The Era of Brandons

Yes, it's that time again, the most wonderful time of year. The sun starts to set a bit earlier and the sky is just a little bit bluer. Weekends start on Thusday night, and in a little corner of southwest Virginia, the mountains rumble in anticipation. The students are back in school, and football season is once again upon us.

Steeped in the tragedy of the past year, all eyes will be on the campus of green and gray. The football team has a chance to do something special, both in having a great season on the field and in giving the Hokie nation the opportunity to put the events of last April behind us.

When Hokie fans think back to the mid-2000s, they'll think back to an era defined by a bunch of dudes named Brandon. 2007 is no different. Of course, the most famous Brandon of them all is Branden Ore. Emerging from seemingly nowhere last year, he put the team on his back and carried them to victory against Clemson and Miami. Though he started summer practice at the bottom of the depth chart for coming in out of shape, he's once again the starter and ready to go. Depth is a big issue if Ore was to go down with injury as he did at the end of last season. Kenny Lewis, Jr is adequate though I think he's too small to run between the tackles. I'll be keeping my eye on Jahre Cheeseman, someone who reminds me of a smaller Shyrone Stith. I think he takes over the #2 spot as the season goes along.

Perhaps the biggest question-mark on the team is the offensive line. Cue Brandon Holland. Perhaps no unit has struggled as much during a highly successful stretch of seasons than the offensive line. Years and years of recruiting struggles led to the patchwork quilt of last year. VT's woes were typified by man-moutain Brandon Gore (mind the "G"), a huge guy who struggled with his weight and only became a serviceable player in his final year in the program. All signs point to improvement in this seasons line, anchored by super-athlete Duane Brown and super-soph Sergio Render. I'd feel a lot better had Ed Wang not gone down with an injury in the preseason, but I think overall, there's hope for optimism.

Turn to Brandon Flowers, who I consider the best cornerback in VT history. Yes, this includes Fastest Man in the NFL and Bane (Whipping boy?) of Ocho Cinco DeAngelo Hall. Though Flowers isn't the world class athlete Hall is, simply put, he's the most instinctive cornerback ever to don the orange and maroon. He's a one-man microcosm of the entire defense, which for the first time ever, has no weakness. All past VT defenses had weakness, whether it was safety play in 1999 or lack of defensive line depth in 2004. There are no holes this year. Hall and Adibi are ready to show the nation the best linebacker combination in the land. Kam Chancellor and Cam Martin are young but ready to fill the holes at Rover and Whip. They hype is building about the defense, which if they match the last two seasons' records as tops in the country, will start whispers about being one of the all-time great units.

Brandon Pace graduated last year as the most consistent VT kicker ever. The unit of Jud Dunlevy, Jared Develli, and Brent Bowden have to fill some the shoes of Pace and Nic Schmitt. Experience is what they're lacking most.

Brandon Dillard is fighting his way up the depth chart at receiver. Unfortunately for him, this is the last year for the most talented unit VT has have had. I'm not sure Eddie Royal ever regained the speed he showed as a freshman, but he has one last season to show it off. Josh Hyman made the biggest splash in the early games of 2004, but he's left the radar the past couple of seasons. Josh Morgan is a well-built receiver who is tough to bring down once the ball is in his hands. Perhaps the most talented, and oddly, the least utilized of the bunch is Justin Harper, a tall lanky fellow with long strides.

Of course, no VT preview can end without a comment on the QB. I'll be honest. I know Sean Glennon is supposed to have improved his game in the offseason. And I like how he never complains about all the flack he catches. But I'm not sold on him leading VT to the promised land. Tyrod Taylor is the future. If he is not going to be redshirted, play him now, play him early, and play him often. Otherwise, redshirt him. Don't wait till Glennon has an awful game and bring Taylor into a pressure situation. Get him ready.

It's a funny situation the Hokies are in. They've played for the MNC, they won the Sugar Bowl and been to numerous BCS bowls, and had the number one pick in the NFL draft. But they've never been picked to win their conference like they are this year. That's how high the expectations are. Predictions:

  • Overall record: Two losses: LSU and one of Miami or Georgia Tech.
  • Best newcomer: Jason Worilds
  • Breakout player: Kam Chancellor
  • Defensive MVP: Vince Hall (who else?)
  • Offensive MVP: Branden Ore, who will become a VT legend this season
  • Sweet, sweet release: Beating FSU. It's been a long time coming. I bet it gets ugly.

Lastly, a word about the significance of football. Much has been made of what the season means beyond simply scores and bowl games. Frank Beamer told the team that they have a chance to be a feel good story for the country. I think that, like it or not, VT football is fundamentally intertwined with the university as a whole. There are many universities out there of similar size and resources; most are not known as well as VT. Thank the football program for a large part of that. A lot of memorials are planned for the ECU game and the remainder of the season, but I am ready to go back to trying to show everyone, clear of recent events, how great a university VT is. For me, as someone who did know anyone who was killed that April day, as an alumnus, as a football fan who will be watching from a thousand miles away, the game is about moving on as much as anything else.

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