BLACKSBURG, Va. -- A few miles west of Interstate 81. A few miles east of the Appalachians. It's tucked away, this stone fortress of a school.
So it's no wonder the Virginia Tech Hokies' spring drills could come and go without much notice from a national audience. Maybe they will again have to earn that attention, too, after several bridesmaid-but-never-the-bride seasons in the ACC. But the Hokies, tough-luck Sugar Bowl losers, really weren't all that far from BCS title contention a year ago. That's why they might be something of a sleeper in 2012.
Figuring out the Clemson Tigers would certainly go a long way toward validating whether that's true, because the 2011 version of Tech never did. Those close to the program have said that last year's start of Appalachian State, East Carolina, Arkansas State and Marshall did not properly prepare the team for Clemson -- especially how physical the Tigers were up front defensively. The result was a stinging 23-3 home loss.
The Hokies don't travel to Clemson until Oct. 20. By then, they will have played the opener against Georgia Tech and a road game at Pittsburgh. So there shouldn't be a lack of preparedness or toughness.
Ten starters, including All-ACC corner Kyle Fuller, return for a Hokies defense that registered 41 sacks and 23 takeaways in 2011. Only four starters are back on offense, but one is quarterback Logan Thomas, who is increasingly becoming a hot name in draft circles. The fact that Thomas is 6-foot-6 and 262 pounds is the chief reason analysts such as ESPN Insider Mel Kiper are forecasting him as a high first-round selection.
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