Sustained Success on the Ground Critical for Virginia Tech’s Survival

Good news is hard to come by in Blacksburg at the moment.

Virginia Tech just lost to Old Dominion, previously winless, and fell outside the AP Top 25. The Hokies starting quarterback, Josh Jackson, is out for the foreseeable future with a fractured fibula and Trevon Hill, Tech’s best defender, is no longer with the program.

It’s not quite rock bottom, but Virginia Tech is in a low place right now. However, there is one thing Virginia Tech can hang their hat on right now — an improved rushing attack.

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Monday Mail: Trying to Make Sense of Something That Doesn’t Make Sense

Oh boy.

When I planned on asking for questions for this week’s Monday Mail, I did not think we’d be talking about one of the worst losses in Virginia Tech history. And make no mistake about it, there aren’t enough negative adjectives to describe what happened on Saturday.

Awful. Appalling. Dreadful. All three apply.

Continue reading “Monday Mail: Trying to Make Sense of Something That Doesn’t Make Sense”

Houshun Gaines Displaying Needed Explosiveness at Defensive End

If I asked you who the most important player on Virginia Tech’s defensive line was, there’s an 80 percent chance (roughly) that you’d select Ricky Walker. And you’d be right.

But who’s next on that list? Most would suggest Trevon Hill, but I’d posit that Houshun Gaines is just as important, if not more so.

Gaines, a redshirt junior defensive end, is coming into his own this season. The process began late in 2017, when Gaines filled in for the injured Vinny Mihota. Gaines started Tech’s last two games vs. Virginia and Oklahoma State and showed why he needed to be in the starting lineup. Gaines totaled four tackles for loss and two sacks in those two contests, displaying an explosiveness that Mihota simply didn’t have on the edge.

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Monday Mail: Florida State’s Problems, Virginia Tech’s Ranking and More

Monday Mail is back! With Virginia Tech’s game vs. East Carolina being canceled, there’s no postgame content to worry about, so let’s get to some questions. The goal is to make this a weekly feature once again, so thank you for submitting your questions. Let’s dive in.


Who’d have thought that I’d be starting this Monday Mail with a critique of Florida State?

Continue reading “Monday Mail: Florida State’s Problems, Virginia Tech’s Ranking and More”

Postgame Observations: Hokies Handle Their Business Against FCS William and Mary

Virginia Tech’s 62-17 win was somewhat boring. The Hokies handled the game from start to finish, despite allowing William and Mary to score two touchdowns. It was exactly what you’d expect to see when a ranked Power 5 team hosts an FCS program.

Because William and Mary simply is not good, we can only take so much away from this game. Here are my postgame observations from Saturday’s win.

The Hokies handled business

Virginia Tech had five days to prepare for the Tribe. Even though William and Mary is an FCS team that beat Bucknell by just seven points, that’s a really short turnaround for college kids.

The Hokies could have easily dealt with a hangover from their convincing win vs. Florida State. Instead, Virginia Tech did what they were supposed to do — easily defeat a lesser talented team in their own stadium. No overly impressive, but solid.

Wheatley isn’t going anywhere

Virginia Tech needs some explosive athleticism at running back. Terius Wheatley gives them that.

Wheatley’s one of the fastest players on the team and is probably the best athlete at the position. He’s not a back that needs to pound the rock between the tackles, but is best when allowed to break outside and get into open space. He’s done that so far, rushing for 80 yards on just nine carries.

He might not be Tech’s No. 1 option, but Wheatley can make an impact. But if the other backs remain inconsistent, maybe Wheatley’s usage will increase. Speaking of inconsistent running backs…

Hold on to the ball, McClease

Not only did Deshawn McClease fumble vs. William and Mary, he ran for just 35 yards on 10 carries. Yes, he scored, but so did several other players.

McClease looked like the clear-cut No. 1 running back after his performance at Florida State. Now, McClease looks like another guy in a crowded room of backs. He’s got time to rebound, but Saturday’s performance left a lot to be desired. He’s got a heck of a matchup this week against East Carolina, who is one of the worst teams in FBS.

The secondary will hold this defense back

Virginia Tech’s front seven has played very well through two games. The Hokies are third in the nation in tackles for loss (23) and tied for 28th in the nation in sacks (six). Despite two newcomers at linebacker, Tech’s has had little problems against the run.

