ACC: Jack Tyler

No. 24: Jack Tyler, LB, Virginia Tech

Previous ranking: 17

Making the case for Tyler: Virginia Tech boasted the ACC's second-best scoring and total defense, and the Hokies ranked fourth nationally in total defense (11th in scoring). Tyler was a huge reason for this, as the redshirt senior led the team with 100 total tackles, including 11 for loss. He started all 13 games and added 4.5 sacks, one pass break-up, one pass defended, one forced fumble and 12 quarterback hurries. His 7.7 tackles per game were good for 10th in the conference.

Tyler earned second-team All-ACC honors from the coaches for his accomplishments. And, perhaps most amazing of all, he began his Hokies career out of Oakton (Va.) High as a walk-on, which would explain why he was a semifinalist this year for the Burlsworth Trophy, which is given to the nation's most outstanding player who began his career as a walk-on. The Touchdown Club of Richmond also named the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Tyler as the state's top linebacker in 2013.

The countdown:

Season wrap: Virginia Tech

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
5:00
AM ET
Virginia Tech ended up making progress this season even though it did not feel that way for most of the year. The Hokies produced a top-10 defense, some stellar freshman performances, and more overall and league wins than they did a year ago. But they also lost uncharacteristically to Boston College, Duke and Maryland and ended the season with a tough 42-12 defeat to UCLA in the Hyundai Sun Bowl after quarterback Logan Thomas got knocked out of the game in the first half. Thomas and the Virginia Tech offense remained ineffective despite a new offensive coordinator, ranking No. 101 in the nation. Among programs with top-10 defenses, only Florida had a larger ranking disparity between its offense and defense.

Offensive MVP: Logan Thomas. The offense had its share of problems once again, but Thomas definitively proved he was the most valuable player in it when he got hurt against the Bruins. Without him, a close game turned into a rout. Thomas ended up with a better completion percentage, higher QBR and fewer interceptions than a year ago.

Defensive MVP: Jack Tyler. Plenty of terrific performances on the No. 4 defense in the nation, but we are going with the team leader. Tyler racked up 100 tackles for the second straight year, with 4.5 sacks, 11 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries, and he was a second-team All-ACC selection.

Best moment: Beating then-No. 11 Miami 42-24. The Hokies went into the game off back-to-back losses to Duke and Boston College and had their ACC hopes dwindling fast. But they completely dominated Miami, posting their best offensive performance against an FBS team since scoring 44 against Florida State in the 2010 ACC championship game.

Worst moment: Losing to Maryland 27-24 in overtime. The very next week after that Miami win, Virginia Tech had a turkey of a performance against the average Terps and saw its ACC championship hopes come crashing down. The Hokies' defense could not slow down Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown, who ran for 122 yards and scored three touchdowns.

ACC all-bowl team

January, 9, 2014
Jan 9
9:00
AM ET
Bowl season was kind to the ACC in a few games (Florida State and Clemson won BCS games), not-so-kind in a few others (Miami, Virginia Tech, we're looking at you) and at least one was a little of both (can we get Texas A&M and Duke every year?). But now that it's all over, we're honoring the best individual performances in the ACC with our all-bowl team.

OFFENSE

QB: Tajh Boyd, Clemson: The big stage hadn't been kind to Boyd through most of 2013, but on the first day of 2014, he was exceptional. Boyd accounted for 505 yards and six touchdowns in a Discover Orange Bowl win over Ohio State, giving the ACC two BCS bowl game victors.

RB: James Conner, Pittsburgh: The freshman tailback carried 26 times against Bowling Green, blowing past Tony Dorsett for the Pitt bowl game record with 229 yards on the ground. For good measure, Conner chipped in on the defensive line for a few snaps, too.

RB: Devonta Freeman, Florida State: It wasn't the most spectacular performance of bowl season -- Freeman wasn't even the best running back on the field in the BCS title game -- but his hard running early kept FSU from falling too far behind, and his final tally -- 11 carries for 73 yards and a TD -- helped Freeman become the first FSU running back since Warrick Dunn to top 1,000 yards on the season.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesOhio State wasn't able to catch Sammy Watkins, as the Clemson WR set multiple Orange Bowl receiving records.
WR: Sammy Watkins, Clemson: Watkins made his last game in a Clemson uniform one to remember, catching an Orange Bowl record 16 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns despite battling an injury for half the game.

