This isn't the typical Virginia Tech team, but it still ought to produce typical Virginia Tech results.
Virginia Tech has relied mainly on defense to win at least 10 games in each of the past six seasons, but this season the Hokies may need to rely more on their offense.
Ryan Williams and Darren Evans give Virginia Tech one of the nation's top running back tandems, but the defense has only one healthy player on the front seven who made at least six starts last season.
The offense will need to come up big early in the season as the defense takes time to develop. Virginia Tech's track record suggests the defense will come around soon. Don't be surprised if the defense is leading the way again by the time the Hokies enter a crucial November swing against their top ACC Coastal Division rivals.
Here's a look at where Virginia Tech stands heading into the 2010 season.
THE SCHEME: Virginia Tech uses multiple formations in a run-oriented attack. The Hokies ran the ball nearly 70 percent of the time last season.
STAR POWER: The Hokies have one of the nation's most star-studded backfields. Darren Evans set an ACC freshman rushing record with 1,265 yards two years ago. When Evans tore his anterior cruciate ligament last year, Ryan Williams stepped in as a redshirt freshman and broke his teammate's record by rushing for 1,655 yards and 21 touchdowns. The biggest name of all might be senior QB Tyrod Taylor, who owns a 23-5 record as a starter. Taylor's a dangerous runner who emerged as one of the nation's most improved passers last season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: The Hokies will find a way to get redshirt freshman Logan Thomas on the field, though his position remains uncertain. Thomas is competing with Ju-Ju Clayton for the backup quarterback job, but he also has the skills to play tight end. Thomas arrived on campus as the No. 71 prospect in the 2009 recruiting class. He threw for 20 touchdowns as a senior at Lynchburg (Va.) Brookville High School and caught two touchdown passes in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl.
STRONGEST AREA: Virginia Tech should be able to run the ball on just about anyone. Although the Hokies are losing two starters on the line, it's going to be tough for any defense to slow the trio of Williams, Evans and Taylor. Virginia Tech also has an underrated receiving corps. Jarrett Boykin, Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts combined for 92 receptions last season, and each of them averaged at least 17.7 yards per catch.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Although Virginia Tech returns three starters on the line, the Hokies could have a tough time replacing G Sergio Render and T Ed Wang. Render was a four-year starter, Wang a three-year starter. The Hokies lack depth on the line and at tight end.
THE SCHEME: Virginia Tech runs a 4-3 defense, and coordinator Bud Foster annually has one of the nation's best units.
STAR POWER: CB Rashad Carmichael has the talent to continue Virginia Tech's recent tradition of producing standout cornerbacks. Carmichael picked off six passes last year. T John Graves only made 15 tackles last season as he battled an ankle injury, but the fifth-year senior is one of the leaders of this defense and the only returning starter in the front four.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Redshirt freshman E James Gayle showed promise this spring and should earn playing time as the Hokies look to replace each of their starting ends from last season. Gayle's upside could allow him to work his way into the starting lineup at some point in the season.
STRONGEST AREA: Carmichael and SS Davon Morgan give Virginia Tech two key returnees from a secondary that helped the Hokies rank eighth in the nation in pass efficiency defense. The two new starters in the secondary -- CB Jayron Hosley and FS Eddie Whitley -- have plenty of promise.
BIGGEST PROBLEM: Who's going to rush the passer? Jason Worilds' decision to enter the NFL draft after his junior season leaves the Hokies without any proven ends. The Hokies don't return anyone who had more than 3.5 sacks last season. Virginia Tech also has concerns at linebacker. The only returning starter at linebacker is Barquell Rivers, who is recovering from a ruptured quadriceps tendon that has left his status uncertain for the start of the season.
Tech must break in a new kicker and punter. The front-runner to win the kicking job is Chris Hazley, a fifth-year senior who has never attempted a field goal or an extra point in a game situation. Brian Saunders, another fifth-year senior, is the likely punter. The Hokies' return units are in much better shape. Dyrell Roberts ranked fourth in the nation last season with an average of 31.9 yards per kickoff return. Last season, Hosley became the first Virginia Tech freshman in Frank Beamer's tenure to return a punt for a touchdown. The kick coverage was good last season, but the punt-coverage team could use improvement.
Virginia Tech lost an early season game to the eventual national champion in two of the past three seasons (LSU in 2007, Alabama in 2009). Could Boise State make it three of four? Virginia Tech opens the season Sept. 6 against Boise State at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The rest of the Hokies' non-conference schedule is home games with James Madison, East Carolina and Central Michigan. A three-week stretch late in the year will define Virginia Tech's season. The Hokies play host to host Georgia Tech in a Nov. 4 Thursday night game, then travel to North Carolina and Miami the next two weeks. Virginia Tech also plays at Boston College but doesn't face preseason ACC Atlantic Division favorite Florida State or defending Atlantic champion Clemson.
Virginia Tech's probably the safe pick to win the ACC title for the third time in the past four seasons, but it won't be easy. The Hokies clearly have plenty of questions to answer on defense and special teams. The Coastal Division also has gotten quite a bit stronger since Virginia Tech won its last ACC title in 2008. Miami, North Carolina and defending ACC champion Georgia Tech have reason to believe they can finish ahead of the Hokies. But the presence of the ACC's best coaching staff and one of the nation's top offensive backfields should give Virginia Tech the edge. Virginia Tech won't challenge for a national title, but it should be good enough to earn a BCS bid. The call here is the Hokies go 11-3 and get back to the Orange Bowl after beating Florida State in the ACC championship game.