The team’s secondary has been a different story. With two new starters at cornerback and an inexperienced free safety, the Hokies’ performance against the pass has been expectedly poor. Virginia Tech is 82nd in the country against the pass, allowing 232.5 passing yards per game.

Shon Mitchell, William and Mary’s freshman quarterback, played better than one would expect a freshman quarterback to play against a Bud Foster defense. Mitchell threw for 208 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, converting 10 first downs through the air.

Virginia Tech has already allowed seven pass plays for 20-plus yards. The Hokies can hold up against the run, but can they improve against the pass? They need to start this coming Saturday vs. East Carolina.

Kickers continue to impress

Replacing Joey Slye isn’t easy, but Tech’s doing a solid job so far.

Brian Johnson is 3-3 on field goals this season and he hit a career long of 45 yards on Saturday. He doesn’t have the strongest leg, but if Johnson can extend his range into the 45 or 50-yard range, that’s more than serviceable.

On kickoffs, Jordan Stout is getting the job done. After banging four of his five kickoffs against Florida State for touchbacks, Stout registered 11 touchbacks vs. William and Mary on 11 kickoffs. That’s exactly what Slye did while he was in Blacksburg and fans underestimate how important that is when trying to win the field position battle.

Five Questions Entering Virginia Tech’s Game vs. William and Mary

Virginia Tech’s game vs. William and Mary this Saturday is less about the result of the game, and more about the Hokies showing signs of improvement. Tech looked good vs. Florida State on Labor Day night but if the Hokies are to build off their surprising shutdown of the Seminoles, they need to get some things straight.

Here are five things I’m watching for this Saturday in Virginia Tech’s matchup vs. William and Mary.

Can quarterback Josh Jackson tighten things up in the passing game?

Josh Jackson’s stat line vs. Florida State was impressive — he completed 16-of-26 pass attempts for 207 yards and two touchdowns. Still, Jackson had too many missed opportunities vs. Florida State and should have been intercepted at least once.

Jackson must continue to avoid mistakes, but he must also make some plays. Virginia Tech’s defense provided Jackson and the offense fantastic field position several times on Monday night, yet the offense scored just 17 points.

Virginia Tech’s running game looked the part and if it continues to do so, Jackson will have plenty of chances to make plays with his arm. He needs to deliver on those consistently and build confidence before the Hokies enter a tougher part of their schedule.

Who will become Virginia Tech’s third running back?

Deshawn McClease and Steven Peoples seem to have solidified themselves as the first and second options for Virginia Tech at running back. McClease ran for 77 yards on just 13 carries vs. the ‘Noles, while Peoples ran for 44 yards on 13 carries. Terius Wheatley and Jalen Holston combined for just four rushing attempts.

The battle for the No. 3 role will be between Wheatley and Holston. Wheatley did more with his two rushes on Monday night, gaining 22 yards on two outside runs. Holston, a much different style of runner, gained eight yards on two carries.

Wheatley gives Virginia Tech a speedier option that can bolt outside and bust big plays. Holston is much more of a bruiser, someone who can wear down the defense. Wheatley somewhat mimics McClease, while Holston mimics Peoples.

Whoever is the most reliable will likely be Tech’s third back. The Hokies have long valued an explosive runner but Tech’s offense is also built on a heavy dose of running between the tackles. Over the next three games, Wheatley and Holston will have ample opportunities to show they are deserving of more carries.

Can Virginia Tech’s special teams build off their dominance vs. Florida State?

One of the reasons the Hokies beat the ‘Noles by 21 points, despite being outgained in yardage, was their exceptional special teams play. And their performance was more than Chris Cunningham’s blocked punt.

For starters, punter Oscar Bradburn downed four of his punts inside Florida State’s 20-yard-line. Virginia Tech’s punt team didn’t allow a single punt return, prohibiting the ‘Noles from flipping the field.

Even the kickers played well. Four of Jordan Stout’s five kickoffs went for touchbacks and Brian Johnson converted the Hokies only field goal attempt.

William and Mary is a well-coached team, and their special teams unit should be a challenge for Virginia Tech. If the Hokies are able to continue to be sound on special teams, it’ll go a long way to make up for a sluggish offense or a young defense that’s bound to make mistakes.

Can Tech’s defensive backs shore up the backend of the defense?

Virginia Tech picked off Deondre Francois three times on Monday night, but the Hokies still made some mistakes in the secondary. Francois completed 63 percent of his passes and hit on passes of 24, 30, 32 and 37 yards.

