2014 Record: 7-6
F/+ Rank: 33
Wins: William & Mary, Ohio State, Western Michigan, North Carolina, Duke, Virginia, Cincinnati
Losses: East Carolina, Georgia Tech, Pittsburgh, Miami, Boston College, Wake Forest
There was once a time when the Virginia Tech Hokies were a national powerhouse, perennial contenders atop the Atlantic Coast Conference. After joining the league in 2004, the Hokies enjoyed eight straight 10-win seasons, winning six division championships and four conference crowns. They played in five BCS-level games, never finishing outside the top 20 ranked teams.
It seems like so long ago.
This past season, the Hokies went 7-6, their third straight disappointing finish. Despite winning the Military Bowl, they finished fifth in the Coastal Division, outright under .500 in the ACC for the first time in the Frank Beamer era.
After opening up with a 34-9 victory over the FCS-19th ranked William & Mary Tribe, they upset the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes on national television in the Horseshoe, 35-21. The win propelled the Hokies into the Top 25 and loudly announced them as a potential contender to win the Coastal Division. That lasted all of a week, as the team deflated and lost to East Carolina for the second straight year, dropping a 28-21 decision at home in Blacksburg.
The next year, they crashed back to Earth even further, losing 27-24 to Georgia Tech. They would recover with two consecutive wins, beating Western Michigan (35-17) and North Carolina (34-17), but the season fell apart shortly thereafter.
They lost to Pittsburgh (who had a three-game losing streak at that point), 21-16, in a game they never led. The next week. Duke Johnson absolutely ripped apart the Hokies defense, going for 249 yards and two scores as the Miami Hurricanes raced out to a 24-0 lead. Using three turnovers after the half, fans started leaving Lane Stadium early in a 30-6 defeat.
Now 4-4, a pivotal game for bowl eligibility opened up November when Boston College traveled south to Blacksburg. Despite 414 yards of offense, however, Tyler Murphy ripped the Hokies defense apart much like Duke Johnson did the week prior, gaining 127 yards on the ground. Myles Willis broke off a 68-yard touchdown run, and Murphy capped the game with a 57-yard score as the Eagles won a fourth quarter shootout, 33-31. The win propelled Boston College to bowl eligibility and damaged the Virginia Tech changes by dropping them to 4-5.
Virginia Tech evened their record at 5-5 with an unexpected win over Duke, but they collapsed the next week against Wake Forest in a horrible 6-3 double overtime victory. At 5-6, the Hokies absolutely needed to win at home against Virginia (also 5-6) in order to become bowl eligible. A 24-20 decision kept their in-state rival ineligible for a bowl, and the Hokies limped home with a 33-17 victory over Cincinnati in the Military Bowl two days after Christmas.
All in all, the season was one broken promise after another. After beating the eventual national champion Ohio State, the Hokies were a national powerhouse once again, the featured team on so many segments. But the season was tenuous at best, and the roof caved in with a three-game losing streak in October. Perhaps most indicting of the season was the fact that Lane Stadium, normally one of the loudest stadiums in college football, became something of an also-ran, failing to lift the team through its darkest hours.
Series: Virginia Tech leads, 15-8
First matchup: 1993 (BC won, 48-34)
Last matchup: 2014 (BC won, 33-31)
With the way the last three seasons have gone, it's easy to point the finger at Frank Beamer. In a world of "What have you done for me lately?" it's more likely that Beamer joins Al Golden as one of the hottest seats in the ACC.
But Beamer (and the concept of "Beamerball") remains one of the Hokies' most endearing and memorable qualities. The longest tenured and winningest coach in the active ranks, Beamer took over the Hokies in 1987. As an independent, they were just 2-9 in his first year but improved to 6-5 by the time they joined the Big East in 1991.
By 1995, the Hokies were a powerhouse, going 10-2 and going to major bowl games with back-to-back conference championships. From then on, they were a fixture on the major scene. They were a contender for the national championship in 1999, an undefeated Big East champion who would go onto lose in the Nokia Sugar Bowl to the Florida State Seminoles in the designated BCS Championship game. The next year, their only loss came to Miami, relegating them to second place in the Big East and the Gator Bowl consolation prize.
Joining the ACC in 2004, Beamer's aforementioned success was a staple in Blacksburg, a tide-turner that made Virginia Tech one of the best programs in the nation. But their recent struggles are impossible to ignore, and there are very loud conversations in the national media spectrum if he's lost his touch. Last season, the Ohio State win announced the team was back. That made the rest of the season so much more painful.
In 2015, we'll see if Beamer is on the hot seat or not. We'll see if he lost his touch or not. This is one of the best programs, top to bottom, in the nation. If he can coach them to the Coastal Division crown, the whispers will stop. Otherwise, they get louder.
The Hokies return virtually everyone of significance, including their quarterback, running backs, receiving corps, and arguably the best tight end in the land (Bucky Hodges). They have tons of weapons, from Marshawn Williams to JC Coleman and Trey Edmunds, from Isaiah Ford to Cam Phillps and Kevin Asante. In addition, the defense could be one of the absolute best in the nation, with Bud Foster's unit bringing back Ken Ekanem and Dadi Nicolas to disrupt opposing backfields.
Like the rest of the offense, the offensive line is a well-known commodity coming into the '15 season. Jonathan McLaughlin will start at left tackle, with Wade Hansen playing right tackle. The interior line features Wyatt Teller and Augie Conte with Eric Gallo snapping the football.
There's a lot of experience on there, and they're bringing in several very good incoming freshmen. Michael Brewer should find himself nice and upright for the majority of the season.
Returning Quarterback: Yes
Brewer threw for 2,692 yards last year and 18 touchdowns, both good enough for the top half of the ACC. But he threw a ton of interceptions - 15 to be exact - and placed as one of the two worst quarterbacks in the league in that regard.
That said, last season was his first in the VT offense. If he can clean up his act and think better in the pocket, this is going to be a very tough Hokies offense. It's on him though.
If he falters, Virginia Tech recruited 6'6" Dwayne Lawson to their program this year. He's a huge QB with a cannon arm. I'd rather not see him in the lineup quite yet.
Biggest Problem for 2015:
The biggest problem for the Hokies is if Beamer's lost his magic. The talent exists on this team to easily win the wide-open Coastal Division if they can put it together, but if Brewer falters and isn't corrected by the coaching staff, the season should unravel quickly. We've seen it in past years - if Virginia Tech gets down, they can be mentally unraveled. It's on Beamer to prevent that from happening.
This team could be SCARY good. Looking up and down the Coastal, they have arguably the best team. Georgia Tech should be good but is prone to up-and-down valleys and peaks under Paul Johnson. Al Golden is coaching for his life down at Miami, but the team is missing a couple of pieces. Pittsburgh has the offense to be outstanding, but defenses win championships. And while Duke has been good, I don't know if they have the talent to go to the top.
Virginia Tech has the talent, and if it all comes together, they'll be elite. The problem is that even if the answer the question early, they'll need to continually answer it. Keep answering it, and make believers out of all of us.