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Virginia Tech Extends Babcock's Contract Through 2029

True to its historical modus operandi, Virginia Tech once again valued continuity and stability in the athletic department when the university extended director of athletics Whit Babcock Monday.

The extension, which inks Babcock until June 2029, heightens the probability that Babcock will select Virginia Tech’s next head football coach.

Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be determined. Excluding football for a moment, Babcock has mostly made excellent coaching hires since arriving in Blacksburg in 2014. The list is actually quite extensive.

We can start with the men’s basketball program, where Babcock has made two hires already. Buzz Williams elevated the basketball program in true mercenary fashion, coaching the Hokies to consecutive NCAA Tournament bids (including a Sweet 16 appearance) before bolting for more money in a bigger conference. Babcock then hired NRV native Mike Young, who pushed the Hokies back into the NCAA Tournament in just his second season.

Then there’s Kenny Brooks, who’s headed the women’s basketball program since March 2016 and won 63 percent of games he’s coached. Brooks’ team made their first NCAA Tournament appearance this past season.

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With Darrisaw Now Gone, Where Do Hokies Go From Here?

For the last three seasons, Christian Darrisaw has been a godsend for Virginia Tech football.

The former prep recruit turned first-round pick anchored Virginia Tech’s offensive line during that span of time, and played a critical role in the Hokies’ offense when on the field. But with Darrisaw now playing for money, the question for Virginia Tech is this:

Where do the Hokies go from here?

It’s not like the cupboard is bare. Virginia Tech has returning offensive linemen ready to go this season. Guys like Lecitus Smith (No. 54 at right), Brock Hoffman and Luke Tenuta are back in the starting lineup, and some offensive linemen who’ve been in the program are ready to fight for a spot.

But can any of them pick up the mantle that Darrisaw left behind?

Rather than one man doing it all, it needs to be a collaborative effort from the aforementioned returning linemen. Together, they can provide enough stability in production to maintain the offensive line’s position as an asset instead of a liability.

Smith has the best chance of catching on to an NFL roster out of anyone in that group. The 6-foot-3 tight end-turned guard has started each of the last two seasons, and in 2020, Smith was a Third Team All-ACC player per Pro Football Focus (PFF). ACC Network’s Eric Mac Lain put Smith on his second team.

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This Year's VT Corps Of Receivers Could Surprise Everyone

As I’ve written before, I have some concern about Justin Fuente’s public confidence in Virginia Tech’s passing attack, with much of it residing at the quarterback position.

But when it comes to Virginia Tech’s receivers and tight ends, there’s a much different story.

(Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech Athletics)
Tre Turner

As Fuente said at ACC Kickoff, this year’s version of receivers aren’t the kind that you can just throw 50-50 balls to consistently and expect them to come down with it. This isn’t 2016.

That's true, but in 2021, Virginia Tech does have pass catching talent that should be able to lighten the load on Braxton Burmeister.

The Hokies’ receiving corps starts with Tre Turner, who is entering his fourth year at Virginia Tech. Turner has been remarkably consistent since enrolling in 2018, as you can see in his receiving stat line since his freshman season…

  • 2018: 12 games, 26 receptions, 535 yards (20.6 yards per catch), four touchdowns
  • 2019: 11 games, 34 receptions, 553 yards (16.3 yards per catch), four touchdowns
  • 2020: 10 games, 34 receptions, 529 yards (15.6 yards per catch), three touchdowns

Essentially, Turner is the same player now as he was when he started. His production has remained steady, regardless of who is playing quarterback. Heck, Turner may be older and wiser, but he’s still listed at 187 pounds on the roster, just the same as he was in 2018.

Turner’s value comes as a big-play threat as he’s shown the ability to make some of those combat catches that I referred to earlier.

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Best Move For Orioles At Trade Deadline Was No Move At All

I hate the phrase “do something,” as it’s often used shortsightedly, when the people involved are much more concerned with optics than they are actually solving problems.

Sometimes, the best option is to do nothing.

Orioles general manager Mike Elias effectively did nothing at the Trade Deadline, moving a couple of fringe pieces that have little value towards the theoretical competitive core of players that are currently in the organization. All the O’s best players — Cedric Mullins, Trey Mancini, John Means and Ryan Mountcastle — are still Orioles.

This year’s Trade Deadline in no way resembled the fire sale of 2018, when the O’s punted on their collection of productive players in favor of a long-term approach. Manny Machado, Zach (also known as Zack) Britton, Jonathan Schoop, Kevin Gausman and others were all traded away, mostly bringing back prospects that have yet to break out at the major league level.