WR: Jamison Crowder, Duke: Ho-hum, another 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown for Crowder, who turned in one last stellar performance to cap an exceptional season for the Blue Devils.

WR: Rashad Greene, Florida State: The Seminoles' dramatic comeback against Auburn in the BCS championship game wouldn't have been possible without Greene's big day. He was the only FSU receiver with positive yardage in the first half of the game, and his 49-yard reception -- he dodged two tacklers and picked up most of that yardage after the catch -- was the key play on FSU's dramatic last-minute, game-winning drive.

TE: Braxton Deaver, Duke: The junior had six catches for 116 yards, including three grabs that went for 25 yards or more and five that went for first downs.

OL: Dorian Johnson, Pitt: The Panthers simply overwhelmed Bowling Green's defensive front in the Little Caesars Bowl, racking up 487 yards of offense, including 255 on the ground. (Ed. note: We mistakenly included Matt Rotherham here in an initial post. Johnson slid from tackle to guard for the game, replacing Rotherham, and the Pitt line didn't miss a beat. We apologize for the error.)

OL: Jon Heck, North Carolina: Cincinnati entered the Belk Bowl second in the AAC in sacks with 35, but the Bearcats couldn't get to UNC QB Marquise Williams, as the Tar Heels' offense racked up 39 points -- the second-most Cincinnati gave up all season.

OL: Laken Tomlinson, Duke: The Blue Devils racked up 661 yards of total offense and 29 first downs against Texas A&M, with the offensive line -- led by Tomlinson -- paving the way for a 300-yard passer and a 100-yard rusher.

OL: Tre' Jackson, Florida State: Yes, the Seminoles' line allowed four sacks in the game, but Jackson and Co. also helped FSU run for more yards per carry (4.8) than the vaunted Auburn ground game and provided Jameis Winston with plenty of time to throw on a dramatic game-winning drive in the final minute.

C: Macky MacPherson, Syracuse: The Orange rushed for 208 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner with 1:14 left, to knock off Minnesota in the Texas Bowl. The physically dominant performance on the line was a fitting conclusion to MacPherson's Syracuse career.

DEFENSE

DE: Mario Edwards Jr., FSU: Edwards had one sack and three tackles for loss among his six total tackles for a Seminoles front that turned it up a notch in the second half, allowing the offense to catch up and ultimately escape with the win.

DT: Andre Monroe, Maryland: The Terrapins' finale as an ACC member ended on a sour note with a 31-20 loss to Marshall in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. Monroe tied for a game-high with 10 total tackles, three of which went for a loss, one of which was a sack. Monroe added a quarterback hurry as well.

DT: Aaron Donald, Pitt: With one more game to go in a historic season, Donald did not disappoint. The senior closed out his career with two tackles for loss, including one sack, to go with a pass break-up in the Panthers' 30-27 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl win over Bowling Green. Donald's sack came on second down of the Falcons' final drive, all but sealing the win.

DE: Vic Beasley, Clemson: Beasley was part of a Tigers front that made life extremely difficult for Braxton Miller and the rest of the Ohio State backfield. Beasley recorded four tackles for loss and a sack among his five total tackles, and in the end Clemson's defense proved to be the difference in a shootout win.

LB: Norkeithus Otis, UNC: The Tar Heels capped their strong second half with a bang, routing Cincinnati 39-17 in the Belk Bowl to make them 6-1 over their last seven games. Otis tallied seven total tackles -- two for loss and one sack among them -- to go with two quarterback hurries.

LB: Jack Tyler, Virginia Tech: UCLA proved to be too much for the Hokies in a 42-12 win in the Hyundai Sun Bowl, but Tyler played well, totaling seven tackles, including half of a sack, to go with one pass break-up and one quarterback hurry.

[+] EnlargeP.J. Williams
AP Photo/Gregory BullP.J. Williams' interception was the big break Florida State needed to create in its come-from-behind victory over Auburn in the BCS title game.
LB: Cameron Lynch, Syracuse: The Orange finished a successful first season in the ACC by topping Minnesota 21-17 in the Texas Bowl. Lynch, a junior, tied for a team-high with eight stops, with most of his big plays coming behind the line of scrimmage. He had two tackles for loss, one sack and a forced fumble to help Syracuse go 7-4 after an 0-2 start in coach Scott Shafer's first year.

