Perhaps no one on the Virginia Tech roster was more excited to rise to challenge of facing back-to-back national champions than cornerback Antone Exum. He led the Hokies last year with five interceptions, and had an ACC high 16 pass breakups. He finished his junior year as an all-ACC second team cornerback, and had a clutch interception late against University of Virginia to secure both the Commonwealth Cup and a bowl appearance for the Hokies.
His offseason was not as glorious.
Just a few weeks after the Russell Athletic Bowl, Exum tore his ACL playing a pickup game of basketball. At the time of the injury his recovery date was estimated to be around 8-10 months, or as early as the season opener and as late as halfway through the season. Athletic trainer Mike Goforth has now confirmed that the latter is more realistic.
If the task of going against the best team in college football was daunting enough, now the Hokies will have to do it without one of their top players on either side of the ball. The news comes on the same evening as the first depth chart was released. It is no surprise that senior Kyle Fuller will start as cornerback on one side of the field, but replacing Exum will be a pair of underclassmen, Brandon Facyson and Donaldven Manning.
Facyson is a true freshman from Georgia, who enrolled early in January, and impressed the coaches in scrimmages and the spring game. Manning is a sophomore who played 93 snaps on defense in 2012, tallying four tackles during the season, and had an interception against Austin Peay in his collegiate debut. One of these two will have to step up for the opener if Virginia Tech has any chance of stopping Alabama. The Tide will be fielding one of its best receiving corps in recent memory, and quarterback AJ McCarron knows how to deliver the ball, rarely throwing an interception.
Luckily for Virginia Tech, their schedule will be a little easier in the weeks following Alabama, with home games against Marshall and Western Carolina, and a road trip to Greensboro to face East Carolina. Although the Pirates have given the Hokies trouble in the past, if we’re seriously talking about beating Alabama, these three games should be no problem. It is most likely that Exum will make his return on September 26, when Virginia Tech travels back to Atlanta to face division rival Georgia Tech in a nationally televised Thursday night game.
Realistically, beating Alabama was going to a long shot at best. Not having Antone Exum will make a victory that much sweeter, and a defeat that much more acceptable.