With 12 starters expected to return, including a bevy of skill players on offense, No. 12 Tech (10-3) should open the 2010 season ranked among the nation's top-10 programs. The nonconference schedule — which will include home games against Central Michigan, James Madison and East Carolina and an Oct. 2 game at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., against Boise State — will be a lot less daunting than this season's gauntlet.
"You think about Virginia Tech beating Tennessee and Nebraska in the same year," Beamer said. "I know when I was coming through (Tech in the 1960s), nobody would've dreamed that. Then, you throw in there Miami and a few others. We've had some great wins. We had a couple tough losses, but the kids never changed.
"There's no question we've got some really good players coming back, but that doesn't guarantee anything. That just means that you've got a chance. You've got to develop, and we've got a lot of work to do for next fall."
Much of the attention in the spring will focus on the running-back situation, with record-setting tailback Ryan Williams returning along with Darren Evans coming off a season-ending knee injury, David Wilson and Josh Oglesby. Williams set a school record and Atlantic Coast Conference freshman record with 1,655 rushing yards this season. He took the ACC freshman mark from Evans, who ran for 1,265 yards last season.
With so much talent in the backfield, along with Hampton High product Tyrod Taylor at quarterback and eight of the top nine pass-catchers returning, offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring's unit should continue to progress.
Taylor had 2,311 yards passing, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions this season, after having a combined seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in his first two seasons. He should get to throw to primary targets Jarrett Boykin (40 catches for 835 yards and five touchdowns), Danny Coale and Smithfield High graduate Dyrell Roberts at wide receiver for another season.
After finishing with total-offense rankings of 99th or worse in the nation in the previous three seasons, Stinespring's offense entered the bowl game 57th. The biggest questions for next season will be replacing key components on the line and at tight end.
Andre Smith is in line to replace versatile tight end Greg Boone, who also played quarterback in the last two seasons in Tech's "wild turkey" offense.
Nick Becton and Greg Nosal likely will get the first cracks at replacing left tackle Ed Wang and left guard Sergio Render, respectively. Wang and Render were second-team All-ACC selections this season. The good news is center Beau Warren, Denbigh High product Jaymes Brooks at right guard and right tackle Blake DeChristopher all should be back.
On defense, Tech might look to replace first-team All-ACC and third-team Associated Press All-American linebacker Cody Grimm (team-leading 106 tackles) with Bruce Taylor. In addition, Eddie Whitley or possibly even Antone Exum may get a shot to fill in for free safety Kam Chancellor, a three-year starter.
If defensive end Jason Worilds (4 1/2 sacks this season) decided to make the jump to the NFL, defensive tackle John Graves will be the only returning starter on the defensive line. In that case, tackles Antoine Hopkins, Dwight Tucker and Kwamaine Battle would likely join ends Steven Friday, a Phoebus High product, Chris Drager and possibly Duan Perez-Means as players with increased roles.
At cornerback, Rashad Carmichael (team-high six interceptions) should be back, but Stephan Virgil must be replaced. Whitley, Jayron Hosley and Cris Hill, who started in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in the wake of Virgil's suspension for academic shortcomings, will have to play well during the spring.
As much as Tech must replace on defense, at least it should have five of its top nine tacklers returning, including linebackers Barquell Rivers (96 tackles), Jake Johnson and Lyndell Gibson, Carmichael and Davon Morgan, who took over the starting strong-safety job from Dorian Porch in the last four games. Defensive coordinator Bud Foster's unit came into the bowl game sixth in the nation in passing defense, 11th in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.
Tech has to find fill-ins for Matt Waldron and punter Brent Bowden, both of whom were first-team All-ACC selections this season. Expect open competitions at both positions, but punter Brian Saunders and kickers Justin Myer, Chris Hazley and Cody Journell will be considered.