DB: P.J. Williams, FSU: The defensive MVP from the Vizio BCS National Championship came up huge when it mattered most, picking off Auburn's Nick Marshall early in the fourth quarter to set up a touchdown that cut the Tigers' lead to one. Williams finished with seven total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

DB: Jemea Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas ended his college career with a bang, totaling a game-high 15 tackles. Three of those stops were behind the line of scrimmage, including one sack.

DB: D.J. White, GT: The Yellow Jackets get two more years of White, a future that looked all the brighter in the 25-17 loss to Ole Miss in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl. White finished with 13 total tackles, two forced fumbles, one interception and three pass break-ups.

DB: Bryce Jones, Boston College: The Eagles' turnaround campaign under Steve Addazio ended on a down note, falling to Arizona 42-19 in the AdvoCare V100 Bowl, but Jones was a bright spot, with the sophomore notching a team-high 12 tackles, including one for loss.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Chris Blewitt, Pitt: Blewitt went 3-for-4 for the Panthers in Detroit, connecting from 25, 28 and, most important, 39 yards with the game-winning kick with 1:17 left in Pitt's 30-27 win.

P: Tommy Hibbard, UNC: Hibbard was phenomenal for the Tar Heels, punting four times for an average of 44.2 yards per boot. He pinned Cincinnati inside its own 20 three different times, and he had a long of 59 yards in the win.

KR: Levonte Whitfield, FSU: At the time, Whitfield's 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown seemed as if it would go down as one of the greatest returns in BCS championship game history. The touchdown gave Florida State a 27-24 lead with 4:31 to play -- but the lead would change twice more before it was over. Whitfield finished the game with 172 return yards.

PR: Ryan Switzer, UNC: The Tar Heels had a huge day on special teams in a Belk Bowl win over Cincinnati, with Switzer -- an All-American -- leading the way, returning his fifth punt of the season for a touchdown.
To the outside world, Virginia Tech appeared to be falling apart throughout its decidedly un-Virginia Tech-like 2012 season.

To the players on the team, the unaccustomed and unwanted losses produced stressful practices and even more stress in games -- when players routinely jumped out of position to do more than they needed just to try and make a play.

“It was like everybody was getting gray hairs,” linebacker Tariq Edwards says now.

Gray hair?

[+] EnlargeVirginia Tech Hokies
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsThe Virginia Tech defense, which is No. 2 in the nation in total defense, is a big reason why the Hokies have a shot at the ACC championship game.
“Just a few,” the 22-year-old Edwards says with a laugh.

He can afford to laugh now that Virginia Tech is back to its winning ways, ranked No. 14 in the BCS standings and a serious threat to get back to the ACC championship game once again. Nobody in this program wants to go back to the misery that was 2012, but the adversity has helped shape this team and, most especially, this stifling defense.

“Last year, we were supposed to be like this, and for some reason or another it didn’t happen,” linebacker Jack Tyler says. “We didn’t want that happen again. We’re all a year older and we knew what it was like to really underperform and not live up to expectations. Some of the leaders got together. Our defense is pretty old. We have seven or eight starting seniors and we all came together and said, ‘That’s not going to happen again. We’re not going to allow that to happen.’”

Both Edwards and Tyler point to much stronger leadership from a larger senior class in helping the Hokies reclaim their usual spot in the Top 25 rankings. But Tyler also says the final three games of last season helped Virginia Tech get on the roll it is on now.

The Hokies had to win their final two games of the regular season to just get back to a bowl game. They did that, then dominated Rutgers defensively in the Russell Athletic Bowl to finish with a winning record, a huge victory considering all the struggles. Virginia Tech ended up with six losses, its highest total since 1992 -- when most players on the team were either infants or not even born yet.

Still, Tyler saw the potential. So did his teammates. Since those final three games of 2012, Virginia Tech is 9-1, with its only loss to No. 1 Alabama in the season opener. Though the season began with questions about coach Frank Beamer and whether he could get the program turned around, nobody on the inside had much doubt the Hokies would be back.

“You definitely don’t want to come into a season thinking you’re going to do bad in any way,” Edwards said. “They say defense wins championships so if we held down our side of the ball, we knew we would be in every game.”

Indeed, the defense has been the story so far this season, ranking No. 2 in the nation in total defense and No. 5 in scoring defense. Under defensive coordinator Bud Foster, Virginia Tech has been nationally ranked in the top five of a major defensive category a whopping 35 times.

“There’s a certain way we do things here, the way Coach Beamer runs the program, we’re supposed to be good character guys on and off the field,” Tyler said. “We think here they directly correlate. Last year, there were some guys that were getting in trouble and stuff like that. It took away from the success because everybody didn’t know if they could trust them on the field.

