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What of the Hokies?

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The most significant preseason development in the ACC is (and probably will remain, right through the end of August) Virginia Tech tailback Darren Evans‘ ACL tear.

Obviously, it’s a harsh blow to a guy who ran for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns as a redshirt freshman. There’s no sugarcoating that.

And emotionally, it’s going to sting the Hokies.

But on the field, is it a dealbreaker for a run to an ACC title? Maybe this will constitute an unpopular or insensitive position, but there’s a really good chance it will not prove severely damaging.

Let’s look at the conference’s top seven rushers from 2008, and just what they had to their credit coming into the season.

* Georgia Tech’s Jonathan Dwyer had 82 carries for 436 yards entering his sophomore season.

* Maryland’s Da’Rel Scott had 14 carries for 135 yards entering his redshirt sophomore season.

* Evans had zero career carries, since he was a redshirt freshman.

* Virginia’s Cedric Peerman had 229 carries for 975 yards entering his senior season.

* Boston College’s Montel Harris was a true freshman.

* North Carolina’s Shaun Draughn had zero career carries entering his redshirt sophomore season.

* Miami’s Graig Cooper had 125 carries and 682 yards entering his sophomore season.

So, in short, the average profile of the level of experience for one of last year’s top rushers in the ACC was 64 carries and 318 yards. Three of the seven had no career carries, and a fourth was held to 14 attempts. And six of the seven rushers played on teams that went 7-5 or better in the regular season.

Also, five of those seven guys had at least three offensive line starters back. The two that didn’t – Peerman and Cooper – at least had a veteran tight end returning to complement a pair of offensive line holdovers.

The theme is pretty simple: You can find guys to roll up yards regardless of experience if there’s a functional offensive line in front of them.

Virginia Tech, by the way, has three offensive line starters and a veteran tight end coming back.

So, yes, this stinks for Evans. A lot. There’s no diminishing it.

But in the wider view – beyond simply looking at how Alabama’s defense would likely devour any running back in Virginia Tech’s Sept. 5 opener – the Hokies have plenty of talent.

Maybe this makes it somewhat tougher to haul home a third straight ACC title. Maybe. But I’d be a whole lot more surprised if the Hokies weren’t in the Coastal Division hunt (if not the lead) deep into November than if Josh Oglesby or Ryan Williams or David Wilson emerged as a 900-yard-or-so back.

Patrick Stevens

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