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2019 Preview: Virginia Tech Needs Turnaround in Justin Fuente’s Fourth Season

The Hokies had their first losing season in 26 years last season, but Justin Fuente's team has the talent to turn things around quickly in 2019.

Our college football 2019 season preview issue is here, which means we're checking in with all 25 teams from SI's official preseason Top 25 ranking. What do you need to know about each of this year's top contenders, from top-ranked Alabama down to Stanford? We'll be rolling out scouting reports for each team over the next two weeks, all of which will be collected here. Next up, it's No. 22 Virginia Tech.


When he took over for Virginia Tech legend Frank Beamer in 2016, coach Justin Fuente was regarded as one of the game's top offensive minds, having revitalized a dormant Memphis program. But he has yet to revive the Hokies, even on the offensive side of the ball: Tech finished outside the nation's top 50 in scoring for a third straight year in 2018, its first losing season since 1992. The turnaround starts with more consistency from QB Ryan Willis, who completed 58.6% of his passes in 2018.


The Hokies' defense also took a big step back last season—ranking 98th in the FBS—but there was one bright spot: junior LB Rayshard Ashby, who led Tech with 105 tackles (tied for third in the ACC). Ashby, who also had 91/2 tackles for a loss, is the stabilizing presence on a young unit.


Can the Hokies return to being a top unit in defensive coordinator Bud Foster's final season? Foster, who established Tech as a defensive power in the 1990s, announced he'll be retiring. In 2018, Foster's unit yielded the most points of his 23-year tenure (31.0 per game)—but it was also among his youngest. Senior safety Reggie Floyd will lead the inexperienced defense.

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One reason quarterback Willis could take a big step forward: wide receiver Tre Turner, who gained 20.6 yards per catch as a freshman. The 6'2", 190-pound former high school standout at point guard—he's the younger brother of former North Carolina basketball player P.J. Hairston—has tremendous jumping ability and breakaway speed; he rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries. Despite limited playing time, Turner tied for fifth in the ACC with seven receptions of 30 yards or more. Willis has an underrated receiving corps, with 6'2", 222-pound Damon Hazelton, a second-team All-ACC pick; and tight end Dalton Keene—but neither of them has Turner's ceiling.


Over 7.5 wins. The Hokies face plenty of questions, but their schedule is extremely favorable: If they get past Boston College in the opener, they could be 7–0 when they head to South Bend in November.


Fuente's third season was a step in the wrong direction, but Virginia Tech has the talent to turn things around quickly. Remember: Frank Beamer went 11–21 over his first three years in Blacksburg.