“Some of those guys are some of our leaders this year and they really flipped the switch and started becoming more involved off the field. The trust factor and all that that you need when you want to become a good defense, it all twisted together and we’ve become a good unit because of that.”

Virginia Tech has won ugly but its biggest Coastal Division rival, Miami, is coming off a pretty ugly win of its own. All of a sudden it seems Virginia Tech has as good a shot as Miami of getting to the ACC title game. Their meeting in November in Miami should determine that.

For now, the Hokies can take pride in how far they have come. One year ago today, they were 4-4, wondering whether they would make a bowl. Today, they already are bowl eligible, with their sights set much higher.

Perhaps there are fewer gray hairs sprouting up, too.

ACC keeps expecting the unexpected

September, 28, 2013
9/28/13
9:57
PM ET
In the days leading up to Virginia Tech's Thursday night showdown with Georgia Tech, Logan Thomas could hardly throw. An abdominal injury limited him in practice, which figured to be bad news for the Hokies, given how poorly Thomas and the offense had played when healthy.

So, of course, the senior quarterback went to Atlanta, played his best game of the season, and the much-maligned Virginia Tech offense helped lead an upset over the Yellow Jackets.

It was a harbinger for the weekend to come in the ACC. Just when it seemed we had things pegged, the expectations got turned upside down again.

How else to explain what happened in Pittsburgh, where the Panthers' defense completely shut down Virginia just seven days after coughing up 532 yards and 55 points to Duke? Certainly Virginia's offense didn't present the same test, but the Cavaliers mustered just 188 yards of offense in the game. Of course, the most surprising thing might have been that high-flying Pitt managed only 11 more.

Who could have possibly predicted Boston College's near upset of Florida State? It wasn't so much that the Eagles came out quickly against an unprepared Seminoles team. They did, of course, jumping out to a 17-3 lead. What was perhaps more surprising, however, was that BC kept coming back even after Jameis Winston and Florida State delivered what seemed like one final dagger after another. BC fought to the end, riding a power running game to 34 points against the bigger, faster Seminoles. Florida State knew BC's game plan was to run the ball, and yet Andre Williams still racked up 149 yards on the ground -- the most by a runner against FSU since 2010.

And what happened to North Carolina? Sure, the Tar Heels hadn't opened the season with many fireworks, but this was a team that tied for the Atlantic Division title a year ago, looked at least reasonably capable against South Carolina in its opener and was up early on Georgia Tech a week ago before faltering late. So did the Heels take out their frustrations against East Carolina? Not even close. UNC allowed 603 yards and 55 points, of course.

[+] EnlargePete Thomas
Jeremy McKnight/Icon SMIAfter a rough start to the season, Pete Thomas stepped up with his best game in a win against Central Michigan.
Or how about NC State's Pete Thomas? The backup QB forced into the starting role in Week 1 had looked dreadful during his first three games, tossing four interceptions without a TD. He looked much improved against Central Michigan on Saturday, including an 80-yard touchdown pass to Bryan Underwood, helping NC State to nearly 500 yards of total offense.

Then there was Logan Thomas, who had completed 70 percent of his passes in a game just once in his career, but managed to find receivers on 19 of his 25 attempts against Georgia Tech, racking up 279 yards of offense and two touchdowns in the win.

If the slate didn't provide myriad upsets, it certainly provided plenty of surprises in just how those outcomes came to be.

And yet, not every game was a shocker. Clemson scored an easy win on Wake Forest, and Miami ran up the score against USF. Some outcomes were so secure, there was no wiggle room for surprises.

But so much of what seemed clear a week ago -- that Georgia Tech was in the driver's seat in the Coastal, that Florida State was gearing up for its showdown with Clemson, that the Hokies couldn't move the football and Pitt couldn't stop it -- those assumptions all seem a bit silly now.

Instead, the Seminoles must go back to work and try to figure out how their defense has been gashed by both of the ACC opponents it has faced this year. With Maryland and Clemson up next on the slate, such shortcomings won't be so easily overcome by Winston's heroics.

Georgia Tech's plans for a second straight trip to the ACC title game may be dashed already, but the Jackets can help themselves stay alive with a win over Miami next week. They’re going to need some outside help, though, as they’ll lose the head-to-head tiebreaker with Virginia Tech, should it come to that.

