Top 50 Countdown: No. 11 Virginia Tech

Coach: Frank Beamer | Staff
In 2006: 10-3, 6-2 ACC; Lost to Georgia 31-24 in Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Returning starters: Offense: 8. Defense: 8.
Key losses: WR David Clowney, DE Noland Burchette, LB Brenden Hill, ROV Aaron Rouse.
2007 breakdown: Top 10 players | Outlook | Offense | Defense | Special teams | Coaching | Schedule

Breaking down the offense

Overview: Despite 1,137 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns from Branden Ore, Virginia Tech barely cracked the top 100 nationally (99th) in yards per game and just snuck into the top 50 (49th) in points per game. Ore almost single-handedly carried the offense. First-time starting quarterback Sean Glennon was adequate until a four-turnover showing in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Georgia. Virginia Tech is counting on improvement from the line - as well as a bulked-up Glennon - to give the Hokies more balance in the offense.

VIRGINIA TECH TOP 10
Vince Hall leads the nation's top defense.

1.LB Vince Hall
2.CB Brandon Flowers
3.RB Branden Ore
4.LB Xavier Adibi
5.OT Duane Brown
6.OG Sergio Render
7.WR Eddie Royal
8.WR Josh Morgan
9.CB Victor Harris
10.DE Chris Ellis
Best player: RB Branden Ore. After splitting carries as a freshman in 2005, Ore took over as the centerpiece of the Hokies' offense last season. However, he may have been too much of the focus. He carried the ball 187 more times than any other running back on the team. If not for an ankle injury that caused Ore to miss most of the final two regular season games, the workload discrepancy would have been much larger.

Most overrated: QB Ike Whitaker. Overrated is probably too harsh for Whitaker. To put it better, don't expect Whitaker to be the second coming of Michael Vick just yet. Virginia Tech fans have screamed for Glennon's backup, especially after his performance in the bowl game. Whitaker, a four-star prospect in the class of 2005, is still working on getting his career back on track. Following the season, Whitaker sought treatment for alcohol issues. He returned in the spring to compete for the starting quarterback position, but Glennon's improvement will keep Whitaker with the second string for now.

Most underrated: The receiving corps. Virginia Tech has never had a 1,000-yard receiver, and that's not likely to change this year. Seniors Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan, Justin Harper and Josh Hyman are dangerous enough as a group. Royal is the most dangerous of the four because of his speed. He can be a downfield threat and can also run the ball on reverses.

Must step up: Glennon. Glennon took a lot of the blame for the offense's struggles last year, and some of it was deserved. He completed only 56.3 percent of his passes and threw 11 interceptions last year. During Virginia Tech's shortened spring practice, Glennon made strides and took control of the team. An improved offensive line, which allowed 29 sacks last year, will also help the quarterback.

Impact newcomer: WR Zach Luckett. Luckett nearly worked his way into the receiver rotation last year as a true freshman. However, the Hokies had enough depth there to redshirt him. Luckett - one of Virginia Tech's biggest receivers at 6 feet 3, 217 pounds - should get some playing time as a redshirt freshman. Having four seniors at receiver this year may limit his opportunities a bit.

Battle to watch: Quarterback. Glennon tightened his hold on the starting quarterback position with a strong performance in spring practice, but the microscope will still be on him. Backups Cory Holt and Whitaker are waiting in the wings, as is five-star freshman Tyrod Taylor.

Grade the units:
QB: C. Glennon passed for as many touchdowns (11) as interceptions last year. He needs to make better decisions in order to give the offense more balance.
RB: A. Ore was the only running back last year to rush for 200 yards in consecutive games and he did it against a pair of bowl teams (Southern Miss and Clemson).
WR/TE: A. The Hokies lost their top pass catcher from a year ago, but they still have four seniors that combined for 101 receptions.
OL: C-plus. The unit struggled last year, especially in the Chick-fil-A Bowl loss to Georgia. Second-team All-ACC tackle Duane Brown is a bright spot.

Breaking down the defense

Overview: Bud Foster continues to lead one of the most suffocating defenses in the country. The Hokies became the first team in 20 years to lead the nation in total defense in back-to-back years. Virginia Tech will threaten to make it three in a row by returning eight starters, including the best linebacker duo east of Southern California in Vince Hall and Xavier Adibi. Throw in another of Virginia Tech's trademark shutdown corners (Brandon Flowers), and this defense could be just as stingy as last year's.

