After a 7-6 campaign that marked Virginia Tech's least successful season in over 20 years, the pressure is on the Hokies to pick the program back up and restore it to where it was before last season.
Virginia Tech hired three new assistant coaches in January as a step towards getting back, but it will be on the players to control what happens on the field.
In preparation for what will be an important 2013 campaign, we cast our votes for the 13 most important players to a successful season. This includes all aspects of the game, both offensively and defensively, but also special teams, like kicking and return.
Players received 13 points for each first place vote, 12 points for each second place vote, etc. In a case of a tie, the players voted on by more staff members won the tie-breaker. If both players had been voted on by the same number of staff members, the next tie-breaker is which player had the highest vote by a staff member.
One of the speediest guys on the roster, it might be hard to believe that Knowles has still only played organized football for a few years. Knowles is raw, but he's getting better.
He made a splash in the season-opener against Georgia Tech last season, when he hauled in a go-ahead touchdown late in the game. But while that might have been the season highlight for Knowles, he still was effective when he got the ball, with 19 catches for 240 yards.
With last season's top receivers, Marcus Davis and Corey Fuller, graduated, Knowles will play a huge role in keeping the aerial attack viable. That's especially true with the uncertainty of senior D.J. Coles bouncing back from injury. Even with only 19 catches and just a redshirt sophomore, Knowles will still be one of the most experienced receivers for the Hokies and will have to play like it this fall.
Doug Bowman, senior writer
The Hokies need help at receiver and one of the few guys they have that have had some success is Knowles. The speedster caught a huge touchdown pass against Georgia Tech last season, and the Hokies will need him to stretch the field using that speed in 2013.
While he could be deadly on those straight fly routes, I think he could also become a factor on the intermediate routes over the middle as well.
Because of Coles' knee injury and the inexperience of all the other receivers, Knowles is the surest best to be a factor in the offense in 2013. He's extremely fast, but still needs some seasoning as a receiver, so this is also one of Aaron Moorehead's biggest and earliest tests in his Virginia Tech coaching career.
Mike Stancik, staff writer
The expected starting flanker opposite of Coles, Knowles' impeccable speed is enough to make defensive backs think twice before taking a step forward in coverage. Moorehead has been clear that Knowles will have a big opportunity to perform as an all-around wide receiver, and has enormous potential if he fulfills those expectations.
Not only is Knowles a threat at receiver, but is also capable of breaking the big one on kick returns. Six catches for 83 yards and a 93-yard kickoff return touchdown against UNC was a glimpse of the impact Knowles could have for this team. It's just a matter of putting it together on a consistent basis.