A Title Run?
-- by Will Stewart
-- posted 10/25/99

A weekend of watching other teams instead of the Hokies play college football has left me dangerously cocky about Virginia Tech's chances of going undefeated -- including a national championship game.

Since I'm acting in the role of columnist here and not in any capacity that really matters to Virginia Tech football, I can look down the road a little bit and talk about the rest of the Hokies' season and what I think will happen.

Don't get me wrong. Regarding focusing on the next game, I want just as big a piece of Pittsburgh as the next Hokie fan. I want the Hokies to grind the Panthers into the turf as revenge for that painful 1997 loss. Somehow, last season's 17-7 win at home just didn't do it for me. I want the Hokies to redeem themselves on the same field as that 1997 game, and Tech's chance to do so is coming up October 30th (and then there's the little matter of a trip to Morgantown the following week).

But when the Hokies are ranked #3 as they are, it's excusable to start looking down the road and wondering what will happen, and whether or not the Hokies have a shot at -- gasp -- a national championship.

First Things First: the Big East Race

First, Tech has to take care of business in-conference. Pittsburgh has been an up-and-down team this year, barely losing to #2 Penn State by three points, almost knocking off Syracuse, and shellacking Temple, but yet struggling to beat a woeful Kent team by just one touchdown.

WVU is not the WVU you're used to. The 'Eers lost to ECU and Navy, and got destroyed by Syracuse and Maryland. I fully anticipate that the Hokies will maul WVU on November 6th. Hideously.

Then there's Temple. Boy, do I feel sorry for the Owls when they host Tech on November 20th. Then again, I predicted decimation for them in last year's game, too (you always have to throw that comment in there -- it stops the emails dead in their tracks).

This weekend allowed Hokie fans a good chance to take a close look at Tech's other two in-conference challenges, Boston College and Miami. The Canes beat the Eagles in a thriller in Chestnut Hill, 31-28. Miami was down 28-0 halfway through the third quarter, but BC fell asleep at the switch and lost on a late field goal by Miami's Andy Crosland, who I didn't think had it in him to make a pressure kick.

Regardless of who you were rooting for, you had to be salivating at what you saw. I saw a Boston College team that is solid but unspectacular, and which can't go downfield with any authority. The BC offensive line did a good job on the Canes, but QB Matt Hasselbeck didn't blow me away, and the BC defense, other than nose guard Chris Hovan, doesn't have any great players on it, and not much speed.

On the other side of the ball, Miami is still out of sorts and left me totally unimpressed. Kenny Kelly continues to prove that he's a better baseball player than quarterback. He struggled early, and he didnít start playing well until Miami ditched the vertical passing game and switched to a series of safe, short throws to the tight end and running backs. Even Kelly's late-game, fourth-and-17 clutch completion to Reggie Wayne was a weak floater that a defensive back with any speed and coverage skills would have knocked harmlessly out of the air.

The Canes offense is out of synch, and their defense offers up nothing outside of linebackers Dan Morgan and Nate Webster. Boston College's offensive line opened up gaping holes right up the middle of the Miami defense, and the Eagles rolled up 237 yards rushing on 48 carries. Miami had no sacks against BC's passing game in 35 attempts. The Hokies regularly compile 5-6 sacks against teams that try that many passes against them.

Are you getting my point? Then let me spell it out: if the Hokies play up to their potential, focus on each game, and put forth their best effort, the rest of the Big East, including Miami, is nothing but cannon fodder for Virginia Tech. If Tech plays well but doesn't run the table, then someone call the cops, because they've been robbed.

And if the Hokies should lose a game, don't throw this back in my face. Donít say, "Will, you said Tech would go undefeated, blah-blah-blah." Because that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that if Tech puts forth a good effort each game, they'll plow over the remaining teams on their schedule like a steamroller.

If the Hokies pull a Temple, or if the offense or defense (or both) go into the tank for a game, anything could happen. But from where I sit, a VT team playing up to its potential will beat every other team on its schedule.

If Tech plays well, and one of the other Big East teams knocks them off, then I'll take my hat off to that team. But I don't see it happening.

The Bowl Game

After the regular season, it gets more interesting.

As I write this, the Hokies stand third in the polls, behind fellow unbeatens Florida State and Penn State. Florida and Tennessee, both of whom have lost a game, are right on Tech's heels in the polls.

There are two other unbeatens, Kansas State and Marshall, but if the Hokies want to be one of the top 2 in the BCS poll at the end of the year, and thus play for the national championship, KSU and Marshall aren't the teams the Hokies need to worry about.

Let's review the rules on the BCS. Rather than me trying to explain them to you, here's a link to the rules from the ABC College Football web site. Take a look. I'll wait here for you to finish.

All done? Okay, let's keep going.

Let's talk about FSU, PSU, and Tech. My own personal thinking is that if the Hokies are one of two unbeaten teams at the end of the year, then Tech has a very good chance of playing for the national championship, but not guaranteed, due to the dreadful strength of schedule (SOS) factor.

SOS can do nothing but hurt the Hokies when compared to a Big 10 school, an SEC school, or Florida State.

It rapidly gets complicated to talk about the BCS, so let me get back on track here. Thanks mostly to the AP poll, the Coaches' poll, and strength of schedule, Tech will not catch FSU or PSU in the BCS ranking, if both stay undefeated.

If the Hokies are one of two unbeaten teams, then their chances of being 1 or 2 in the BCS greatly improve, although Tech may not even stay ahead of a one-loss Florida or Tennessee team (both schools are right behind the Hokies in the polls, with Kansas State trailing them), thanks to the strength of schedule issue.