Clemson and Miami are rolling, Pitt and NC State appear resilient, North Carolina and Wake are reeling. And Duke? Well, there's always hope the Blue Devils' D can rebound as well as Virginia Tech's offense.

"That locker room feels real good about ourselves," Hokies linebacker Jack Tyler said after their big win. "But like [defensive coordinator Bud] Foster says, when you start feeling good about yourself, that’s when you get knocked off."

That's a warning worth remembering around the ACC after this week.

After all, for all we thought we learned, the one overriding revelation could be that those lessons may last only until the games of Week 6 kick off and the whole set of assumptions is flipped upside down once again.
No. 1. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson

Previous ranking: No. 1

Making the case for Boyd: The fact that he is at the top of the list two years in a row shows that Boyd is indeed the face of the ACC and its best hope at a Heisman Trophy. There’s no question Boyd is a contender -- he was in the conversation last season. The question now is whether or not his team will be good enough to help him actually win it. Individually, Boyd has already proven to be good enough. In 2012, he was named the ACC’s Player of the Year and the league’s Offensive Player of the Year by both the coaches and the media.

Boyd’s leadership alone has been invaluable to the team, as the Tigers continue their hunt for another ACC title and run at the national championship. Boyd has established himself as one of the best in school history, as he ranks first at Clemson in passing touchdowns, first in passing efficiency and first in touchdowns he’s responsible for. Over his career, which includes a 21-6 record as the starter, Boyd has completed 62.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 8,053 yards and 73 touchdowns against 28 interceptions. He put up remarkable numbers last season with an ACC-record 36 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. He also had 514 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns and was responsible for an ACC-record 46 touchdowns. He has helped transform the perception of Clemson from pretender to contender, and he came back for his senior season to do it again.

The countdown
No. 3. Duke Johnson, RB, Miami

Previous ranking: No. 11

Making the case for Johnson: He had what was arguably the greatest freshman season in school history. Still need more? Johnson, who was named the ACC’s overall and offensive Rookie of the Year in 2012, was one of the ACC’s most electric kick returners, and he set the school single-season record with 892 kick return yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a freshman-record 947 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 2,060 all-purpose yards were the second-most in program history.

Johnson played in all 12 games last year and made five starts. He also had six games with 200-plus all-purpose yards and four 100-yard rushing games. He was named the ACC’s Rookie of the Week a league-best five-times. It’s possible Johnson could be even better this fall, as all five starters return on the offensive line, and the Canes have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Stephen Morris.

The countdown

 
No. 5. James Hurst, OT, North Carolina

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Hurst: Hurst is going to be the anchor of the line this fall, as he’s the senior leader and one of the nation’s top left tackles. He has started 36 career games since earning the starting job in the second week of his true freshman season. Last year, he helped pave the way for UNC to set school records in total offense, scoring and passing yards. UNC allowed just 11 total sacks last year, and led the ACC in sacks allowed per game (.92). He started 11 games last fall and graded out close to 90 percent.

He has been at his best against the most meaningful competition, as last year Hurst graded out at 90 percent with 12 knockdowns and played all 85 snaps in the win at Miami. One of the biggest questions facing UNC this fall is how the Tar Heels will replace OG Jonathan Cooper, as he was the lead blocker for Giovani Bernard last year. There is so much confidence within the program in the leadership and abilities of Hurst, that with three starters returning, it could be a smoother transition than expected.

The countdown
No. 7 Bryn Renner, QB, North Carolina

Previous ranking: No. 20

Making the case for Renner: He’s one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country, but his value could be proven come draft day. Renner enters his senior season on the brink of setting nearly every career passing mark at UNC. The three-year starter has thrown for more than 3,000 yards in each of the past two seasons -- the only player in school history to hit that milestone twice in his career. He set the single-season school record for total offense last year with 3,394 yards. Renner has flourished in coach Larry Fedora’s spread offense, and should be even better this fall because it is the second season with the staff and he’s more familiar with the playbook and expectations.

Renner currently holds the school record for career 300-yard passing games with eight, but even more impressive has been his efficiency. Last year he started all 12 games, completed 65.4 percent of his passes, and threw for 3,356 yards, 28 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. Renner enters the season with a career pass efficiency mark of 154.6, which ranks fifth among all FBS quarterbacks. If he keeps up that pace, he would break the current ACC career pass efficiency record of 151.2 set by Florida State’s Chris Weinke. Not bad company.