All things considered, Virginia Tech’s defensive backs played well. Redshirt freshman Caleb Farley picked off two passes on his way to being named the ACC Defensive Back of the Week. Bryce Watts held his own on the other end in his first career start.

William and Mary’s offense isn’t scary. The Tribe scored just 14 points against Bucknell in Week 1 and shouldn’t pose much of a threat vs. Virginia Tech on Saturday. This is a prime opportunity for the Hokies’ secondary to build confidence against a lesser opponent.

Is this the week Quincy Patterson makes his collegiate debut?

The NCAA’s new redshirt rules allow players to play in up to four games and still take a redshirt for that season. It would be criminal if coaches don’t use this new rule to their advantage.

For example, if Virginia Tech weren’t to play Quincy Patterson against William and Mary, it would be extremely disappointing and a missed opportunity. The chances of this game hanging in the balance in the fourth quarter are limited. The Hokies should win this game walking away.

If the result of the game is no longer in doubt, Patterson should see the field. He doesn’t even need to throw the ball. But getting him on the field and allowing him to start gaining experience will go a long way in his development. Patterson is destined to make mistakes, just like every other young quarterback. It would be best if he makes those mistakes now, so he has the chance to learn from them.

Hopefully we’ll get to see Patterson on the field this weekend. Yes, Ryan Willis and Hendon Hooker would also be worthy of playing time, but getting Patterson on the field now benefits the program in the long-term.

Postgame Observations: Foster’s Defense Excels Again in Virginia Tech’s 24-3 Win Over Florida State

New cornerbacks. New linebackers. A thin defensive line.

No problem.

Virginia Tech’s defense turned in a masterful performance on Monday night, pummeling Florida State’s offense en route to a 24-3 victory in Tallahassee. Monday night’s win may go a long way in positioning the Hokies for an ACC Coastal run, while Clemson might lock up the Atlantic Division by the end of October.

Here are my biggest observations from Virginia Tech’s win over the ‘Noles

Foster elevates his game

Nobody would have blamed defensive coordinator Bud Foster if his defense looked a little shaky on Monday night. He was breaking in eight new starters against a team full of athletes that he had little film on to work with. Foster had to piece together Willie Taggart’s film from Oregon and South Florida while taking into account Florida State’s film from last season.

The result was perhaps one of Foster’s best productions. He orchestrated a three-point effort, allowing just 94 yards rushing against one of the most talented backfields in the country. Outside of Cam Akers’ 85-yard scamper in the fourth quarter, Florida State ran for just 10 yards on 27 attempts.

Turnovers were a key part of the Hokies’ success. Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois threw three interceptions and the ‘Noles fumbled the ball twice, helping the Hokies win the field position battle.

Florida State actually finished with more offensive yardage than Virginia Tech, but the ‘Noles bungled every single red zone opportunity. Florida State’s red zone trips ended in these results — missed field goal, field goal, fumble. The ‘Noles went for it on fourth down on Virginia Tech’s 21-yard-line in second quarter, and they blew that too.

Foster deserves all the credit in the world, as do his players. Trevon Hill, who sat for much of the first quarter, totaled two sacks and three tackles for loss. Divine Deablo, Reggie Floyd and Rayshard Ashby each registered two tackles for loss. Caleb Farley, playing in his first collegiate game, intercepted two passes.

Virginia Tech’s defense won’t be this dominant all season. But after this performance, it’s hard to believe they won’t be one of the nation’s best units in 2018. For now, here’s another crazy stat from last night’s game.

Running backs showing promise

The lack of a consistent and explosive running game has plagued Justin Fuente’s Hokies in each of his first two seasons. But on Monday night, Tech’s backs got the job done.

Deshawn McClease led the way with 77 yards on just 13 carries, while Steven Peoples and Terius Wheatley chipped in 44 and 22 yards, respectively. Wheatley’s 22 yards came on just two carries. Virginia Tech’s running backs averaged just over five yards per carry vs. Florida State, a number which towers over the Hokies’ 2017 game-by-game outputs.

Yes, Josh Jackson did nothing in the ground game. But maybe he doesn’t need to. If Virginia Tech can control the line of scrimmage like they did last night on a consistent basis, it opens things up tremendously for this offense. Still, an increased presence from Jackson would be helpful, which leads me to my next point.

