MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 04: Josh Jackson #17 of the Virginia Tech Hokies looks on during a game Miami Hurricanes at Hard Rock Stadium on November 4, 2017 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Our 10th annual Top 25 countdown: No. 16 Virginia Tech’s chances hang on up-and-down Josh Jackson

The Hokies saw key parts of their defense get drafted, so a steady season from their sophomore quarterback would go a long way.

Posted July 13th, 2018

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Sure, it’s July. But it’s never too early to talk college football. Here’s your daily fix — our annual countdown of the preseason Top 25, as selected by the American-Statesman sports staff. Last year’s eventual CFP semifinalists were ranked Nos. 1, 5, 8 and 14 on our 2017 list.

Our Top 25 — so far:

No. 25: Texas is building — but are we there yet, are we there yet?

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No. 24: LSU has a tough schedule, questions at key spots

No. 23: Oregon welcomes a new coach — again and again and again

No. 22: Central Florida is out to go unbeaten (ahem, again)

No. 21: There’s a new coach, offense and direction for Florida State

No. 20: Their big names gone, USC is reloading … or is that rebuilding?

No. 19: For West Virginia, when there’s a Will there’s a way

No. 18: For Boise State, the Mountain West sky is the limit

No. 17: Mississippi State is breaking in a new head coach

Today’s team: No. 16 Virginia Tech

The Hokies’ best-case scenario: Virginia Tech has plenty of key offensive players back from a team that averaged 373 yards per game to have another successful season. If sophomore quarterback Josh Jackson shows improvement and the defense is able to replace several key players, the Hokies are looking at a 9-3 or 8-4 season and a mid-tier bowl game.

Their worst-case scenario: The defense must find replacements to make a reasonable run for ACC title honors. Jackson was highly ineffective in the final month of the 2017 season — 2 TDs, 5 INTs after October — and he’ll need to get off to a good start to give his teammates confidence. If he doesn’t, a team that has been to a bowl game 25 straight years — the highest current streak among NCAA Division I teams — will be challenged to reach No. 26. (Florida State has played in 36 straight bowl games but the NCAA vacated FSU’s victory in the 2006 Emerald Bowl against UCLA over academic issues).

RELATED COVERAGE: Hokies at Year 3 under Fuente — patience, process, progress

RELATED COVERAGE: Taking a look at the commitments, halfway to signing day

Inside the Hokies

Coach: Justin Fuente (third year, 19-8; 45-31 overall at Memphis and Virginia Tech)

2017: 9-4, 5-3 in the ACC (lost to Oklahoma State 30-21 in the Camping World Bowl)

Returning starters: 7 offense, 5 defense

Goodbye: LB Tremaine Edmunds (1st round, Bills); S Terrell Edmunds (1st, Steelers); DT Tim Settle (5th, Redskins); CB Greg Stroman (7th, Redskins)

Spring cleaning: Defensive tackle Vinny Mihota, who tore his ACL against Pitt last fall, returns with a big job. Hes expected to replace Tim Settle, who left school early and was chosen by the Washington Redskins in the fifth round of the NFL draft. … Look for rising redshirt sophomore Phil Patterson to have a breakout season. He impressed during the annual spring game, catching five passes for 86 yards. … Redshirt senior Kyle Chung, who has been shifted from guard to center, is on the watch list for the Rimington Trophy, awarded to the country’s best center. … Defensive coordinator Bud Foster returns with three of the four defensive linemen who helped the Hokies rank 15th against the rush last season. … Unfortunately the Hokies lose top cornerback Adonis Alexander, who has been ruled academically ineligible. He applied for the NFL supplemental draft.

Defensive end Trevon Hill (94) of the Virginia Tech Hokies celebrates following a defensive play against the Duke Blue Devils in the first half at Lane Stadium on October 28, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Hill tied for the team lead in sacks in 2017. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

Returning leaders

PASSING: Josh Jackson, 236-396-2,991, 20/9 (1st)

RUSHING: Deshawn McClease, 108-530-3 (1st); QB Josh Jackson, 124-324-6 (3rd); Steven Peoples, 70-267-2 (4th); Jalen Holston, 70-226-3 (5th)

RECEIVING: Sean Savoy, 39-454-4 (2nd); Eric Kumah, 28-324-2 (3rd)

