the conference’s better passing attacks. They left with just 129 yards through the air, and a pick. If Florida State’s going to win themselves an ACC title, they’ll need to play at that level for the remainder of the season.

2. Clemson Tigers (5-1) (2-1) (LW: 2): The Tigers were off this past weekend, which may be the only thing that can slow this offense down. On Monday, OC Chad Morris mentioned to the Post-Courier that Sammy Watkins is “ready to break out,” which is something that should horrify opposing defenses. Should he finally get back to full-strength, Watkins adds yet another dimension to this group, making for an entertaining second half.

3. North Carolina Tar Heels (5-2) (2-1) (LW: 6): If not for postseason ineligibility, UNC would be the Coastal division frontrunners, having already knocked off two of their three biggest competitors (and facing the third, Duke, this weekend). And if not for Giovani Bernard‘s injury earlier this season, perhaps this team would be in the top 25, too. Over the last two games — both big wins for the Heels — the sophomore’s amassed 485 total yards and four scores. As long as he stays healthy, Carolina’s likely to keep winning.

4. NC State Wolfpack (4-2) (1-1) (LW: 5): The Wolfpack are in the driver’s seat in the Atlantic division, but the jury’s still out on whether they’ll take full advantage or not. Through six games, we’re still unsure about the secondary — already lit up several times this year — and quarterback Mike Glennon‘s play has been mostly inconsistent (FSU comeback aside). Every remaining game is very winnable, but it will come down to their ability to execute late. All they have to do is win out, and they’ll find themselves playing for their first BCS Bowl trip.

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ACC Football Player of the Week, Week 7: EJ Manuel, Florida State

Florida State QB EJ Manuel is the ACC Player of the Week for Week 7

Each week, we’ll be identifying the best ACC player from that weekend’s games. As always, it’s a completely arbitrary award with no specific criteria beyond the vague concept of “excellence.” No, we don’t take write-ins.

ACC Player of the Week, Week Seven: EJ Manuel, QB/Florida State

Florida State bounced back nicely on Saturday, thoroughly beating Boston College by a final score of 51-7. Gone was the heavily criticized offensive strategy of just a week ago, and in its place was the high-powered attack that brought the ‘Noles all the way to number-three in the polls. Manuel, obviously the driving force behind that gameplan, was free to let loose in this contest, and the results were as positive as you’d expect. He finished the day 27-of-34 passing (79.4 percent), with 439 yards (a career-high) and four scores. Play-calling was aggressive for the entire game, and Manuel and head coach Jimbo Fisher refused to let up as they continued to pour it on. Hopefully for FSU, this offense — as opposed to the paltry one present for weeks five and six — is the one we see for the rest of the year.

Honorable Mention:

J.C. Coleman, RB/Virginia Tech (183 yards rushing, 2 TD)

Giovani Bernard, RB/North Carolina (203 total yards, 2 TD)

Stefon Diggs, WR/Maryland (239 all-purpose yards, 1 TD)

Darin Drakeford, LB/Maryland (7 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 forced fumble)

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