Newcomer to watch: OLB Kendall Fuller. Virginia Tech plans on playing the true freshman in a nickelback role this year, believing he can make an immediate impact. Fuller comes in as the most heralded player in the 2013 signing class. Two others to watch: cornerback Brandon Facyson and left tackle Jonathan McLaughlin.
Biggest games in 2013: vs. Alabama, Aug. 31; at Georgia Tech, Sept. 26; at Miami, Nov. 9
Biggest question mark heading into 2013: Running back remains a question mark for the Hokies, especially in the wake of Michael Holmes' dismissal from the university after an arrest this spring. Trey Edmunds and J.C. Coleman are listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart, so this remains a competition to follow throughout fall practice. One of the biggest reasons Virginia Tech struggled last year was its inability to run the football effectively, ranking No. 79 in the nation in rushing offense. Simply put, the Hokies could not adequately replace David Wilson, and that ended up putting too much on Logan Thomas' shoulders. For this offense to function the way it needs to, somebody must step up in the backfield.
Forecast: The Hokies had a down year in 2012, and Beamer responded in the offseason, shuffling his offensive staff to try to fix the problems that plagued the team last year. Scot Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator, and his main task is to get Thomas back to the way he played in 2011, not the way he played in 2012. Loeffler has a good track record working with quarterbacks, a huge plus now as Virginia Tech works to get back to the top of the Coastal Division.
Aside from having Thomas work on his accuracy (51 percent last year, compared to 59.8 percent in 2011) and cutting down on the mistakes (16 interceptions last year), Virginia Tech needs to work as a cohesive unit this year, something missing during 2012. There were problems at just about every position on the field. Headed into this preseason, Virginia Tech is still looking for the right combination on the offensive line, a go-to receiver to step up and, as mentioned above, a consistent ground game.
There are not nearly as many questions on defense, a group expected to be among the best in the ACC this year. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has plenty of talent to work with, particularly up front. Nine starters return, including All-ACC preseason pick Jack Tyler, defensive end James Gayle and cornerback Kyle Fuller -- the headliners among this group. The one area that might have some growing pains early on is in the secondary with Antone Exum (knee) out early in the season. Virginia Tech will have to rely on some inexperienced players, but at least there are no concerns at the opposite cornerback spot with Fuller returning.
Although there are questions about the offense, Virginia Tech should contend in the Coastal again. The Hokies were picked to finish second in the division, but it's totally wide-open at this point.