Back in August of 1999, before the football season had started, I ran a column in the old Members Only section titled, "A Dozen Wishes for the 1999 Football Season." In retrospect, the article eerily foreshadows some of the things that happened this past season. It also provides a handy report card that can be used to evaluate the season, now that it's over.
We'll do this by presenting each of the dozen wishes as I originally presented them, followed up by a new "Postseason Report" that discusses whether or not the Hokies achieved each of the dozen wishes.
So, without further ado, here's the original introduction to the article...
"A Dozen Wishes for the 1999 Football Season"
As the 1999 football season approaches, there are a number of items on the Hokie football team's plate that I'd like to see get taken care of. This is arguably the most critical season in Virginia Tech football history (at least until next year), and there are a lot of important milestones that this team can achieve.
With national attention focusing in on the Hokies, and with the senior-laden defense and special teams that Tech is putting on the field, 1999 is a rare chance for the Hokies to truly shine on the national stage.
And with conference realignment possibly looming on the horizon, it is critical to the future of Virginia Tech athletics that the Hokies build a top-caliber, winning football team, because football is the sun around which the rest of the collegiate sports world orbits. By building a nationally-renowned football program, Tech won't need to worry as much if and when conference realignment or the implosion of the Big East conference rears its ugly head.
That's a lot of pressure for a bunch of 18-23 year old men to take on their shoulders. Having said all that, here's my wish list for this football season. It's loosely organized with the most achievable goals first, and the more pie-in-the-sky goals at the end.1. No Upsets
One step forward, two steps back. Every time the Hokies win the Sugar Bowl, knock off Miami, or scrape the Top 10 in the rankings, a loss to Cincinnati, Miami of Ohio, or Temple puts the Hokies back in their place and makes them the object of ridicule.
No more. It's time to stop. Tech has proven that they know how to win the big games, but the Hokies have yet to prove that they know how to win the little games.
The Hokies will understandably take criticism for a soft schedule this year, and there is only one thing to do about that schedule: whip the teams on it. I'm not suggesting running up the score, but I am suggesting winning big against inferior opponents. No close games (a la Akron in 1996), or heaven forbid, losses allowed.
I saw a discussion on the UVa message board a couple of weeks ago where one of their posters asked the question, "When was the last time we lost a game we were really supposed to win, against a far lesser opponent?" The other posters on the board thought long and hard, and the answer came back: "Maryland, 1990."
That's a loooong time ago. It's time for the Hokies to establish the tradition of soundly thrashing the JMU's, UAB's, Temples, and Rutgers of the world, without letting up.
Postseason Report: the Hokies went 11-1, with the only loss coming to #1 Florida State. No upsets? Mission accomplished.
2. Stay Healthy
I think I read somewhere that Tech started the same eleven players on defense every game last year. That's incredible. Contrast that with the offense, which played three quarterbacks (one of which was a converted safety), lost one of its best offensive linemen early in the year (Josh Redding), and got so thin at fullback that they started a walk-on (Jarrett Ferguson) and moved Houseright over from linebacker to back him up.
For all the hype and promise that this season shows, an injury to Michael Vick, Ricky Hall, Corey Moore, Jamel Smith, Ike Charlton, or one of the kickers could seriously side-track the Hokies' plans for a dream season. And when it comes to injuries, most of it is just sheer luck. We need to be lucky here.
Postseason Report: the Hokies got by without suffering a catastrophic injury or a series of injuries. The closest disaster came when Michael Vick pulled the infamous "Vick Flip" against JMU and almost ended his season. The injury nagged Michael all year long but was never quite bad enough to seriously hamper his playing ability.
The other serious injury that comes to mind quickly is Anthony Midget's groin pull, but he was able to play -- and play well -- with the injury. Additionally, Nathaniel Williams was nagged all year by injuries that seriously cut into his playing time, and John Engelberger missed some significant time as well, but with the great depth on the Hokies' defensive line, neither Nathaniel nor John was severely missed.
Another injury episode that comes quickly to mind are the injuries suffered by Ike Charlton and Anthony Midget in the Pittsburgh game (that was actually where Midget suffered the groin pull referenced above). The Hokies were just barely able to hold things together without them.
On the offensive line, Keith Short and Tim Schnecker were both out with injuries at the same time, but walk-on Steve DeMasi was able to fill in nicely for the one game that he had to carry the load himself.
For the Sugar Bowl, Ricky Hall was unable to play, and Shyrone Stith had to leave the game, but I'm not sure that either one of them would have made much difference in the outcome of the game. The Hokies lost for many reasons, but injuries on offense didn't appear to be a major factor in that game.