If the Hokies are the only unbeaten team among the trio that currently reside at the top of the polls, then forget it -- Tech's going to N'awlins.

The Hokies have managed to squeak up the polls by a spot or two each week, and only time will tell if they can reach the coveted #1 or #2 spot. But what if they do? What if the Hokies land in the championship game? Do you like their chances to win it? I do.

How Tech Stacks Up With the Heavies

And here's the whole point of this article. I think Tech can run with the big boys this year. Not only is reaching the championship game within Tech's grasp, but so is a victory -- and a national championship.

Tech and Penn State are the most complete teams in college football right now, no contest. Both teams have great defenses, with great defensive players, and well-rounded offenses that can run the ball and pass the ball with authority, skill, and confidence.

Having seen Florida State play a couple of times, I can only shake my head over the fact that they're still ranked #1. The 'Noles are good, as always, but they're not great. Their game against Clemson pointed out how one-dimensional their offense is. Peter Warrick, Peter Warrick, Peter Warrick. Travis Minor looks like a gifted running back, but not one that can take over a game.

I think the Seminoles' biggest liability is their quarterback, Chris Weinke. Weinke isn't mobile (which is fast becoming a requirement in college ball today, with the preponderance of attacking defenses), and his accuracy is spotty.

Any time you start to talk about the Seminoles in anything other than a totally positive fashion, you run the risk of waking the sleeping giant, but I have to be honest and say that this year's edition of the FSU Seminoles doesn't come close to some of the other teams they have fielded this decade. I watched them dismantle the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl two years ago, the year that Michigan won the national championship, and FSU absolutely scared me to death. Not so this year.

Penn State, on the other hand, is pretty scary. They have two phenomenal defensive stars in LaVar Arrington and Courtney Brown. They have two solid quarterbacks, at least one great receiver, and a great running back in Eric McCoo. Tech vs. Penn State would be an excellent matchup.

If Florida State and Penn State both lose over the next month and fall out of the BCS race, the Hokies, if they can win out, might wind up matched against Tennessee or Florida. I can't speak with much authority on either one of those two teams, since I haven't seen them play. Florida seems to be a little down on defense this year, giving up 148 points in 7 games, including 40 to Alabama -- at home.

All this discussion is leading to my own ranking of the top 5 teams, based on what I've seen so far this year and how they're playing right now:

  1. Penn State
  2. Virginia Tech
  3. Florida State
  4. Tennessee
  5. Florida

I actually think that Penn State and Virginia Tech are pretty much dead even. I'll give the nod to PSU because if it comes down to a title game between those two, Penn State will be on more familiar ground, whereas the hoopla will all be new to Tech (but on the other hand, the Hokies sure do feel good about the Super Dome). But my ranking of PSU as #1 is by a very thin margin.

The bottom line is that I would put the Hokies up against anybody in the country right now. And I'm not the only Hokie follower saying that. Many Tech fans that I talk to admit, some grudgingly, that they think Tech stacks up against anyone right now.

They say it grudgingly because it's a scary thing to think that the Hokies can win at this level. When you're up this high, it's a long way down if you fall.

My Dream Matchup

The Sugar Bowl I would most like to see is Penn State and Virginia Tech. My reasons are selfish, of course -- Mrs. HokieCentral is a Penn State grad, and we're both Tech and Penn State fans. If that scenario happens, we have good-naturedly agreed to root against one another.

I have another reason for wanting a Tech/PSU matchup. If the Hokies lose the game, Penn State is the only team I could stomach losing to.

My second-most desired matchup is Tech vs. Kansas State, simply because I want to see the national media twist in the wind over that one. I can imagine the screaming and crying all the way from South Bend to Los Angeles, from Miami to Ann Arbor, from Alabama to Arizona.

If a Wildcats/Hokies matchup occurs for the national championship this year, then sit back and watch as the BCS rules get rewritten overnight in the offseason. Because obviously (he said sarcastically), any system that results in a VT/KSU championship game must be flawed, right?

My third dream matchup is Tech vs. Tennessee. Two words: Gator Bowl. As in, 1994 Gator Bowl.

A Long Time To Go Between Now and Then

Of course, there's plenty of football that has to be played between now and a possible national championship game for the Hokies. Despite all the talk, the Hokies are barely halfway there with six games down, five to go.

The team is as focused as they get. They donít assume that anything is theirs until they've earned it, and some columnist like me spouting off about Tech's national championship hopes isn't going to break their concentration.

When they step onto Pitt's Astroturf and memories of the 1997 loss come back in a flood, they'll be focused. When they enter Morgantown, and memories of that humiliating 1997 loss come back, they'll be focused. When media darling Miami comes to town and 53,000 Tech fans are screaming their lungs out in a Saturday night ESPN matchup, they'll be focused. When they travel to Temple to repay the debt they owe the Owls from 1998, they'll be focused. And if Boston College comes into Blacksburg to face a 10-0 Tech team that has a shot at a national championship Ö don't worry, they'll be focused.

Frank Beamer isn't just spouting coach-talk when he says that if the Hokies keep winning, the rest will take care of itself. He's right. If the Hokies can run the table, then let the BCS computers crunch the numbers, and let the chips fall where they may. If the Hokies keep winning, and a few other teams lose, Tech will be headed to the Big Easy early next year, and Hokie fans will all be eating jambalaya and buying those funny black hats with the gold trim and the orange and maroon ribbons draped around them.

And Tech will be laughing all the way to the national championship game.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and he contributes a column when time permits.

          

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