Jackson must improve if Hokies are to win ACC

Josh Jackson held his own last night. He weathered consistent rain and a tenacious Florida State defensive line to finish 16-of-26 for 207 yards passing and two touchdowns.

As good as that stat line looks, Jackson still has areas he needs to improve on. He should have thrown an interception earlier that was missed by two Florida State defenders. He didn’t move very well either and was sacked three times.

Jackson had a good performance vs. Florida State, but if the Hokies are to take the next step and seriously contend for the ACC Championship, Jackson needs to be better. He needs to make more plays with his arm and find ways to be productive on the ground.

It’s time to handle business

Virginia Tech’s next three games should be over before they begin. The Hokies host William and Mary and East Carolina over the next two weeks before traveling to my part of the state for another clash with Old Dominion. Neither of these three games should be painful. William and Mary is an FCS program and both East Carolina and Old Dominion endured embarrassing losses to start the season.

The Hokies need to run over these next three opponents. It’s time to build confidence before Tech hits the next part of their schedule, which includes a tough road game at Duke and a (likely) primetime showdown with Notre Dame inside Lane Stadium.

Predicting Virginia Tech’s 2018 Season, Game-by-Game

Virginia Tech embarks on their 2018 campaign on Monday night, heading to Tallahassee to take on Florida State for the first time since 2012. The Hokies have reason for optimism heading into 2018 but have even more reasons to be pessimistic.

Here’s how I see each game playing out this season, as well as where I think Virginia Tech will finish in the ACC and who some of Tech’s key players will be.

at Florida State, Sept. 3 at 8 p.m.

For the second straight season, Virginia Tech begins their 12-game slate with a key matchup. The Hokies dispatched West Virginia in a thrilling 31-24 victory. But this season, Tech has to travel and play in hostile territory against the 19th-best team in the country.

Florida State is an intriguing team. Willie Taggart must get the Seminoles back on track after an embarrassing 6-6 finish in 2017. He’s got two competent quarterbacks and years’ worth of elite-level recruits.

Virginia Tech will be starting eight new players on the defensive side of the ball, which could lead to Bud Foster’s defense being exploited by a creative offensive coach. Foster has no film to work off of that shows Taggart with this group of players. All he can do is piece together Taggart’s film from Oregon and USF with Florida State’s film from the last few seasons.

It’ll be an electric atmosphere. The Florida State fanbase is buzzing about Taggart’s arrival and the ‘Noles are motivated to put last season behind them. I think Virginia Tech’s defense is too young to keep Florida State’s offense in check, and the Hokies’ offense isn’t experience enough to cover for them vs. elite talent. It’ll be a close game all night long, but I think Tech ultimately loses this one.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Virginia Tech 27

William and Mary, Sept. 8 at 2 p.m.

After a lengthy trip to Tallahassee, Virginia Tech has to turn around five days later and play FCS William and Mary. The Tribe are entering their last season under Jimmye Laycock, who is retiring this winter.

Even if the Hokies lose to Florida State, turning around and beating William and Mary shouldn’t be difficult. Virginia Tech might not look all that great in this game, but there isn’t a reason to worry.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, William and Mary 10

East Carolina, Sept 15. at 12:20 p.m.

Virginia Tech fell down early vs. the Pirates in Greenville last season, only to leave with a 64-17 blowout win. East Carolina was one of the worst teams in FBS last season and though the Pirates should be better this season, they aren’t good enough to beat Tech inside Lane Stadium. Head coach Scottie Montgomery needs to make this game semi-competitive, or else the calls for his job will get even louder.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 41, East Carolina 13

at Old Dominion, Sept. 22 at 3:30 p.m.

The Monarchs are still in the process of turning themselves into an FBS program. Old Dominion made the jump in 2013 and head coach Bobby Wilder is still bringing in higher level players. The Monarchs are headed in the right direction, but success hasn’t happened overnight.

Quarterback Steven Williams didn’t put up good numbers last season in Lane Stadium, but the youngster showed promise. Now a sophomore, Williams should be better prepared to handle Virginia Tech’s defense. It still won’t be enough, however, and Virginia Tech will run over Old Dominion as the Hokies begin to find their stride.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 42, Old Dominion 14

at Duke, Sept. 29

Despite poor attendance and enthusiasm, playing at Duke is tough for some reason. Virginia Tech fans show up in droves every year at Wallace Wade Stadium but consider the result of the last few games played between these two teams at Duke.

