BLACKSBURG, Virginia — High expectations have returned at Virginia Tech.
The Hokies, coming off their third consecutive mediocre season by program standards, will start the season with what coach Shane Beamer calls the biggest game in Lane Stadium history. Virginia Tech hosts defending national champion Ohio State on Labor Day night, and the challenge has added another dimension to the Hokies' preparation.
Virginia Tech handed the Buckeyes their only loss last season, 35-21 in Columbus, Ohio.
"When you start out with a team like Ohio State, your preparation is probably a little more intense," said Frank Beamer, who is still recovering from throat surgery and entering his 29th season at his alma mater. "Then, after the game, you know more about your football team. They bring it out if you have a weakness. They're very solid on their team, so it'll come out."
The Hokies look pretty solid, too. They are led by quarterback Michael Brewer and what figures to be another stout Bud Foster defense.
Brewer started all 13 games last season as the Hokies finished 7-6, throwing for 18 touchdowns with 15 interceptions, but has improved entering his second season under offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler.
"Last year, between every play, there was a discussion," Loeffler said. "Now they aren't discussions." That's an indication Brewer and the other quarterbacks are on the same page as their play-calling coach.
"The mistakes we've seen in the past have slowly diminished, which is exciting," Loeffler said.
The quarterbacks expect to lead a balanced attack.
Tight end Bucky Hodges and wide receivers Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillps all caught at least 40 passes last season. Senior J.C. Coleman leads a handful of running backs of varying styles who all have significant experience.
On defense, Foster has at least eight linemen who will rotate into the lineup, and the return of cornerback Brandon Facyson from a broken leg bolsters a secondary that also features All-American Kendall Fuller.
"If we play like we look, we've got a chance to be pretty good defensively," Foster said. "I feel really good about this group. At the same time, you've got to bring it every day. You've got to bring that lunch-pail mentality every day. By the time you think you've arrived, you're going to get your tail whooped."
Defensive end Dadi Nicolas is among those that can't wait for the games to begin.
"It's about to be a special year from A to Z," he said.
Some thing to watch with the Hokies this season:
BREW CREW: Brewer was brilliant at times last season, and mystifyingly bad at others. He said he now sometimes knows what play is going to be called even before he's finished receiving the signal from the sidelines. How he manages to execute those plays will go a long way toward determining how successful the Hokies will be in 2015. He also needs to stay healthy because there's no one else with significant playing experience on the Hokies' roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Right guard Augie Conte said the Hokies' standard on the offensive line hasn't been up to par in recent years, and Loeffler said he hopes to have eight lineman that he'll feel comfortable putting into games by the start of the season. That's still not as many as he would like, but more than he's had in his previous two seasons.
BIG STAGE: The hype leading up to the opener with the Buckeyes will be huge, but the Hokies have played a lot of big games to open the season. Frank Beamer said while the stage is great for the program, it's also important not to place too much importance on one game, or the outcome, because there is still an entire season to play.
LINEBACKERS: The only question marks on the defense are in the middle and at safety. The dismissal of C.J. Reavis left a hole at rover, and Foster thinks freshman Adonis Alexander could eventually play in what will be a committee approach. Safety Chuck Clark was voted the team's defensive MVP at the end of spring practice.
Follow Hank on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr