Monday, September 20, 1999

Hokies Reach Highest Ranking Ever

Thanks to losses by Wisconsin and Miami over the weekend, the Hokie football team is now ranked #8 in both polls, their highest ranking ever. It's early in the season yet, but you shouldn't let that stop you from enjoying this monumental event.

The previous high ranking for the Hokies was #9 in the AP poll at the end of the 1995 Sugar Bowl year. The highest I can remember the Hokies being ranked in any men's sport was their #8 ranking in basketball during the 1995-1996 campaign, so this is rarified air, indeed. From here on out, if the Hokies can continue to win, the rankings will only get more ludicrous (and I mean that in a good way).

#7? #5? #3? Who knows where all this will end up? Of course, there's the difficult matter of Clemson, UVa, and a host of others to consider, but hey, rankings are all about separating yourself from reality and playing "What if?", right?

So just enjoy the ride, okay?


Dark Day for the Big East

What had the potential to be a promising weekend for the Big East turned out to be a disaster, instead.

This past weekend, the Miami Hurricanes played #3 Penn State in the Orange Bowl, Syracuse played #5 Michigan in the Carrier Dome, and the rest of the Big East had mop-up duty against a bunch of supposed pansies: the games were WVU-Maryland, Pitt-Kent, Temple-Akron, and Boston College-Navy.

Not only did Miami and Syracuse have beatable heavyweights at home, but the rest of the league had very winnable games. It appeared that the table was set for a possible sweep and a return to respect for the Big East.

Good thing I'm not a betting man, though, or I would have lost big money on the Big East this past weekend. Not only did Miami and Syracuse lose close contests, but the pansies the rest of the league was playing turned out to be tigers, not flowers.

Here's the damage:

Penn State 27, Miami 23

The Canes were in control of the game and were driving for the game-clinching score with under two minutes to go. They had the ball inside the PSU 25 with a 23-20 lead.

Facing a fourth and short, the Canes decided to go for it instead of kicking a field goal. Placekicker Andy Crosland, the mighty Canes' weakest link, had already missed a PAT earlier in the game, and Butch Davis had no confidence in him, so he called for a run on fourth down, instead of a relatively short field goal.

The Nitanny Lions stuffed it and wasted no time putting the Canes away, connecting on a 79-yard strike on the very next play. The stunned Hurricanes flailed about for the next two minutes, trying vainly to win, but it was not to be. Miami QB Kenny Kelly threw two more interceptions, giving him four for the game.

The lowdown on the Canes is that their place-kicking is very weak, and was one of several factors that cost them this game.

But the defense is solid. Linebacker Dan Morgan is flat-out awesome, and the defensive line and defensive backs are much improved. This is not the same unit that gave up tons of points to Syracuse and UCLA last year.

The final Penn State touchdown was a beautifully thrown and caught ball, and the Miami cornerback, who had good coverage, was barely beaten, but the real problem is that the Miami safety was nowhere to be found. How the Canes could let a 79-yard TD pass happen with only 1:41 to go in the game is a mystery, and it speaks to Butch Davis's poor game-day coaching.

On offense, QB Kenny Kelly continues to struggle. He is a great physical talent, but his mechanics are very poor at this point. When he rolls out to pass for example, he tends to hop and wing the ball off his back foot, instead of stepping into his throws. He was once again bailed out in this game by receiver Santana Moss, who caught a terribly underthrown ball from Kelly for a 40-yard TD.

Michigan 18, Syracuse 13

Facing a 4th and 4 late in the game from inside the Michigan 10 yard line, Syracuse QB Madei Williams threw into the end zone to receiver Pat Woodcock, who was wearing a Michigan defender on his back. The pass fell incomplete, and much to Syracuse's chagrin, the official on the spot couldn't find his penalty flag, and the play stood.

This marks the 78th year in a row that Syracuse has lost a big home game early in the year, and the last few years have featured questionable calls or no-calls by referees from the opposing team's conference. It's becoming a tradition at Syracuse to lose these games, and it only leaves the Virginia Tech schedule makers grinning from ear to ear, saying, "See! I told you it's better to schedule JMU and UAB at home to open the year!"