2016: 24-21 win

2014: 17-16 win

2011: 14-10 win

Even last year’s 24-3 win over Duke at Lane Stadium was a soggy slugfest. Duke plays tough and no matter how bad they are, they’re tough to beat.

Duke quarterback Daniel Jones should rebound after a shaky 2017, when he completed less than 57 percent of his passes and threw just 14 touchdowns, compared to 11 interceptions. Jones is a talented quarterback who is mobile enough to give the Hokies’ defense fits. Still, Duke doesn’t have enough to get the job done.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Duke 20

Notre Dame, Oct. 6

Virginia Tech will see Notre Dame for the second time in three seasons to kick off October. If Virginia Tech enters this matchup with one or fewer losses on their record, this game would go a long way in pushing them into College Football Playoff Discussion.

Notre Dame fired on all cylinders in Week 1, knocking off Michigan. The Fighting Irish were good last season and despite losing a few players to the NFL, it looks like they’re good once again. Still, Notre Dame won’t run the table and as the season wears on, they will fade as they usually do. But will Virginia Tech fade at the same time?

Fresh off a fistfight with Duke, Tech will be a little worn down. If this game were in South Bend, I’d predict an easy Irish win. Instead, I think this one goes to the wire. In the end, Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush is a little too much to handle.

Prediction: Notre Dame 31, Virginia Tech 21

at North Carolina, Oct. 13

North Carolina stinks. The Tar Heels are dealing with off-the-field issues and head coach Larry Fedora is on the hot seat.

Carolina has talent but for some reason, they don’t put it together. They’ll be motivated to avenge last season’s 59-7 drubbing in Lane Stadium. But they won’t, and Virginia Tech will rebound from their loss to the Fighting Irish.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 34, North Carolina 10

Georgia Tech, Oct. 25 (Thurs.) at 7:30 p.m.

This game could very well be the turning point in Virginia Tech’s season. The Hokies have lost to Georgia Tech in each of the last two seasons and three times in the last four seasons. Georgia Tech has the Hokies’ number, specifically Justin Fuente’s.

Fuente made some questionable decisions last season in Atlanta that may have cost Virginia Tech a win. Georgia Tech’s annoying style of play and ability to maintain possession played too big of a factor and Fuente needs to be careful this time around. Don’t get too outside your normal gameplan.

TaQuon Marshall is an excellent quarterback in Georgia Tech’s offense and the Yellow Jackets have an outside chance to win the Coastal Division. But I think this is the year the Hokies get over the hump against Paul Johnson.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 28, Georgia Tech 16

Boston College, Nov. 3

AJ Dillon is good, but the rest of Boston College’s team doesn’t instill fear. Bud Foster has had little trouble with former coworker Scot Loeffler and things won’t change this time around.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 27, Boston College 14

at Pittsburgh, Nov. 10

Kenny Pickett gives Pittsburgh a tough option who can get the job done with his arm and legs. He showed some gusto vs. the Hokies in last season’s affair and he could mess with the Hokies’ defense back in Pittsburgh.

The Panthers have historically been a thorn in the Hokies’ side but at this point in the season, I think Virginia Tech will have passed Pittsburgh by a mile. Still, playing in Heinz Field is always weird and this game won’t be easy.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 26, Pittsburgh 24

Miami, Nov. 17

The showdown of the year. Miami blasted the Hokies in 2017 and coming into 2018, the ‘Canes were the media’s darling team to challenge Clemson for the ACC Championship.

Well, Miami can hold off on the playoff aspirations for now. LSU ran over the Hurricanes 33-17 and exposed Malik Rosier as a limited passer. Nick Brosette ran right through Miami’s vaunted defense, which swallowed the Hokies last season.

Miami has won this matchup three out of the last four seasons, but their run as Coastal champs is coming to an end. Virginia Tech will top Miami in the cold November air in Blacksburg and set themselves up for an ACC Championship appearance.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 38, Miami 21

Virginia, Nov. 23 (Fri.)

I’m not picking Virginia until either A) they final win a game vs. the Hokies or B) they start an elite mobile quarterback.

Well, Virginia hasn’t beaten the Hokies yet and Bryce Perkins doesn’t fit the definition of elite. Virginia Tech will dominate.