It also looks nothing like what the Nationals did this week, which was turn the roster upside down and see what falls out. Like the Orioles in 2018, the Nats moved critical pieces of their organization, though their return looks to be far greater than that of the Orioles’ haul three years ago.

At the time, most of those moves were prudent. Perhaps trying to re-sign Machado might have been a better solution, but there’s no guarantee that the O’s front office hadn’t let that relationship deteriorate enough already. By and large, however, it made sense for the Orioles to unload their top-tier talent because the franchise was so far away from being able to compete at a high level.

Things have changed.

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With Herbert Gone, Who Fills The Void At Running Back?

Watching Khalil Herbert regularly run roughshod over much of Virginia Tech’s competition last season was a lot of fun, as the Hokies hadn’t seen a runner like Herbert since David Wilson, which marked the end of a string of exceptional Hokie running backs.

But watching Herbert last season gave me a sad feeling in the pit of my stomach. For one, I was disappointed that neither Herbert nor the Virginia Tech fanbase ever got to connect with each other in person. Hokies will never be able to physically watch Herbert play football inside Lane Stadium, and that pains me.

Secondly, I knew that Herbert was headed to the pros after 2020. Everyone knew — graduate transfers usually don’t stick around.

Herbert’s departure leaves Virginia Tech with a large void at running back, a vacancy that has many options but none that stand out.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that fifth-year back Jalen Holston is the favorite to assume most of the carries. The former Wing-T fullback has played in a lot of games over his previous four seasons — 35 to be exact — but while showing flashes of brilliance, his production hasn't been consistent. Holston averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season, just above his career average of 4.1.

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Hokie Hopes In 2021 May Once Again Rest On QB Position

To be honest, I'm worried about Virginia Tech’s quarterback position heading into the 2021 season.

Justin Fuente, however, does not share the same concern.

“I feel better about us throwing the ball right now since I’ve been here,” Fuente said at ACC Kickoff last week. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to throw the ball 60 times a game. I feel better about it.”

It is important to note that Fuente excluded his 2016 team from that assessment. Still, while I appreciate Fuente’s confidence in Braxton Burmeister, I am curious as to where the confidence in the team’s starting quarterback comes from.

It could be from Burmeister’s end of the 2020 season, which was a marked improvement from his previous track record. In limited snaps, Burmeister completed 10-of-12 throws vs. Clemson for 127 yards, and the following week, Burmeister went 15-of-22 for 212 yards and a touchdown.

Or it could be from the cadre of weapons surrounding Burmeister in the passing game. While none of Virginia Tech’s pass catchers could be considered among the nation’s best, there are potent weapons in the war chest. Tre Turner returns as the No. 1 receiver alongside slot receiver Tayvion Robinson, while tight end James Mitchell represents Tech’s best chance at another high draft pick in next year’s NFL Draft.

Again, I appreciate the confidence, but it may not be all that justified. At least yet.

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Forget The Record; Mullins and Mancini Make O's Fans Smile

The Baltimore Orioles are bad. I know this, you know this, heck, even Maggie The WonderBeagle knows this.

But for just two days, the Orioles’ struggles were outdone by their excellence. More specifically, the excellence of Trey Mancini and Cedric Mullins.

At 28-61, the Orioles’ ineptitude has somewhat covered up the individual greatness that we’re seeing from Mancini and Mullins. But that all changed in Denver at the Home Run Derby and the All-Star Game.

Let’s start with Mullins, the former 13th-round draft pick who was demoted to Double-A in 2019. All Mullins has done is turn himself into one of the best center fielders in baseball, hitting 16 home runs, totaling a first-half OPS of .921 and playing elite defense in center field.

Mullins wasn’t voted in as a starter, but with Mike Trout still on the mend, Mullins got the nod in center. And nobody deserved it more.

Seeing an Orioles’ All-Star there because he earned it, not because Major League Baseball requires that all 30 teams be represented, was a beautiful sight for sore eyes. Mullins would reach on a hit later ruled as an error, and score a run in the American League’s 5-2 victory.

As great as it was seeing Mullins be recognized for his stellar first half, Mancini stole the weekend.

Mancini kicked off the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion, knocking off well-known slugger Matt Olson in the opening round before beating hometown favorite Trevor Story in the semifinals. Mancini ultimately fell to Derby animal Pete Alonso, but not before Mancini slugged another 22 home runs.

In all, Mancini deposited 59 baseballs over the Coors Field fences. He outpaced everyone’s expectations, maybe even his own.