Boston College 14, Navy 10

Those of you out there who keep saying that BC is improving and is on the way back need a reality check, because I'm not seeing it. They're no more on-the-way-back than Pitt is (more on that later). The Eagles gave up almost five yards a carry to Navy's rushing attack. BC seems to struggle every year against the service academies and this year is no different. The Eagles narrowly avoided an embarrassing loss here.

Pittsburgh 30, Kent 23

Pitt narrowly avoided an embarrassing loss here - a really embarrassing loss. Kent has now lost 16 games in a row. They're so bad that the A-Line dubbed them "Homecoming U." The Panthers gave up a whopping 434 yards against the Golden Flashes, who aren't known for their offensive prowess … or their defensive prowess … or their special teams prowess … or their coaching prowess.

I don't see things getting better in Pitt's future. The Panthers are tearing down their stadium soon and will play in the future at the Steeler's new venue. Problem is, that's a half-hour across town each way. That'll turn the recruits off - what student athlete has an extra hour a day that they can spend traveling back and forth? Pitt may feel that the move away from an on-campus stadium is necessary, but I think it's the first step in the continued decline of their program.

Maryland 33, West Virginia 0

Uh-oh, bad news for WVU. The Mountaineers football team runs in five-year cycles. The problem is, the peaks are getting shorter and the valleys are getting deeper. A 33-0 white wash at the hands of … Maryland? Ugh.

Akron 25, Temple 15

Ack … ulp … gack … thud.


Time for the Hokies to Carry the Load

Certainly, although the rest of the league didn't acquit itself well, Miami's and Syracuse's efforts were commendable. But the Big East needs wins over out of conference teams, not close calls.

Now the attention of the league turns to the Hokies, who will find all eyes upon them Thursday night as they take on the Clemson Tigers before a national audience. With the Clemson contest, followed by a road game at UVa, the Hokies have a chance to restore some of the Big East's dignity, although wins in those two games certainly wouldn't have the same luster that a win over PSU or Michigan would have.

But the point is, the Hokies are now the Big East's top rated team at #8 in both polls, and they need to step up and do all they can to carry the flag for the Big East. We've talked time and time again about how critical this season is for this football team (you only have a veteran defense like this once every 3-4 years), and now it appears that it's important for the conference, too.

But who knows? The battle may already be lost. And the media, heck, the Big East Conference itself, have never been quick to give the Hokies credit where it's due. Tech could go 11-0, and Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese would continue to bemoan the fact that Miami lost to PSU.

Ah, well, fortunately, what's good for the Hokies, in terms of wins on the field, is good for the conference, so motivation won't be a problem.

I'll return later this week with my Clemson preview. And I promise to be a little more cheerful. This weekend just left a bad taste in my mouth, plus, I think I'm feeling the pressure of this week's game. I'm snapping and snarling at everything in sight as a I wait for the game to begin, and my new columnists seem to be, also.

Speaking of which….


Two New Columnists Debut

You may have noticed lately that I’m trying out new columnists and running their contributions as Special Features. Some have been well-received … some have not.

Today's new columnist is Drew Jacobs, who brings us his thoughts on the weekend in college football. Let me know what you think, and if you give Drew the thumbs up, we'll make his column a weekly venture. If you give Drew the thumbs down (doubtful, because his review of the weekend is pretty good), we'll feed him to the lions.

I haven't forgotten the HokieCentral Members Only area, either. Things have been a little slow there lately, but they will begin picking up as I bring more writers on board and have more content to post over there. Today's update of the Members Only area brings us an HC Column from Allen Worrell, a lifelong Hokie fan who wanted to share some thoughts about the relationship between the Big East and the Miami Hurricanes.  Like most of us, he has something that he wants to get off his chest where that's concerned.

Hopefully, you'll like the new columnists and their stuff, although, as a group, I sure wish they would cheer up. This doesn't mean that I personally am done writing, mind you - far from it. I have been very, very busy with setting up a new HokieCentral office located in Radford, which entails taking care of more details than you can imagine, right down to vacuuming the floor after assembling new office furniture by hand, and although I have found time to write here and there, it has been difficult. I'll still keep doing game reports and News and Notes, and as soon as I can come up with a good idea for a Special Feature, I'll put one together.


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