Prediction: Virginia Tech 42, Virginia 13

Season Prediction: 10-2 (7-1 ACC)

I’ll willfully admit I never expected to predict Virginia Tech to win this many games. And honestly, I should have predicted Virginia Tech to drop one of the games that they shouldn’t. But the Hokies are positioned well with this schedule. Once the Florida State opener is out of the way, Virginia Tech gets an easy stretch of games before having to face off with Notre Dame.

After that, they get a slate of easier ACC opponents before squaring up with Miami to decide the Coastal Division. Of their three premiere matchups, Fuente and Foster are too good to lose all of them.

If Virginia Tech finishes 10-2, they’ll win the Coastal and get waxed by Clemson in the ACC Championship. The Tigers are too good and by that point, Trevor Lawrence might have cemented himself as Clemson’s starting quarterback. But if Tech gets to that point, this season would be an unqualified success.

 

Virginia Tech’s Unofficial Depth Chart Raises Concerns About Devon Hunter’s Career Arc

Virginia Tech football released an unofficial depth chart on Wednesday, pleasing everyone from writers to fans. The flow of information is weak these days and any time a depth chart is released to the public, it’s big news.

Virginia Tech’s unofficial depth chart for the offense and defense for their Week 1 matchup vs. Florida State.
Virginia Tech’s unofficial depth chart for the specialists for Week 1 vs. Florida State.

For the most part, there were few surprises. Zachariah Hoyt is listed as the Hokies’ starting center, while Kyle Chung is at left guard. Tyree Rodgers is the No. 2 free safety, despite spending the first couple years of his Virginia Tech career as a cornerback. Brian Johnson is the starting field goal kicker, while Jordan Stout is slated to handle kickoffs.

But there was one glaring surprise on the defensive side of the ball. Khalil Ladler, a redshirt sophomore, is listed as the starting whip/nickelback, while Devon Hunter, the presumptive starter, is listed as a co-backup with freshman DJ Crossen.

Excuse me?

Don’t get me wrong — Ladler is a talented player worthy of significant playing time. Ladler filled in admirably towards the end of last season, once Divine Deablo, Terrell Edmunds and Mook Reynolds were no longer available. Ladler, who enrolled at Tech as a cornerback, played both safety spots last season and the defensive coaching staff has trust in him to play just about anywhere.

But Hunter, the former five-star prospect who was supposed to replace Reynolds at the whip position, lost the job to Ladler? And not only did he lose the job, but he’s tied with a freshman cornerback moving to the whip position?

Perhaps this a slight overreaction, but something isn’t right. Hunter has lost a starting battle in each of the last two seasons, despite being practically handed the whip job this offseason. When is Hunter going to make a real impact?

When a program like Virginia Tech signs a five-star recruit, that prospect needs to pan out. It’s understandable for it to take a season, but Hunter has now had a full year in the program and still isn’t in a position to contribute in a significant fashion. Hunter will play special teams, but five-star recruits have to be something more than that.

Time will tell if Hunter figures things out. The Hokies are in good hands with Ladler at whip, Reggie Floyd at rover and Divine Deablo at free safety, but Hunter was supposed to take this group to the next level. Virginia Tech needs Hunter to step up soon, because the clock is ticking.

Monday Mail: The Hokies’ 2018 Sack Leader, Trevon Hill’s Status and More

Monday Mail is back! So is college football, technically. Eight teams have started their 2018 season already, even though the season really begins this weekend. I’ll have my season prediction for Virginia Tech coming out this week, so look for that.

Until then, be sure to read the rest of this.

The odds-on favorite is probably Ricky Walker, who should build on his 4.5-sack performance in 2017. The problem is that Walker is now a marked man, and he’ll be the highlight of offensive gameplans in 2018.

Trevon Hill and Houshun Gaines will benefit. Hill is entering his third season as a starter and actually totaled 5.5 sacks last season. He’s an explosive pass rusher off the edge and with most of the line’s attention focused on Walker, Hill is positioned for success.

Gaines’ presence helps too. He finished 2017 with three sacks in limited playing time and gives Virginia Tech more of a pass rush than the Hokies had with Vinny Mihota at defensive end. With Gaines and Hill on the edge, both should find success getting to opposing quarterbacks this season. My money is on Hill to lead Tech in sacks, and he’ll take a long, hard look at the NFL after he does.

Speaking of Hill, our next series of questions relate to this…

Hill wasn’t allowed to speak to the media at Virginia Tech’s media day, which could signal one of two things.