All in all, Tech didn't exactly "stay healthy," but they didn't suffer injuries that cost them any games.
The Hokies have already lost a skilled, experienced Whip linebacker to legal trouble. Lorenzo Ferguson was dismissed from the team for stealing and forging checks. Now Tech has to play a skilled but inexperienced player at a key position on the defense. It will hurt. It might not be obvious, but it will cost the Hokies some plays on defense.
Any other losses to the long arm of the law will do just as much damage as a bad injury. Tech needs every player on the field, so they need to behave themselves and be around for what could be a great season.
Postseason Report: no Peter Warricks here. As far as we know, the Hokie football team kept its nose clean.
Frank Beamer created it, Bill Roth coined the phrase, and the Tech Sports Marketing department jumped all over it to create a sorely needed national identity and a successful season ticket marketing campaign.
Virginia Tech's football team has crowned itself the king of special teams play, and the Hokies and their coach are actually threatening to remake college football with their emphasis on game-breaking special teams play. For now, the rest of the country is playing catch-up, and the Hokies need to cash in the great competitive and marketing edge that they have built for themselves.
Keep blocking kicks, keep wowing the TV announcers and fans, and keep making a name for Virginia Tech football. That's what Tech's special teams need to do.
Postseason Report: for the 1999 season, the "Beamer Ball" image, which equates directly to defense and special teams, was overshadowed by Michael Vick as the season matured.
Certainly, the defense was awesome, headed by Corey Moore, so that portion of Beamer Ball held up its end of the bargain.
But over on special teams, "Beamer Ball" equates to blocked kicks, and in the 1999 season, Beamer Ball was little more than a marketing campaign. If memory serves correctly, the Hokies only blocked two kicks all season long, far below their average of roughly one block for every two games played under coach Beamer.
The Hokies instead concentrated on returns this year, and indeed fielded some of the best kickoff return and punt return teams in the country. And Shayne Graham was finally "money" on a big kick when he booted the game-winner at WVU.
But in the Sugar Bowl, disaster struck. FSU scored two touchdowns on special teams, beating the Hokies at their own game.
So did the Hokies "cultivate the Beamer Ball image"? Well, on the field, I guess you could say so (although not to the degree that they did in 1998), and as a marketing campaign, definitely yes (Beamer Ball T-shirts and embroidery were produced and marketed during the season at at least one of the book stores).
So overall, I think you would have to say that this wish came true, but not in as grand a fashion as the Hokies would like, and in the end, Beamer Ball was overshadowed by Michael Vick the Heisman candidate.
No further explanation necessary.
Postseason Report: 62-0. No further explanation necessary.
6. Beat UVa
The Hokies have lost two in a row in embarrassing fashion to their in-state rivals. Neither one of these teams has beaten the other three times in a row since the Hoos pulled it off from 1987-89. It's not time for them to do it again.
Tech needs not just to win this game, but to win it big over a UVa squad that has been depleted by graduation, legal troubles, and academic casualties. Not to mention that they'll be out in Utah the week before the Tech game, playing a very tough BYU team.
It's time to drop the hammer on the Hoos, Tech. Hard.
Postseason Report: 31-7. Consider the hammer dropped.
7. Beat Miami
In the latest HokieCentral poll, 2 out of 3 voters agree that this is the game to win this year - not UVa, and not Syracuse.
Tech has beaten the Canes four times in a row, and although the odds might seem against pulling it off a fifth time, it is critical that it happen. Next year, the Hokies lose their entire starting defensive line, and pulling off a win in the Orange Bowl may be next to impossible.
It's time for Tech to strike while the timing is good. Plus, beating Miami falls in line with the next goal….
Postseason Report: 43-10. Ring up another one.
Hmmm, wishes 5-7 add up to 136-17.
8. Go 7-0 in the Big East and Win the Conference Championship Outright
The Hokies have had some good years in the Big East and have won a couple of Big East championships, but they have never gone undefeated in Big East play, and they have never won the conference outright, without having to resort to a tiebreaker.
Accomplishing this feat would not only make an impressive statement, but it would finally shut up the Syracuse and Miami fans who rag on us for never having won the conference outright.
Yeah, sure it would.
Postseason Report: mission accomplished. The Syracuse fans are still hiding under a rock, and the Miami fans have already started howling, "Wait'll next year! We'll be back, baybeeeee!" which is what they say when they know they're beaten.
9. Win a BCS Bowl
The conference needs it. The Hokies need it. It's time to win another BCS bowl, a feat that only the Hokies have accomplished in the Big East since the conference started round-robin play in 1993.
