Virginia Tech Hokies (2000: 11-1)
The following team preview is provided by Blue Ribbon. For the nation's most comprehensive look at this and all Division I-A teams, be sure to order the 2001 Blue Ribbon College Football Yearbook, on sale now at 1-800-775-2518.
Coach and programLife is good in Blacksburg. Real good. The offers keep pouring in. The building projects roll on at a pace that would thrill any union boss. The wins are piling up. The stadiumís getting bigger. The talent level is rising. The roster depth is better than ever.
It doesnít seem to bother anybody that Michael Vick isnít around anymore. Thatís because Frank Beamer is. In one of the biggest upsets of the off-season, the Virginia Tech coach decided not to take the Alabama job, even if everybody figured he would hitchhike naked to Tuscaloosa, for the honor and privilege of taking over one of Americaís most prestigious and tradition-bound programs.
ďWe have a lot of exciting, good things happening," said Beamer. "Things are really on the move. Thereís a lot of momentum, and I like being a part of it.Ē
Thatís why losing Vick is something of a good news/bad news situation for the Hokies. Nobody at Tech wanted him to go early to the NFL, because they knew the Hokies would be national title contenders -- favorites, even -- had he stuck around. But there is something to be said for producing the top pick in the NFL draft. People notice that.
Eighteen-year-old high school seniors-to-be notice that. Whom did Cardinal OíHara (Springfield, Pa.) running back Kevin Jones, perhaps the nationís top prospect, choose when it came down to Penn State and Virginia Tech? The Hokies.
Vickís gone? Itís a big loss, but so were the departures of Al Clark, Jim Druckenmiller, Maurice DeShazo and Will Furrer before him. Grant Noel is ready to step in. He doesnít have Vickís burst of speed or missile-launcher of an arm, but heís talented.
And what about that defense? Nine starters are back, but Beamer canít stop talking about all the reserves. It sounds like the Hokies could stock three bloodthirsty defenses.
In the ever-changing world of college football, where old rules donít apply anymore, Virginia Tech is on the verge of really arriving. Win big without Vick, and we can see that the Hokies can withstand the loss of a marquee player and keep sailing along.
OffenseWhereas the Hokies counted heavily on Vick last year to make big plays and save the day, there can be no such reliance on Noel, who played in just three games last year as a third-string quarterback and attempted just 10 passes. He's also coming off July knee surgery for a torn meniscus.
At the same time, Tech isnít about to alter its offense or change its philosophy for the 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior. The Hokies will still run plenty. Theyíll throw out of rolls and boots. And theyíll run the option.
What will change is the teamís insistence that its quarterback dominate the game and force opposing defenses to concoct wild strategies to contain him. Noel isnít going to make anybody do that. And he shouldnít have to.
Itís a lot easier to debut a new quarterback when a tailback like Lee Suggs is around. The 6-0, 204-pound junior had a tremendous 2001 season, rushing for 1,207 yards and an amazing 27 regular-season touchdowns (he added one in the Gator Bowl against Clemson), to help Virginia Tech to 2,975 yards, a Big East team record.
All four of Techís top wideouts are taller than 6-0, with sophomore Ernest Wilford a robust 6-5, 211. Holy matchup problem, Big East!
ďI like big receivers who can run,Ē Beamer said. ď [Andre] Davis and [Emmett] Johnson can flat run. That helps.Ē
The lone holdover among the regulars up front is senior center Steve DeMasi (6-3, 278), who isnít the biggest pivot around but makes good calls, moves well and is a strong anchor.
Defense and special teamsBecause senior starting tackles Chad Beasley (6-5, 292) and David Pugh (6-3, 271) missed spring drills while nursing injuries, the Hokies were able to develop depth. As Beasley (surgery on both ankles) and Pugh (foot surgery) rehabbed, senior Channing Reed (6-2, 311) emerged as someone who can cause trouble in the middle.
Another potential contributor at tackle is sophomore Kevin Lewis (6-1, 280).
Their growth doesnít push Pugh and Beasley out of the first unit. Pugh was a first-team All-Big East choice last year, after making 57 tackles, including 12 for loss and five sacks.
Beamer was pleased to see his backup inside linebackers emerge throughout the spring, while senior inside starters Jake Housewright (6-3, 237) and Ben Taylor (6-2, 235) rehabbed injuries, but the coach definitely wants to see those two ready for action this fall.
Even though the Hokies lost second-team All-Big East rover Cory Bird to graduation, they should have a deep, talented and fast secondary. Donít worry about that. Taking over for Bird is senior Kevin McCadam (6-1, 219), who backed up at free safety last year and made 28 tackles.
Junior Ronyell Whittaker (5-9, 192), a second-team All-Big East choice who had 61 tackles and five interceptions, returns at the boundary corner and brings excellent coverage skills to the party.
By now, everybody knows special teams is a Virginia Tech strength. The loss of Andre Kendrick takes away last yearís main kick returner, but Suggs, Whittaker, Davis and perhaps freshman Jones will do just fine.
Bottom lineMichael Vick is gone, but the warning sirens are not wailing in Blacksburg. Thatís because Virginia Tech is not a program boosted to tremendous heights by the miraculous convergence of a few highly talented individuals -- particularly Vick -- and then left with the same average personnel as before. This is a program that has been built to sustain success, not chase it.
As a result, the 2001 season should be pretty darn successful. Were Vick around, Tech would likely be a top two or three inhabitant of every preseason ranking. Without him, Virginia is still a top-10 or 15 caliber club with higher aspirations, provided a few things come together.