Justin Fuente's first season as the coach at Virginia Tech could hardly have ended better.
The No. 18 Hokies (10-4) rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat Arkansas 35-24 in the Belk Bowl , their largest comeback since 1987. They also got back to their once-standard 10-win plateau.
''I'm not saying that we've arrived or that we're back. I'm not saying any of those things, but for this season and that group, they worked toward getting Virginia Tech back some of the recognition and the way Virginia Tech has been thought of,'' Fuente said, speaking of the team's seniors.
It had been a class that saw a string of eight 10-win seasons end when some were redshirting freshmen five years ago.
It had been a class that needed a victory in the final regular season game three times in the previous four years to keep a now-24-year bowl streak alive.
It had been the class that saw Frank Beamer step down as coach.
Now, though, it might well be the class that elevated the Hokies back into the nation's elite thanks to a smooth transition to Fuente, the addition of transfer quarterback Jerod Evans and a stout Bud Foster defense.
It was, no doubt, exactly the scenario athletic director Whit Babcock envisioned when hiring Fuente.
But Fuente, the ACC's coach of the year, said there won't be much time for celebrating.
The coach said starting Friday the team will be completely different.
''Each season is different, and I think it helps with your culture and it helps you go that way, but we are going to have some huge holes to fill,'' he said.
Those holes include three significant contributors on the defensive line that sacked Arkansas' Austin Allen six times in the second half, two on the offensive line and Sam Rogers, the former walk-on fullback and team leader.
Evans, however, will be back, as will most if not all of the skill players that helped him account for a school-record 41 touchdowns (29 passing, 12 rushing), including two passing and two running in the bowl game.
The quarterback also demonstrated impressive decision-making, throwing just eight interceptions this season. But Evans said it was the defense, which also forced four second-half turnovers, that sparked the comeback in the bowl game with repeated big plays.
''You could obviously tell on the sidelines it was emotional when we got picks and turnovers, and when we got touchdowns,'' Evans said. ''Definitely the emotions were not the same emotions, if that makes sense.''
It was, Fuente said, a great way to finish his first season with the Hokies.
''I'm not surprised that these kids went out and won games,'' Fuente said. ''I didn't know how many it would be. I didn't know which games we'd win and which games we wouldn't win. I didn't know how all that was going to go. But I'm not surprised, after getting to know all the guys in our locker room, that they'd have success.''
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