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STEVE DeSHAZO: Hokies enter ACC with something to prove
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By STEVE DeSHAZO
KEVIN JONES' DECISION to leave Virginia Tech a year early surprised no one. He could be the first running back chosen in April's NFL draft and, like Michael Vick (whose No. 7 jersey Jones shared for two seasons), he's ready for the pros.
Expected or not, Jones' announcement doesn't make Frank Beamer's job any easier. He's overseeing a program that has faded late in each of the past three seasons and will enter a new conference next fall with lots of question marks.
When the Atlantic Coast Conference announced last summer that Tech and Miami would join the league in 2004 (and that Boston College was added later), it was presumed to be bad news for the ACC's incumbents. The Hurricanes and Hokies were ranked second and third in the nation, respectively, by midseason.
But given the Hokies' latest stumble and its exodus of offensive talent--plus the continued improvement of several ACC schools--it may be Tech that faces the biggest challenge.
Billy Hite has coached nine of Tech's top 11 career rushers, and he's absolutely right when he calls Jones the best. Perhaps only Vick could match Jones' combination of speed and power. He'll be impossible to replace.
Although the Hokies always seem to field a strong running game, neither of Jones' potential successors has much of a resume. Cedric Humes lacks breakaway speed, and the speedy Mike Imoh may not have the physique (5-7, 185 pounds) to be a feature back.
Jones will make his final appearance as a Hokie in the Dec. 26 Insight.com Bowl. So will Ernest Wilford, who could finish his career as Tech's leading receiver. He's certainly been the only consistent target for the past two seasons. All-America center Jake Grove also is leaving, as is right guard Jacob Gibson.
Then there's the entire issue of who'll be running the rebuilt offense in 2004. Beamer spent the second half of this season fluctuating between junior Bryan Randall and freshman phenom Marcus Vick, and his mishandling of the situation contributed to the Hokies' inconsistency.
Randall and Vick will battle it out again in the spring, and someone won't be happy with the outcome.