TACKLES: DB Reggie Floyd, 72 (3rd); DB Mook Reynolds, 70 (4th)

SACKS: DL Trevon Hill, 5.5 (T-1st); DL Ricky Walker, 4.5 (3rd)

INTERCEPTIONS: DB Reggie Floyd, 3 (2nd)

Returning All-ACC players (1)

Offense: None

Defense: DL Ricky Walker (hon. mention)

FYI

Jekyll-and-Hyde Josh: Which Jackson is Virginia Tech going to get? Last year he threw 17 touchdowns against four interceptions through October but was ineffective down the stretch. Considering he was only a redshirt freshman, the Hokies are confident he has the demeanor and talent to upgrade his value during his sophomore season.

Fresh hands: The Hokies are eager to welcome wide receiver Damon Hazelton, who transferred from Ball State after the 2016 season and sat out 2017. As a freshman, he was among his team’s leaders in receptions (51) and receiving yards (505) while adding four touchdowns. Virginia Tech could have one of the youngest set of receivers in the country if four-star recruits Tre Turner and Darryle Simmons crack the rotation as freshmen.

Beamer honored: Former Coach Frank Beamer, who retired after the 2015 season, was inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame in April. Beamer, 71, is tied with Mack Brown for ninth place on college football’s all-time wins list (234) and is still at Virginia Tech in the position of special assistant to the athletic director, focusing on athletic development and advancement.

2017 national rankings

Scoring: 69th (28.2 ppg) — right above No. 70 Georgia Tech, right behind Nos. 67 Nevada, Louisiana-Lafayette

Points allowed: 4th (14.8 ppg) — right above No. 5 Washington, right behind No. 3 Wisconsin

Passing: 57th (239.5 ypg) — right above No. 58 Fresno State, right behind No. 56 Marshall

Rushing: 54th (173.4 ypg) — right above No. 55 Louisiana Tech, right behind No. 53 TCU

Total offense: 53rd (412.8 ypg) — right above No. 54 LSU, right behind No. 52 Utah

Total defense: 13th (319.3 ypg) — right above No. 14 Auburn, right behind No. 12 LSU

Defensive coordinator Bud Foster of the Virginia Tech Hokies reacts following an interception by cornerback Greg Stroman (3) against the Pittsburgh Panthers in the second half at Lane Stadium on Nov. 18, 2017 in Blacksburg, Virginia. Stroman was drafted in the 7th round by the Washington Redskins. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)

The schedule

DATEOPPONENTLAST YR'S RESULT (IF PLAYED)
Sept. 3 (7 p.m., ESPN)at Florida State*
Sept. 8 (1 p.m., ACC)William & Mary
Sept. 15 (11:20 a.m., ACC)East CarolinaW, 64-17
Sept. 22 (2:30 p.m.)at Old DominionW, 38-0
Sept. 29at Duke*W, 24-3
Oct. 6Notre Dame
Oct. 13at North Carolina*W, 59-7
Oct. 25 (6:30 p.m., ESPN)Georgia Tech*L, 28-22
Nov. 3Boston College*W, 23-10
Nov. 10at Pittsburgh*W, 20-14
Nov. 17Miami*L, 28-10
Nov. 23Virginia*W, 10-0
* ACC game

The key game: Nov. 17, Miami. Beating the toughest conference opponent on the schedule would make the season a major success.

The last 5 years

YEARW-L (CONF.)RANKINGSBOWL, RESULT
20138-5 (5-3)— / —Sun, L
20147-6 (3-5)— / —Military, W
20157-6 (4-4)— / —Independence, W
201610-4 (6-2)— / —Belk, W
20179-4 (5-3)21st / 24thCamping World, L
Total41-25 (23-17 ACC)3-2 in bowls

Note: Ranks are that year’s preseason/final ranking

Our Top 25, by conferences

2 schools:

ACC — No. 16 Virginia Tech, No. 21 Florida State

SEC — No. 17 Mississippi State, No. 24 LSU

Big 12 — No. 19 West Virginia, No. 25 Texas

Pac-12 — No. 20 USC, No. 23 Oregon

1 school:

Mountain West — No. 18 Boise State

AAC —  No. 22 Central Florida

Coming tomorrow: Our No. 15 team

Want a hint?

It was against this school in 2013 that Tyrone Swoopes made his Texas debut at quarterback.

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