The countdown
No. 9. Lamarcus Joyner, DB, Florida State

Previous ranking: No. 15

Making the case for Joyner: As one of the top defensive backs in the country, Joyner will be showcasing his versatility this year at corner, where he played during the spring. He spent the past two seasons as the starting strong safety, where he has started 27 straight games, and he is also one of the top kick returners in school history. In a top-10 win over Clemson, Joyner returned five kickoffs for 185 yards, including one for 90 yards. He has played in every game since he arrived at Florida State as a freshman in 2010, and is now the leader of the defense. Joyner has great range because of his speed, which allows him to cover a lot of ground in the secondary. Joyner is on the watch lists this year for the Thorpe Award, Bednarik Award, Nagurski Trophy, Lott Impact Trophy and Paul Hornung Award.

The countdown
No. 11. Christian Jones, LB, Florida State

Previous ranking: Not ranked.

Making the case for Jones: At 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Jones has above average speed and quickness, and he’s one of the best athletes on Florida State’s roster. He is the Noles’ leading returning tackler and started all 14 games at weakside linebacker last year. This offseason, he moved to middle linebacker under first-year coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. He’s a candidate for the Butkus Award, which is given to the nation’s top linebacker, and he is also on the watch lists for the Bednarik Award and Nagurski Trophy. Jones finished last season with 95 tackles, which ranked seventh in the ACC. He accounted for FSU’s only defensive touchdown of the season in a road win at South Florida. Jones continues to improve, as he had more tackles last fall (95) than he had in 27 career games in 2009-2010 (74). This should be the highlight season for the senior.

The countdown
No. 13. Michael Campanaro, WR, Wake Forest

Previous ranking: No. 24

Making the case for Campanaro: He has become the face of the program, and if he can stay healthy this fall, he should become more of a household name throughout the rest of the country. Campanaro has been Mr. Dependable for the Deacs, and he enters this fall with a streak of 21 straight games with at least one reception. He ranks fifth in school history with 162 career catches and needs 55 more to break the school record of 216.

Campanaro started nine games last year and missed two because of a hand injury. Still, he finished the season with 79 catches (which led the ACC during the regular season) for 763 yards and six touchdowns. He led the team in scoring with 42 points on seven touchdowns and also led the Deacs with 871 all-purpose yards. He led the ACC with 7.9 receptions per game, which is the second-highest single-season average in conference history. He was named to the watch lists for the Biletnikoff and Paul Hornung Awards.

The countdown

Virginia Tech season preview

August, 7, 2013
8/07/13
10:30
AM ET
Today we look at Virginia Tech as the Hokies try to get back to the top of the Coastal Division in 2013.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Coach: Frank Beamer (258-127-4 overall, 216-104-2 at Virginia Tech)

[+] EnlargeLogan Thomas
AP Photos/Chris BernacchiThe Hokies need QB Logan Thomas to cut down on mistakes in order for Virginia Tech to win more than seven games this season.
2012 record: 7-6

Key losses: WR Marcus Davis, OT Vinston Painter, RB Michael Holmes, LB Bruce Taylor, LB Alonzo Tweedy

Key returnees: QB Logan Thomas, CB Kyle Fuller, DE James Gayle, LB Jack Tyler

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.
No. 15. Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State
FSU
Previous ranking: Not ranked

Making the case for Jernigan: He’s oozing potential, but even after only two starts last fall, he’s played enough that it’s clear Jernigan is one of the nation’s top returning tackles. Jernigan is expected to step into a starting role this fall, and he’s got the experience of 26 career games as a foundation. He’s quick into opponents’ backfields, as he had the most tackles amongst all FSU interior linemen in each of his first two seasons.

This year, Jernigan is a candidate for the Outland Trophy, which is given to the nation's top interior lineman, as well as the Lombardi Award, given to the nation's top lineman. He enters 2013 with 76 career tackles and 14 tackles for loss. If he picks up where he left off, Jernigan should have a breakout season. He finished 2012 strong, with 22 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack in his final four games. He was also an impact player in the ACC title game win over Georgia Tech, when he had the team’s only sack.

The countdown

 

Video: Virginia Tech LB Jack Tyler

August, 5, 2013
8/05/13
11:00
AM ET
Heather Dinich talks to Jack Tyler about his perspective on the offensive changes, how far the defense has come since last year's Pitt game, and the keys to beating Alabama in the season opener.

SPONSORED HEADLINES