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10 Virginia Tech While the Hokies reload at quarterback, the veteran defense will take care of business

The tension in the conference room at Philadelphia's Cardinal
O'Hara High last January was palpable after Parade All-America
running back Kevin Jones arrived to announce his college choice.
"Right now, my decision is...not Penn State," said Jones,
tossing a Nittany Lions jersey on the table in front of him. "My
decision is Virginia Tech." By signing Jones, the nation's
top-rated player according to SuperPrep, and Bryan Randall, a
blue-chip quarterback out of Bruton High in Williamsburg, Va.,
the Hokies served notice that they can recruit with the top dogs.

Now they have to show that they can hang with the elite
programs. After leading Virginia Tech to back-to-back 11-1
seasons, quarterback Michael Vick left following his sophomore
season to become the first player selected in April's NFL draft.
His departure created a two-man battle for the job in spring
practice. The winner appears to be junior Grant Noel, whose
leadership skills give him an edge over redshirt freshman Jason
Davis, but Randall, who both rushed and passed for more than
1,000 yards in each of his last two high school seasons, will
get a look this month. "The question with quarterbacks, and Vick
was no exception, is always, How will they perform when it
counts?" says coach Frank Beamer.

The same uncertainty applies to the line, which has only one
starter returning. "I know the coaches will bring the line
together," says junior running back Lee Suggs. "They've done it
before." Last season Suggs ran behind a group of hosses that
helped spring him for a Big East-leading 1,207 yards rushing and
a national-best 28 touchdowns.

The anchor of this team, however, is a defense that has nine
starters back and is good enough to carry the Hokies into the
regular-season finale against Miami undefeated. Wideout Andre
Davis, for one, is thrilled by the prospect. "When I came here, I
thought we'd get a few games on national TV," he says. "Now we're
a program that's up there with Florida State, Florida and
Nebraska. People think we're going to be weaker without Michael
Vick. Any team that thinks that has another think coming."

--John O'Keefe

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Ben Taylor (40) and Co. were the Beasts of the East last fall, and nine of those defensive starters return.


2000 record: 11-1 (6-1, 2nd in Big East)
Final ranking: No. 6 AP, No. 6 coaches' poll


Rushing touchdowns by the Hokies last season, ranking them first
in the nation.

An opposing team's coach sizes up the Hokies

"They'll have a drop-off [in experience], but it may not hurt
them. The easy schedule will allow the quarterbacks to develop.
However, they lost four of five starting offensive linemen, and
that's what I wonder about.... Freshman running back Kevin Jones
can help them now. He ripped up the Big 33 [high school
all-star] game.... They talk about linebacker Ben Taylor on
defense, but the two inside guys, Chad Beasley and David Pugh,
make it hard for us to run against them."

Strength: 58th of 117

22 at Rutgers
Oct. 6 at West Virginia
Nov. 3 at Pittsburgh
10 at Temple
17 at Virginia
Dec. 1 MIAMI