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Future Looks Bright, But VT's 2020 Vision Is Fading...

It sure is a good thing that Virginia Tech’s Class of 2022 *seems* to be heading in the right direction.

Because the Class of 2020 continues to be doing the exact opposite.

Alec Bryant and Robert Wooten (right), the two highest-rated signees from the Hokies’ 2020 class, both announced their decisions to transfer from Virginia Tech on Monday. While neither Bryant nor Wooten were expected to see the field a lot this season, they had the potential to slot in the two-deep the following year and served as necessary depth for Tech in 2021.

Alas, that is no longer the case.

We knew after National Signing Day that Tech’s Class of 2020 didn’t have a lot of promise, but things have gotten significantly worse for that group of players.

Bryant, the class’ top-rated prospect, is now leaving the program. Wooten, No. 2 in the class, is in the same boat.

Tyree Saunders, an athletic receiver from Jacksonville, Fl. that many expected to fight for snaps immediately, is already enrolled at East Carolina. The class’ No. 4 prospect, Justin Beadles, is transferring to Houston.

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Mike Elias Sticking To His Guns In Drafting Colton Cowser

You’ve got to give Mike Elias credit for sticking to his guns.

The Orioles’ general manager has developed a strong modus operandi through his first three drafts as Head Oriole — use your first-round draft pick on an uber-productive college player, particularly productive hitters.

Elias followed his rubric again Sunday night, drafting Sam Houston State outfielder Colton Cowser.

Don’t tell Elias that he reached for Cowser, because you’d be wasting your time. Cowser more than earned his slot with the Orioles as a college center fielder, sporting an OPS higher than 1.000 in both of his two full seasons as a collegiate player.

Cowser’s always been good with the bat, batting .361 in 2019 and .374 in 2021. He slugged over .600 both of those seasons and in 2021, Cowser hit 16 home runs. He hit just seven in 2019.

The scouts agree with the numbers.

“One of the best bats in the college class, Cowser has a pure left-handed stroke and repeatedly finds the barrel,” according to his MLB Pipeline profile. “His quick hands allow him to pepper line drives all over the field as he executes a very controlled approach.”

The Southland Conference Player of the Year should be able to stick in center field too, increasing his value.

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Hokies Reloading The Wagon On The Offensive Line

Virginia Tech added another commitment to their Class of 2022 on Monday, earning a pledge from South Carolina offensive lineman Xavier Chaplin.

Chaplin’s a big guy — the 370-pounder stands at 6-foot-6 and likely will need a year or two before he can seriously compete for a starting spot. But he does not lack the size necessary to play, that much is for certain.

Chaplin is now the fourth commitment along the offensive line for the Hokies, a sure sign that Vance Vice is trying to backfill some of his misses over the years. That number could go to five if Braelin Moore plays offensive line instead of defensive line.

There was a point in time where Tech looked locked and loaded on the offensive front for the foreseeable future. Tech added four offensive linemen in 2018 — Christian Darrisaw, Luke Tenuta, Walker Culver and John Harris — but only one remains in the program. Vice brought in four-stars Doug Nester and Bryan Hudson for the 2019 cycle, but both have since transferred.

William Pritchard, another offensive lineman from that class, medically retired from football last season. Only Jesse Hanson remains from the Class of 2019.

So to recap, Tech lost five offensive lineman over two seasons to medical retirements and transfers. That’s enough to decimate a program’s depth.

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Orioles Better Not Be Thinking About Trading Trey Mancini

Don’t you do it, Mike Elias. Don’t. You. Do. It.

If Elias wants to completely alienate the fanbase — slow progress from the farm system is doing that already — then he should go ahead and trade Trey Mancini.

But if he does it, good luck keeping this O’s fan interested.

Mancini’s story has been well-covered at this point — the man lost an entire year of his life after being diagnosed with colon cancer, was forced to endure it during the COVID-19 pandemic and through it all, he’s back in Baltimore hitting homers and driving in runs.

Mancini is reliable as the day is long. Pencil him in the lineup and reap the benefits.

Obviously, Mancini’s prowess as a hitter — his OPS of .789 is above the league average and he’s hit 14 homers this season — isn’t translating to wins. Mancini and Cedric Mullins are the only two reliable O’s in the lineup and as good as they’ve been — both Mancini and Mullins might represent Baltimore in the Midsummer Classic — they can’t win games by themselves.

As the Orioles continue to call the AL East cellar home, the organization is clearly still in “tank mode.” But how far is the organization willing to go?

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