Virginia Tech was a surprise winner of the ACC championship last season. With Marcus Vick back on board, a league title isn’t the only one within this team’s grasp.
Favored to reach the first ACC title game, the No. 8 Hokies will see if the troubled Vick can perform up to his brother’s standard as they try to avenge their only 2004 conference loss in Saturday’s season opener against North Carolina State.
The pressure couldn’t get much greater on Vick.
Besides taking over an offense expected to be one of the nation’s best, he’s following in the footsteps of Virginia Tech great Michael Vick, while looking to win favor with many players and fans he disappointed with his legal troubles.
“I always said this about Michael and I believe it to be true about Marcus: As talented as Michael was, I think the best thing was that he was so competitive,” Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.
“The tighter it got, the rougher it got, he was at his best. I think Marcus will do the same thing and he’s probably going to get a chance to prove it pretty quickly.”
Vick faces a tough test right off the bat, taking on a North Carolina State team that led Division I-A in total defense last year and appears loaded again. The Wolfpack had 10 sacks in beating the Hokies 17-16 at Blacksburg last season.
Virginia Tech followed that defeat by winning eight straight, including a 16-10 road victory over Miami to take the ACC crown. The Hokies had been picked to finish sixth in the preseason.
That was when the ACC had 11 teams, but with Boston College joining this season, the league has separated into two divisions and will have a conference championship game. Virginia Tech has been picked to make that contest by winning the Coastal Division, more than doubling the first-place votes given to runner-up Miami.
“We accomplished a lot,” defensive end Darrell Tapp said of last season. “This year, we haven’t accomplished anything. It’s only preseason. It’s nice to be honored, but it doesn’t mean anything. We have to go out there and work for it, every day from when practice starts until we play N.C. State.”
There may be no one who has to work harder for it than Vick.
He was suspended from the university for the 2004 fall semester after being arrested for drinking with underage girls, and later pleaded guilty to reckless driving and no contest to marijuana possession after a traffic stop last summer. Vick was cleared to re-enroll in school in January, and won the starting quarterback job in spring practice.
“We just need him,” senior tailback Cedric Humes said. “He needed to prove to me that he would be here, wouldn’t get in any more trouble and miss any games.
“We can’t afford to not have him.”
Vick, who will be making his first collegiate start, completed 30 of 57 passes for 475 yards, two touchdowns and five interceptions as Bryan Randall’s backup two years ago.
The team’s top five receivers from last season are all back—speedsters Eddie Royal, Josh Morgan and David Clowney along with rugged wideout Josh Hyman and bruising tight end Jeff King.
The fleet-footed Vick joins Humes and Mike Imoh to form what could be one of the country’s top rushing attacks. Imoh and Humes combined to rush for 1,325 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.
One of the few ground games that may be as good belongs to N.C. State. Despite losing 2004 leading rusher T.A. McLendon, coach Chuck Amato has a group of tailbacks that includes four Parade All-Americans from high school and a freshman in Toney Baker who rushed for more yards than any prep player in North Carolina history.
Darrell Blackman is the most experienced of the bunch and will start Saturday, but has plenty of teammates waiting to take over.
“He better not slip,” Amato said. “He may not get demoted, but someone might get promoted. We’ve got five No. 2s. They’re all going to get their chance.”
Quarterback Jay Davis returns after finishing second in the ACC with 2,104 passing yards for an N.C. State squad that finished 5-6. The Wolfpack failed to make a postseason bowl for the first time in Amato’s five seasons.
The key to the Wolfpack reaching a bowl, though, is still a defensive unit that features possibly the best pair of ends in the nation with All-ACC first-teamer Mario Williams and second-teamer Manny Lawson. That duo accounted for 13 sacks in 2004.
The Virginia Tech-North Carolina State series dates to 1900, with the Hokies leading 23-18-4. Just six of those meetings have come in the last 40 years, with five being decided by four points or fewer.