Posted on July 21, 2014 at 8:44 PM
Monday, Jul 21 at 8:54 PM
GREENSBORO, N.C. – There are few cities in the country where an 8-5 season is regarded as a disappointment without hesitation. Blacksburg, Va., is one of them.
The nation’s longest active streak of 21 consecutive bowl appearances is also considered underwhelming. Fresh off a pair of down seasons, Virginia Tech has its sights on returning to the form that led the Hokies to eight consecutive 10-win seasons from 2004-11.
“We’re used to 10-win seasons. We’re used to bowl games. We’re used to bringing ACC championships back to Blacksburg,” said senior defensive tackle Luther Maddy. “Even though it’s a winning record, it’s not good enough.”
The biggest obstacle facing the Hokies is at quarterback, where a three-way battle is brewing heading into training camp. Logan Thomas – a fourth-round selection by the Arizona Cardinals in the NFL draft – had started the past three seasons.
The Hokies’ most experienced returning quarterback is redshirt senior Mark Leal, who served as Thomas’ backup for the past three seasons. He appeared in three games in 2013 and completed 15 of 29 passes for 155 yards and two interceptions.
Redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley is physically gifted at 6-4 and 219 pounds, but he has yet to take a snap. Leal and Motley competed throughout the spring, but both struggled, muddying Virginia Tech’s quarterback situation further.
“Not knowing who it is right now – we’d rather be on the other side of that. But we’re going to determine it pretty quickly in our preseason practice,” said coach Frank Beamer, who is heading into his 28th year at the helm. “You like for it to be settled on the field and not have to make a gut decision yourself.”
Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer, who did not have a subpar spring, could be the clubhouse leader heading into training camp. Brewer was favored to start for the Red Raiders last season before a back injury derailed his chances.
Brewer has appeared in 13 games in his collegiate career, completing 41 of 58 passes for 440 yards and five touchdowns. Although he will enter training camp as a virtual unknown to the Virginia Tech coaching staff, he has spent the entire summer working with Hokies receivers in hopes of developing a rapport.
“When someone first transfers they are a little timid, he just kind of threw himself in," said redshirt senior wide receiver Willie Byrn, who led Virginia Tech with 51 catches for 635 yards a year ago. "He was just confident that he was going to get along with everyone and he did. Biggest and best impression is how competitive he is. He doesn’t like to lose one rep in 7-on-7, and you like to see that.”
Virginia Tech has a number of holes to fill on defense as well, returning five starters from the ACC’s No. 2 defense in 2013. But even the Hokies defenders are concerned with the team’s quarterback situation heading into training camp.
“We need to find out who the quarterback is so we can get going,” Maddy said. “It is kind of frustrating going up against different quarterbacks in practice because you have to scheme around them.”
Once Beamer settles on a signal-caller, Virginia Tech will be tasked with returning to championship form in a Coastal Division that is nothing short of wide open – six of the division’s seven teams received a first-place votes in the preseason ACC media poll. However, each of those squads face a major question mark of their own.
But playing in a city where expectations are sky-high, Byrn reiterated that the Hokies don’t want to compete for conference championships – their sights are set on national championships. Nothing is a better reminder of this than the empty trophy case in Virginia Tech’s Merryman Athletic Center, which has been reserved for its first national title.
“We’re never taking that down,” Beamer said. “We’re not going to take it down. You want that in front of your team.”
Cavs take on rebuilding project: One team Virginia Tech has had no problem handling in recent years is in-state rival Virginia. With a 16-6 victory to close out the 2013 season, the Hokies now defeated the Cavaliers in 10 consecutive years and 14 of the last 15.
“I certainly don’t want to be the one senior class in the last 10 years that has lost to them,” Byrn said. “It’s marked on my calendar for that reason — we want to continue that dominance.”
After losing its final nine games to close the 2013 season to finish with a 2-10 record, Virginia doesn’t have anywhere to go but up. The Cavaliers were picked to finish dead last in the ACC’s Coastal Division in its preseason media poll, but may be comforted by the fact that the team picked to finished last in the Coastal a year ago – Duke – captured its first-ever division title and finished with a 10-4 record.
“2013 was very humbling. In 2014, we’re humble,” Virginia coach Mike London said. “The only way you get the bad taste out of your mouth is to have an opportunity once again.
The opportunity is going to be presented pretty soon.”
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