Appalachian St.-Virginia Tech Preview
By KATE HEDLIN
(AP) -- Virginia Tech has been one of the ACC's most consistent teams since joining the conference in 2004, and a new quarterback has done little to temper expectations in Blacksburg.
The No. 13 Hokies open the season by hosting upset-minded Appalachian State on Saturday, trying to avoid a repeat of last year's stunning home loss to another FCS team.
The biggest change for Virginia Tech entering 2011 will be under center, where Logan Thomas takes over for Tyrod Taylor, the 2010 conference player of the year and the program's all-time yardage leader.
Thomas completed 12 of 26 passes for 107 yards last year. While inexperienced, Thomas has similar mobility to Taylor, who ran for 659 yards and five touchdowns in 2010.
At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Thomas is bigger and has drawn comparisons to Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton.
"We feel great about Logan," coach Frank Beamer said. "Tyrod was such a great player ... but I think Logan's got a lot of those same qualities (as Taylor). He's also about four inches taller. I think he can be good. ... He's a guy you want leading your football team."
It should help that Thomas will have a veteran cast around him. The Hokies return their top two receivers in Jarrett Boykin (847 yards and six touchdowns) and Danny Coale (732 yards, three TDs).
Boykin is one of four players in school history with more than 2,000 yards receiving. With 2,123, he is 150 yards shy of breaking Ricky Scales' school record and needs four catches to set a team mark for receptions.
The running game is more of an unknown, as the Hokies lost Darren Evans and Ryan Williams, meaning three of the team's top four rushers including Taylor are gone. Speedy new starting tailback David Wilson rushed for 619 yards and five touchdowns in 2010, and he'll be expected to power the ground attack.
The Hokies have qualified for - and won - three of the past four ACC title games and have had seven straight seasons with 10 wins or more. Virginia Tech might have been in the national title conversation last year if not for a stunning 0-2 start, which included a 21-16 defeat to James Madison in its home opener.
The Hokies responded by reeling off 11 straight wins before losing 40-12 to Stanford in the Orange Bowl.
"The Orange Bowl left a sour taste in our mouth," safety Eddie Whitley said.
Amid the changes on offense, the biggest goal for Virginia Tech this season may be to improve on the other side of the ball. The Hokies ranked 52nd in the nation with 361.5 yards allowed per game after ranking no lower than 12th the previous six years.
The defense should receive a test against Appalachian State, winner of at least a share of six straight Southern Conference titles. The Mountaineers went 10-3 last year, their sixth straight season with at least 10 victories.
Appalachian State lost 48-10 to Florida on Nov. 20 in its most recent meeting with an FBS opponent, and is 7-38-1 versus the FBS - the most notable win coming in the season opener at then-No. 5 Michigan in 2007.
DeAndre Presley returns as starting quarterback for the Mountaineers after a solid season. He completed 61.2 percent of his passes for 2,631 yards and 21 touchdowns, while rushing for 1,039 yards and 13 scores.
Appalachian State averaged 430.8 yards of offense in 2010, with 217.4 coming on the ground.
This will be the fourth meeting between the schools and first since 1982. Virginia Tech has won all three games.
Updated August 30, 2011