Last season’s juniors are now this season’s seniors, and with that comes extra responsibility and expectations. In the ACC, while there were plenty of players selected in the NFL Draft, the conference still returns a strong group of seniors — many of whom are set to make a strong impact in their final seasons of eligibility.
Over these few weeks, we’re going team-by-team in the ACC to identify the “standout senior” that’s key to his respective squad, and why he’s so important. Think we should’ve featured another player, though? Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments.
I’ve said this over and over again since last summer, but it bears repeating once again: Logan Thomas cannot hold this entire Hokies offense on his shoulders every week. Obviously, the return of receiver D.J. Coles will help offset that burden, as will another year of experience for the young offensive line, but looking at this Virginia Tech offense, success is still largely what Thomas can make of it. As we saw last season, that can create a fairly undesirable situation for both the player and the team, and there’s no way they can go another year as things are currently set up.
Behind a veteran offensive line in 2011, Thomas burst onto the scene as a surprise sophomore, who was quick with his feet and a strong throwing arm. He was prematurely projected to be a top-10 pick and a Heisman contender, which all seems ludicrous now. But while expectations have appropriately fallen back to earth, there’s also no reason to believe that he’s a lost cause. Again, Thomas’s burden within this offense was virtually unmatched in the conference, as no team had so few tools surrounding its “star” (loose word) quarterback as the Hokies did with him. He accounted for all but 11 of the touchdowns scored by the Tech offense, and all but 1,400 yards as well. The pressure was suffocating, as anyone who watched the Florida State game last year will tell you, when he just heaved the game into oblivion late in the fourth quarter.
Again, this season could be different, however, and it’s why he’s included here. The running game, weak in 2012, will be there to actually provide him with support, so long as they’ve progressed from last year’s tepid form. And the passing game may actually be better despite losing its top two targets from last season, if Coles can return to form. Thomas, while still moving upward toward his peak as a player, is reliant on these pieces — and the beleaguered offensive line — in order to succeed. I won’t claim he’s a superstar, and I think his chances of starting on Sundays is tepid at best (I’d evaluate him as a less accurate, more tepid EJ Manuel), but as far as his senior season goes, very few passers have the ability to matter more for their respective team. There’s no guarantee he comes through (as we saw last year when he had equal weight on his shoulders), but if there’s improvement from 2012’s middling performance, that may very well mean the difference in a tight Coastal division race. He’ll be tested immediately in the opener against Alabama, and I’m curious to see how he responds to what’s likely the toughest team he’ll face all year.