August 16, 2009

Can Virginia Tech win ACC without Evans?

At the College Football Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the college football coverage staff for his opinion about a topic in the sport.

TODAY'S QUESTION: Virginia Tech starting tailback Darren Evans blew out his knee this week and will miss the season. Can the Hokies win the ACC without him?

Obviously, losing a 1,000-yard tailback is a blow that weakens Virginia Tech. But the Hokies still will be a strong contender for another ACC championship. The defense remains stout and quarterback Tyrod Taylor figures to be better than a year ago. Even without Evans, Tech has an experienced offense. Evans was the best running back on the roster, but the others are at least serviceable. The Hokies might have to struggle to win, but with Taylor and that defense, they will win most of those struggles.


I still think the Hokies can win the ACC. A big reason is because they will have a tremendous defense. While Evans was a rising star, he wasn't the key player on Tech's offense. I think that guy is quarterback Tyrod Taylor. The Hokies' inability to get consistently good play under center has kept the program from being a national title contender for most of this decade. But Taylor showed flashes last season of developing into a difference-maker en route to leading Tech to the ACC title. One last reason for optimism in Blacksburg: The ACC still isn't loaded with great teams.


Evans' loss means Virginia Tech's slim national championship hopes are gone and its hopes for a third consecutive ACC title take a hit. But his absence won't prevent the Hokies from winning the conference title. Virginia Tech already has proved it doesn't need a standout offense to win the league. The Hokies have won the ACC in each of the past two seasons despite finishing 100th or worse nationally in total offense both seasons. What the injury means is that Tech can't tolerate another subpar season from its quarterbacks. Ryan Williams, a former four-star prospect, and Josh Oglesby will hold down the running back position, but Tyrod Taylor must figure out how to be a capable passer.


The loss of a 1,000-yard rusher obviously hurts, but if Tech can take a hit like that at any position, it's running back. Redshirt freshman Ryan Williams is more explosive than Evans and would've seen a lot of action anyway. Now Williams has to prove he can be the feature back. There's adequate depth behind Williams, too, with Kenny Lewis, touted true freshman David Wilson and Josh Oglesby. Plus, quarterback Tyrod Taylor is a big-time rushing threat. The Hokies' offensive emphasis still will be the ground game, even without Evans. When the Hokies are good, they win with defense and a strong ground game. They will win the ACC this season with that formula, even without Evans.


Evans' loss is a major blow, but the Hokies certainly can win the ACC title without him. In fact, I'd still consider the Hokies the ACC favorites, though this injury gives Coastal Division rivals Georgia Tech, North Carolina and Miami more reason for optimism. Evans was Tech's best offensive player, but an injury to quarterback Tyrod Taylor would have proved more devastating. Virginia Tech lacks depth at quarterback but should have enough firepower to withstand Evans' loss. Redshirt freshman Ryan Williams signed with Virginia Tech as the No. 47 prospect in the 2008 recruiting class and had generated plenty of hype with his performance in spring practice. Williams might not match Evans' 2008 total of 1,265 rushing yards, but it wouldn't be a surprise if he reaches the 1,000-yard mark. The Hokies also return Josh Oglesby and welcome true freshman David Wilson, the No. 40 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. These running backs lack experience, but they don't lack talent. Virginia Tech has a legitimate shot at winning the ACC title with these guys in the backfield, though Evans' absence could prevent the Hokies from living up to their No. 7 preseason ranking.

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