Best player: LB Vince Hall. Foster has called Hall the best linebacker he has coached in his 20 years in Blacksburg. Since 2004 (when Virginia Tech joined the ACC), no one has more tackles than Hall's 304 stops.

Virginia Tech Schedule
Date Opponent
Sept. 1 East Carolina
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Ohio
Sept. 22 William & Mary
Sept. 29 North Carolina
Oct. 6 at Clemson
Oct. 13 at Duke
Oct. 25 Boston College
Nov. 1 at Georgia Tech
Nov. 10 Florida State
Nov. 17 Miami (Fla.)
Nov. 24 at Virginia
Most overrated: DT Kory Robertson. The senior Robertson has the talent to be a pro, but he has yet to start a game. He missed spring practice this year but is expected to once again challenge Carlton Powell and Barry Booker for a starting spot.

Most underrated: S D.J. Parker. The senior Parker gets lost among the other stars in the defense, but he's just as valuable. He's the leader in the secondary, contributing 41 tackles and seven pass break-ups from his free safety position.

Must step up: LB Corey Gordon. Gordon steps into the whip linebacker position vacated by Brenden Hill. Gordon has plenty of experience, appearing in 36 games (but no starts) over the last three years. Playing alongside Hall and Adibi, Gordon's spot will be a likely target for opposing offenses.

Shoes to fill: ROV Aaron Rouse. Former quarterback and cornerback Kam Chancellor will take over for Rouse, who was third on the team in tackles (57). He was a leader on a unit that led the nation in pass defense.

Impact newcomer: DT John Graves. The redshirt freshman was the top newcomer on the defense during the spring. He worked his way into the at tackle and end.

Position battle: Defensive end. Chris Ellis holds down one defensive end spot, but the other one is up for grabs. Junior Orion Martin, a former walk-on, claimed that spot during the spring. Redshirt freshman Jason Worilds and sophomore Nekos Brown will compete for playing time as well.

Grade the units:
DL: B. Powell and Booker are an underrated tandem in the trenches.
LB: A. Hall and Adibi combined for 210 tackles last year on the nation's best defense.
DB: A. Flowers and Victor Harris were big contributors on a unit that led the nation in pass defense.

Breaking down the special teams

Overview: Special teams are always a priority for the Hokies, and once again it paid off for Virginia Tech. The Hokies blocked five kicks last year and led the ACC in kickoff coverage and punt return average. The challenge this year will be to replace kicker Brandon Pace and punter Nic Schmitt. The Hokies have the luxury of returning their top special teamer, Eddie Royal. Josh Morgan blocked two kicks last season.

Season outlook with bowl forecast
The Hokies will play the season with heavy hearts following the shootings that claimed 33 lives in April. The team will have the weight of the school on its shoulders this fall. On top of that, Virginia Tech has the added pressure of being a national title contender. The Hokies will find out in a hurry if they are up to the task with a Sept. 8 trip to Baton Rouge, La., to face SEC-favorite LSU. Even if Tech loses that marquee out-of-conference matchup, the Hokies should be in good shape for a spot in a BCS Bowl.
Best player: KR Eddie Royal. Royal could leave Virginia Tech as the school's career leader in both return categories. He's 31 yards short of the punt return yardage record and 388 yards short of the kickoff return record.

Grade the units:
K: B. Fifth-year senior Jud Dunleavy has game experience on kickoffs but not field goals or extra points.
P: C. New punter Brent Bowden has no game experience.
KR: A. The speedy Royal averaged 22.7 yards per return in this category.
PR: A. Royal set a career high with 13.2 yards per return last year.

Breaking down the coaching

Overview: Few schools have as much consistency in the coaching staff, especially at the top, as Virginia Tech. Frank Beamer is entering his 20th season at the school. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster has been in Blacksburg just as long. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring has been a full-time assistant at Tech since 1993. The major upheaval came last year when four new assistants were added to the staff. No changes were made going into 2007.

Grade the coaches:
Head coach: A. Beamer is the longest tenured coach not named Paterno or Bowden, but Beamer has his team in the best shape for a national championship for 2007.
Offense: B. Stinespring needs to find more options in the offense beyond Branden Ore. How will Sean Glennon fare in his second season as a starter?
Defense: A. Under coordinator Bud Foster, Virginia Tech is the first team since 1986-87 Oklahoma to lead the nation in yards allowed per game in consecutive seasons.

Special teams: A. Beamerball continues to give Virginia Tech an edge in special teams.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.

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