With the Virginia Tech football program opening voluntary workouts, there appear to be eyes on a 2020 college football season – although whether/when it happens and how it might look remains unclear. With that, now seems like a good time to provide a reset of the roster. Let’s kick off the process with the most important position on the field – quarterback.
Starter: Hendon Hooker
It seems difficult to imagine that anyone will unseat Hooker atop the quarterback position. As a redshirt sophomore, he took the starting job leading up to the Miami game, accounted for four touchdowns in that game, and never looked back.
Over the course of the season, Hooker completed 61.1 percent of his passes for 1,555 yards with only two interceptions in 10 games (eight starts), adding 352 rushing yards and 18 total touchdowns. He completed at least 50 percent of his passes in all eight of his starts, didn’t throw an interception until the regular season finale against Virginia, and won six of his starts – with his only two losses coming in the waning moments of games that the Hokies scored 30 points in.
Now a fourth-year junior, Hooker enters the season as an established dual-threat weapon near the top of his position group within the ACC. Former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd has taken notice, and anyone else who hasn’t noticed how well Hooker has played probably should.
The biggest element of his game that he could stand to improve is his balance as a passer. While his abilities as a runner makes him dangerous on checkdowns – since backs and tight ends are often almost viewed as blockers, assuming Hooker will tuck the ball and run – he hasn’t had the same success when throwing to wide receivers. Still, there’s no debating who QB1 is in Blacksburg
Top Backups: Quincy Patterson and Braxton Burmeister
Here’s where the competition gets more interesting. Patterson ascended to the No. 2 role as a redshirt freshman over the course of last season, even starting – and nearly winning – against Notre Dame in early November. Of course, his most memorable game thus far is certainly the five-overtime thriller against North Carolina, in which he ran for 122 yards with two touchdowns (one on the ground and one through the air).
Patterson showed a key developmental step in 2019, as he improved from being a run-only option in blowout games in 2018 to a true quarterback – although still a more dynamic runner than passer. His completion percentage (37.8 percent) wasn’t where it needs to be, but 257 yards on 37 pass attempts isn’t bad, and he tossed two touchdowns against only one interception. He also chipped in 241 yards and two scores as a ball carrier, a substantial uptick compared to the prior year.
What’s unclear is whether Patterson will remain QB2 or if Oregon transfer Braxton Burmeister might jump ahead of him on the depth chart.
Much like Hooker and Patterson entering last season, Burmeister hasn’t had a chance to showcase much at the collegiate level yet. He was stuck behind Justin Herbert, the sixth overall pick in the most recent NFL draft. A former four-star recruit, Burmeister is in many ways a lot like Tech’s other top quarterbacks – he carried the ball nearly as many times (71) as he threw it (87) at Oregon.
While at Oregon, Burmeister didn’t have as much success as a runner as Patterson has for the Hokies, but he was a more accurate passer – although his yards per attempt weren’t spectacular.
By all accounts, Justin Fuente is a big fan of Burmeister. Whether that means he cracks the two-deep depth chart remains to be seen. Either way, he’s a cut above the rest of the position group, and he’ll have two years of eligibility remaining.
It seems reasonable to expect both of these quarterbacks to get occasional on-field reps, either in planned packages or in mop-up duty in blowout games. Not only does that help their development and allow the team to get something out of them in the short term, but it also makes a statement about their importance to the program – likely making the players less inclined to transfer.
Reserves: Knox Kadum and Trevor Jackson
Although having either Kadum or Jackson on the field would likely be suboptimal for the Hokies, at least they each have a year (albeit a redshirt year) in the system now. Kadum in particular seems to have some level of developmental upside, but 2020 appears to be too soon for him, in terms of his own merit and space within the depth chart.
All told, the quarterback room seems rather strong. This may be the best hand Justin Fuente has ever had to work with at Virginia Tech – from gifted returning starter to a proven backup and truly talented third option. That should make anyone with vested interest in the program feel relatively comfortable about the upcoming season.