Preferably, the win would come over a current, hot national power. The Sugar Bowl win over Texas in 1995 was nice, but now that it's four years in the past, it is clear that the win was just a blip on the national radar.
A BCS bowl win over the likes of Florida, Florida State, or Nebraska would go a long way towards cementing Tech's reputation as a national power. The Hokies have elbowed their way to a seat at the big table, and now it's time to prove they belong by knocking off the big boys. Since we don’t play the top teams during the regular season, we'll have to do it in a bowl game.
Postseason Report: interestingly enough, the Hokies accomplished all of the objectives stated in the last few paragraphs without actually winning the bowl. But the wish was to win it, so this is the first wish that absolutely, unequivocally didn't come true.
10. Attain a #1 Ranking
In 1990, a very good but not great Virginia football team started the season out ranked in the teens. From that point on, they whipped some sorry teams and were the recipients of one of the most unusual years in college football, a year in which every team in front of them in the rankings lost.
The result was that the Hoos rose to #1 in the land and spent three weeks there. In the end, they weren't able to do much with it, and they haven't been there since, but it's a very nice feather in their cap, one the Hokies can't claim.
If Tech can win some games and get lucky with higher-ranked teams losing, the Hokies could very well wind up #1 at some point in the season. It's not likely, but it could happen. And yes, the boo-birds and schedule-questioners would come out of the woodwork, but at least they would be talking about the Hokies.
Postseason Report: again, just like wish #9, the Hokies achieved all of the stated objectives without the wish actually coming true. The state of Virginia, and indeed the whole nation, talked about Tech. A lot. And if Clemson had just beaten FSU like they should have, the Hokies would have indeed landed at #1, more than likely. But no, this wish didn't come true.
11. Play for the National Championship
If you're going to win the national championship, you have to play for it.
Even losing a national championship game would be a good experience, and good for the program, in the long run. It would teach the coaches, the players, and the fans how to prepare, play, and perform at that level, and it would teach them what the experience entails.
Plus, it would create phenomenal publicity and coverage for the team. Even if the talking heads on ESPN and elsewhere spent all their time saying that Tech didn't belong there, at least they would be talking about the Hokies, and not (yawn) Florida, Florida State, Nebraska, and company.
To be accepted as one of the top teams in college football, you have to play in the important games. And there's nothing more important than a championship game.
Postseason Report: cha-ching! Last I checked, the Sugar Bowl was indeed the national championship game. And man, did it generate publicity for the Hokies! This wish came true.
12. Win the National Championship
Of all the goals to set for a season, this is the holy grail. It's a tall order, given that the Hokies have a freshman quarterback at the helm, and it takes not just talent and coaching, but tons of luck.
I think that winning a national championship is more of a long-term goal at Virginia Tech, but who knows what could happen? It's not out of the realm of possibility that it could happen this year. After all, Georgia Tech did it in 1990, without really fielding a dominating team. I would venture to say that Tech's 1999 team is more talented than GT's 1990 championship team.
It's difficult to play at the highest level and win in your first attempt, but stranger things have happened. If Michael Vick plays well, the team jells, no major injuries happen, and Shayne Graham has a clutch year, it might all come together.
And then what would Tech do for an encore?
Postseason Report: let's print that one sentence one more time:
Spooky. I don't claim to be psychic, but that statement sums up the season more accurately than anything I could have written at the time. Vick did play well, the team did jell, no major injuries occurred, and Shayne Graham was clutch. Alas, it did not result in a national championship, but it sure was close.
Let's Revisit This Article at the End of the Year
There you have it, twelve goals for the year. Sure, we could come up with others, but I wanted to throw these twelve out there for your consideration.
At the end of the year, I'm going to post a follow-up to this article and recap how we did against these goals. If we accomplish eight or more of these goals, then it will be a very good season. Anything less, and we might find ourselves grumbling a little, depending upon how bad things get.
Anything more, and we might be dancing in Bourbon Street in the year 2000.
Postseason Report: okay, let's sum up how the Hokies did:
The Hokies hit 9 out of 12 of the wishes, scoring a 75. In college, that's a C, but in Tech football, it's darn close to a perfect score. When I wrote this article, I'll have to admit that I didn't really think there was much hope for wishes #10, #11, and #12, but not only did the Hokies achieve one of them, they darn near got them all.
When all was said and done, the Hokies came within a few plays of going 12-0 not just on the field, but in HokieCentral's preseason wishes. And you can argue that the Tech fans danced on Bourbon Street anyway.
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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