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March 12, 2014

In the Coastal Division, Hokies aren't the only contenders answering questions this spring

By: Bill Roth

Mark Leal is one of several candidates vying to replace Logan Thomas at quarterback this spring.

Although Virginia Tech’s 2014 spring football game isn’t until Saturday, April 26, we’re going to learn a whole bunch about this year’s Hokies in the next few weeks as spring drills get underway.

The post-Logan Thomas era begins at Tech, where senior Mark Leal, rising redshirt sophomore Brenden Motley and true freshman Andrew Ford will get first dibs at the quarterback spot. They’ll get the spring reps ahead of incoming rookie Chris Durkin and Hokie-to-be Michael Brewer (who could become the first Texas Tech alum to play quarterback for Virginia Tech).

The latter duo will arrive this summer. While a wide-open quarterback competition excites the fans, it scares the heck out of coaches who have to take an inexperienced quarterback to Ohio State in week two.

The Hokies, like most of the other teams in the ACC, have some serious holes to fill in 2014. A lot of good players graduated, and some other stars left early from this conference. The new names and new faces make the Coastal Division college football’s true “wildcard division” this fall.

For Hokie fans, newcomers, like tailback Marshawn Williams, and the return of tight end Ryan Malleck are encouraging. But with an inexperienced quarterback and some holes on defense, what are Tech’s realistic expectations for this fall?

Five months out, one could make a point that Tech, Miami, Duke, North Carolina or Pittsburgh could be the preseason favorite to win the Coastal Division. Georgia Tech and Virginia … not so much. But the other five teams? Each could get preseason votes to win the division.

This spring is important in Blacksburg, but fans also may want to keep an eye on Coral Gables, Durham, Chapel Hill and Pittsburgh. Here’s a look at the other four:


Last year: 9-4 overall, 5-3 in ACC. Lost to the Hokies 42-24 in Miami Gardens.

What looks good: A roster full of offensive stars with the return of tailback Duke Johnson and receivers Phillip Dorsett, Stacy Coley, and Herb Waters. The ’Canes are going to score points … again.

What concerns coach Al Golden: Miami is replacing quarterback Stephen Morris this spring, and the ’Canes don’t have much defensive depth. They were totally worn out by season’s end last year.

Schedule: Miami has the toughest schedule in the Coastal. The ‘Canes open at Louisville, play at Virginia Tech on a Thursday night, and play host to Florida State as the crossover game. Those three teams beat the ‘Canes 36-9, 42-24 and 41-14 last year.

Spring ball player to watch: Quarterback Ryan Williams.

Little-known fact: Miami has never won the Coastal Division and hasn’t won 10 games since the BIG EAST days back in 2003 under then-coach Larry Coker.


Last year: 10-4 overall, 6-2 in the ACC – and was the Coastal Division champ. The Blue Devils beat Virginia Tech 13-10 at Lane Stadium.

What looks good: All the big names on offense return – quarterbacks Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone, receiver Jamison Crowder and tailback Josh Snead. Duke returns three starters on the offensive line and booming placekicker Ross Martin, who nailed kicks from 51 yards and 53 yards at Lane last year.

What concerns coach David Cutcliffe: Duke gave up a ton of yards last season. In fact, the Blue Devils finished 12th in the ACC in total defense, allowing 418 yards per game.

Schedule: If you’re going to pick Duke to win the division, here’s another reason why: the Blue Devils get both Virginia Tech and North Carolina in Durham and miss Clemson and Florida State in the schedule rotation. That’s a big advantage.

Spring ball player to watch: Duke returns 44 lettermen and 17 starters, including three All-Americans and nine All-ACC picks. The Blue Devils already completed their spring practice, so the player to watch this spring at Duke is Jabari Parker in the NCAA Tournament – and then in the NBA Draft.

Little-known fact: Duke has never played in three straight bowl games. That will change this fall.


Last year: 7-6 overall, 4-4 in the ACC. Lost at Virginia Tech 27-17.

What looks good: The Tar Heels won six of their final seven games last season, and the emergence of quarterback Marquise Williams has North Carolina fans excited about this fall. The Tar Heels are similar to Miami in that they have tons of offensive skill guys returning.

What concerns coach Larry Fedora: Again like Miami, the defense is the question mark. The Tar Heels could not stop the run last season (182.5 yards per game last season – last in the ACC). They were also the second-most penalized team in the league. Defense and discipline are two words you’ll likely hear this spring in Chapel Hill. Some good defensive players (defensive end Kareem Martin and defensive backs Tre Boston and Jabari Price) are gone, too.

Schedule: The Tar Heels play at Clemson this fall in the 2014 conference opener. The Hokies visit the following week at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels will need a split at the very least to win the Coastal.

Spring ball player to watch: Fedora brought in Seth Littrell, Indiana’s co-offensive coordinator the past two seasons, as his new offensive coordinator. Littrell replaced Blake Anderson, who took the head coaching job at Arkansas State. North Carolina will still play fast, though, and a name to watch this spring is tailback Elijah Hood from Charlotte. Hood enrolled early at North Carolina and will go through spring ball.

Little-known fact: Since 2008, North Carolina has had more first-round NFL draft picks than any other ACC school (6). Tight end Eric Ebron is likely to get picked early in this year’s draft as well.


Last year: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in the ACC. Lost at Virginia Tech 19-9.

What looks good: Wide receiver Tyler Boyd. In fact, he looks great.

What concerns coach Paul Chryst: Quarterback Tom Savage and defensive tackle Aaron Donald are gone. Pittsburgh would be a long shot to win the division, and Chryst would admit as much. But the Panthers will certainly help determine who does win the league.

Schedule: Pittsburgh doesn’t play Florida State, Clemson or Louisville this season, which is huge. That’s the same for the Hokies and Duke. The difference? Duke, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech all visit Heinz Field.

Spring ball player to watch: QB Chad Voytik

Little-known fact: Every single point Pittsburgh scored in its 30-27 bowl victory over Bowling Green was scored by a freshman – Boyd, who was a freshman All-American, kicker Chris Blewitt from West Potomac High School in Northern Virginia, and running back James Conner, who rushed for 229 yards in the Panthers’ bowl win.

So now that you have a thumbnail for each team, who’s the favorite in the Coastal?

If you believe in Duke and what Cutcliffe is doing, then the Blue Devils may be your choice. They have two quarterbacks who might be able to start for any other team in the division and a favorable schedule. Plus, Duke has a tremendous kicker in Martin and receiver in Crowder among three All-American players.

If you believe in Tech’s defense, trust the running game will return in 2014 and that the Hokies can get solid quarterback play from one of the five candidates at that position, then it could be the Hokies’ year.

Or, perhaps North Carolina or Miami have solved defensive issues and can make it happen.

Five months out, there is no clear-cut winner here.

Other than Duke, every other Coastal team has a new name at quarterback, running back or kicker, at least for this spring.

New names and fresh faces will make this spring really interesting to watch – all the way from Blacksburg to Coral Gables.