In the past, Virginia Tech has kept players away from the media for a multitude of reasons. Wyatt Teller was kept from the media during his senior season but he was never suspended. Adonis Alexander was kept from the media for a very long time, and he was declared academically ineligible and suspended multiple times during his Virginia Tech career.

Hill could be in trouble, or it could be because of his criticism of Andy Bitter’s coverage of Mook Reynolds’ dismissal this offseason. We’ll find out on Sept. 3 if Hill is in Tech’s good graces or if he’s in big trouble.

Here’s a look at Florida State’s projected starters, courtesy of Noles247.

Virginia Tech’s offense has some talent, but so does Florida State’s defense. Brian Burns and Demarcus Christmas are Florida State’s most experienced defensive linemen. Burns had 4.5 sacks last season and 13.5 tackles for loss and is FSU’s headliner up front.

Two of Florida State’s linebackers have experience, albeit limited. Adonis Thomas is entering his final season of eligibility. The former Alabama linebacker turned JUCO product played in just four games in 2017 for the Seminoles. Junior Dontavious Jackson played in eight games last season and made 17 tackles, but lacks experience too. Freshman Jaiden Woodbey was one of the top college prospects in the Class of 2018 and is expected start at nickelback for Florida State.

In the secondary, Florida State is hoping Stanford Samuels III is able to play and if he is, he brings 10 games of experience with three tackles for loss and two interceptions worth of experience. AJ Westbrook is another experienced safety with 24 games under his belt as a Seminole. Levonta Taylor is about as good as it gets at cornerback, and Kyle Meyers is entering his third year in the program.

Virginia Tech’s offensive line should be able to hold their own vs. Florida State’s defensive front. Florida State has some experience at linebacker but none of them are proven options and as lone as Josh Jackson exercises extreme caution when throwing towards Taylor, Tech’s receivers should be able to find holes. Florida State might recruit like a juggernaut, but they’ve got holes they can’t fill.

Here’s who Noles247 predicts Florida State’s receiving depth chart heading into this season.

Starting outside receivers: Tamorrion Terry, Keith Gavin

Starting slot receiver: Nyqwan Murray

Murray led Florida State in receiving yards (604) last season and should be even more productive in his senior season. Murray is still recovering from a torn ACL but is expected to be a full go vs. the Hokies.

Outside of Murray, Florida State is bereft of experience at receiver. Terry is a redshirt freshman who signed with the ‘Noles in the Class of 2017. Terry wasn’t a highly-regarded recruit by Florida State standards, carrying just a three-star rating.

Gavin is a junior with 27 career catches, but that’s it. Gavin’s receptions all came last season and he still doesn’t have a touchdown reception in his career. Virginia Tech’s receiving corps isn’t all that experienced, but Florida State’s is even greener.

Florida State’s receivers are talented, but so are Tech’s defensive backs. They’re both young and both will make mistakes. It should be an entertaining battle between these two groups.

I’ll give one pitcher and one hitter that fit the description. Left-handed pitcher Josh Rogers has pitched well all season at the AAA level and has been even better in Norfolk since being acquired in the Zach Britton trade. Rogers has started five games for Norfolk, totaling a 2.08 ERA and a 1.088 WHIP. He’s pitched plenty of innings in the minor leagues throughout his career and since the Orioles starting rotation is a disaster, Rogers should get a chance this September.

Rogers isn’t on the 40-man roster, so space needs to be made. Twenty-eight-year-old reliever Sean Gilmartin doesn’t provide much value for the Orioles and really doesn’t need to be in the organization.

Despite poor numbers this season for Norfolk, DJ Stewart needs to get a look at the major league level. Stewart hasn’t really earned a promotion, hitting just .234 and slugging .391. However, given the Orioles plethora of future options in the outfield, Stewart needs to prove that he belongs. Yusniel Diaz, Austin Hays and Ryan McKenna will all reach the majors within the next two seasons and Cedric Mullins is already there. It’s time for Stewart to earn his spot or get pushed to the back of the line.

As much as I’d love to boot Chris Davis from the 40-man roster, that’s not realistic. How about Craig Gentry, who’s a 34-year-old outfielder that’s been average or worse at the plate since 2013. Gentry is a solid fourth outfielder that can play all three spots and run the bases, but he provides little to zero value to a team in the middle of a full rebuild.