While most of Hokie Nation will be focused on the events in Blacksburg, I'll be at the softball game here in OKC. The first Gobbler Country Road Trip will be a short one and pictures from the game will be posted Wednesday night.
Football: Spring Has Sprung
The Hokie football team begins life without Branden Ore on the first day of Spring Practice. And the player Hokie fans are probably most eager to see won't be part of the action. Ryan Williams, one of the signature players of the most recent recruiting class, won't be on campus until August. That gives juniors Kenny Lewis and Jahre Cheeseman and sophomores Darren Evans and Josh Oglesby a head start on securing the starting tailback spot.
My guess is the Hokies will be tailback-by-committee next season until two front-runners emerge. I don't see one back taking on the bulk of the carries next season. Lewis is a good change-of-pace back, but running between the tackles isn't his bread and butter. The other three will probably split the bulk of the carries.
On defense, linebacker will be the main cause for concern for the Hokies following the departure of Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. Cam Martin returns after having a pleasantly surprising sophomore season. Brett Warren filled in admirably while Hall was injured last season and could take over for Hall in the fall.
Last year's star of spring and fall practice, Jason Worilds, is set to see more time at defensive end with the departure of Chris Ellis. Worilds, Nekos Brown and Orion Martin appear on paper to be at the front of the rotation at DE. I see Orion Martin stepping up and having a Darryl Tapp-like season and Worilds setting himself up to do the same in 2009. Putting pressure on the quarterback will be key for this year's defense. Barring injury, this group looks like it will do plenty of if.
Playmaker exraordinair Macho Harris will be Virginia Tech's starting boundary corner this season, but will also see time at receiver in the spring. Tech lost four experienced wide receivers after last season and Harris will be a welcomed site for quarterbacks Sean Glennon and Tyrod Taylor.
It will be Taylor's first Spring Practice after playing as a true freshman last season. The spring drills will be his chance to take more snaps from Glennon, who became better as the year went on last season and was a main reason the Hokies won five games in a row to capture the ACC title last season. I believe Glennon is still needed in the offense. He's a good leader and an excellent passer. However, until the running game is shored up, you will probably see more of Taylor than Glennon early next season.
With two experienced quarterbacks and a healthier offensive line, I believe Spring Practice is more critical for the Hokies defense. A lot of leadership is gone from that side of the ball from last season. Not only is it important for Virginia Tech to find new starters, its important for leaders to emerge from the returning starters. I think Kam Chancellor will be the one to step up. He had an outstanding season in 2007 and I believe he could be the leader of the 2008 defense.
Basketball: Start Spreadin' the News...
...the Hokies are one win away from New York City. Seth Greenberg's bunch plays host to Ole Miss Wednesday at 7 p.m.
The Hokies are riding a wave of momentum coming into their quarterfinal tilt. A raucous crowd sparked Tech in its win over UAB Monday. It appears the atmosphere will be more electric for Wednesday's game.
If Tech can use that momentum and play defense like it did against UAB, Ole Miss doesn't stand a chance. But the Rebels are a better team than UAB and are led by senior Dwayne Curtis, who average nearly a double-double per game.
Ole Miss' point guard, Chris Warren, is a freshman and getting him to turn the ball over will be key for the Hokies. Warren leads the Rebels in scoring though two NIT games, averaging 17 points per game and has nine assists and three turnovers in those games.
Who: Virginia Tech (21-13) vs. Ole Miss (23-10)
What: NIT Quarterfinal
When: 7 p.m., ESPN2
Where: Cassell Coliseum - Blacksburg, Va.
Why Virginia Tech Wins: Cassell will be rockin', Hokies will force turnovers and score transition buckets, Ole Miss is awful on the road (2-7)
Why Ole Miss Wins: Dwayne Curtis dominates the paint, David Huertas gets hot from behind the arc, Ole Miss hasn't lost against a non-SEC foe this season (16-0)
Dot-Dot-Dots: Through two NIT games, the Hokies are shooting 56 percent while holding their opponents to just under 40 percent from the field...the Rebels have turned the ball over 31 times and Tech 26 in the NIT...Ole Miss is 1-6 all-time on the road in the NIT.
Up Next: Winner faces the Ohio State-Dayton winner in the semifinals of the NIT April 1 in New York City.
Best in the Nation vs. Best in the World
Tech All-America pitcher Angela Tincher get a shot at Team USA at 6:30 p.m. Central Wednesday in Oklahoma City. The game will be broadcast on tape delay by ESPN 2 at 7 p.m. Eastern May 6.
Tincher comes into the contest at 15-4, 0.46 (9 ER/138.1 IP) in 22 appearances, 17 starts for the No. 24 Hokies. She has 282 stikeouts against 34 walks this season. She is 248 strikeouts away from becoming the third pitcher in NCAA history to record 2,000 Ks.
While its just an exhibition, the game is a good way for the Hokies and Tincher to get national attention. Anytime you can get put on ESPN, even through tape delay, is a good recruiting tool in softball. It also gives the Hokies a chance to test their skills against a vastly superior opponent.
Tech has already faced Arizona, UCLA and Northwestern this season, but they now face the best softball team in the world. Tincher is arguably the best pitcher in college softball right now and gets her chance to show what she can do on a large stage.
No pitching rotation was announced by USA Softball for their series in Oklahoma City. They beat Oklahoma State, 7-0 Monday, Oklahoma, 2-0 Tuesday and play both DePaul and Tech Wednesday. However, neither Jennie Finch nor Cat Osterman has started for them so far in the series. Both pitched in relief last night against OU. Finch pitched three inning and Osterman one inning. There's a chance Tech could face one or both on Wednesday.
I have no delusions of grandeur about Tech winning this game. Team USA is 16-0 on its Bound 4 Beijing Tour and only one team has scored on them. Cal State-Fullerton got on the board in a 9-3 loss March 19. It will still be fun to see them in person and see what they can do in the spotlight. I hope they impress.
Who: Virginia Tech (23-9) vs. Team USA (16-0)
What: Bound 4 Beijing Tour
When: 6:30 p.m. Central, ESPN2 tape delay at 7 p.m. Eastern on May 6
Where: ASA Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium - Oklahoma City, Okla.
Why Virginia Tech Wins: Angela Tincher throws the game of her career, Hokies get a gift run
Why Team USA Wins: They're the best softball team in the world
Dot-Dot-Dots: This is the second time in Tech history its faced Team USA, the Hokies were no-hit, 12-0, against Team USA in 2004...Texas' Osterman, Tennessee's Monica Abbott and Alabama's Kelly Kretschman are the only members of Team USA that are not products of California or Arizona schools...the Hokies hope this isn't their first trip to OKC, ASA Don E. Porter Hall of Fame Stadium hosts the Women's College World Series each year.
Up Next: The Hokies travel to Maryland for a three-game series March 29-30. They return home for a three-game series against UVa April 5-6.