Hokies Have Something To Play For

In Orange Bowl, underdog Jayhawks stand in Virginia's Tech way

Dec. 21, 2007

By Adam Caparell




Adam is CSTV.com's football editor and national football writer.
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They may not be playing Jan. 7, but Virginia Tech still has a lot to play for in the Orange Bowl.


The Hokies are vying to become the first team in program history to win 12 games in a season and with a win over Kansas, Tech coach Frank Beamer seems to think his team could finish as high as No. 2 or 3 in the final polls.


"There are some real things to play for," Beamer said.


Just don't forget to include avoiding the ignominy of losing to the underdog Jayhawks.




While Kansas may enter its first ever BCS game as only 3.5 point dogs in the eyes of the odds makers -- a line that doesn't exactly install Tech as a prohibitive favorite -- the Jayhawks might be outmatched in this one.


For a team whose toughest non-conference competition this year came in the form of a home date with Central Michigan, the MAC Champ and Motor City Bowl entrant, facing the ACC Champion and third-ranked team in the BCS standings is a considerable step up in competition for the Jayhawks.  


"I've watched some tape and there's no question, it's a very fine football team," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said of the Hokies. "They are athletic. Their defensive line is very good and their secondary is very good."


This season's surprise team, Kansas has not faced anyone quite like Virginia Tech. The Jayhawks played only two ranked opponents all season long, losing to Missouri in their regular season finale and beating then-No. 24 Kansas State the first week of October. And their other 10 wins all came against teams that couldn't come close to playing the kind of defense the Hokies play.


That defense, which finished the season as the nation's fifth best, isn't the only Tech unit with talent. The Hokies also boast perennially excellent special teams and an offense that, after some early struggles, eventually found its way as the season progressed.


"In the end, we were a good team," Beamer said. "Offense contributed, defense contributed, special teams contributed."


But it certainly didn't start out that way. There was the emotional season opener that saw Virginia Tech honor the victims of last April's massacre on campus and barely beat ECU as the offense sputtered. In Week 2, the Hokies were humbled by LSU, 48-7, as Tyrod Taylor made his debut a year earlier than Beamer would have liked.


Sean Glennon wasn't getting the job done, there were offensive line problems and the running game and Brandon Ore could not get untracked. As a result, the Hokies did not look like the preseason favorite in the ACC that nearly all had pegged them to be.


It wasn't until the combination of Taylor and Sean Glennon finally became comfortable with the two-quarterback system that Virginia Tech finally began to play up to its capabilities. Following the heartbreaking defeat at the hands of Matt Ryan and then-No. 2 Boston College on Oct. 25 that could have sent some teams into a tailspin, the Hokies began to roll. Five straight wins, including a victory in the ACC title game versus those same Eagles, showed the country Virginia Tech was indeed one of the best. Just like it was supposed to be.


"This team overcame and the way it overcame was special," Beamer said. "The offense took its lumps, but we were pretty good at the end, constant on defense and special teams once again."


Their reward for winning the ACC was a berth in the Orange Bowl, where they were surprisingly paired with Kansas. Other teams were more deserving of a BCS berth -- like Missouri -- but don't tell that to Beamer. 


"You just look at the stats," Beamer said. "This is a good football team. I mean, a really good football team."


The 14th-ranked defense in the country. The 6th-ranked offense in the country. A quick glance of the stats would confirm Beamer's belief.


But can a team that played such a weak schedule, that played so differently on the road compared to home, that has yet to see a team like Tech, be only a 3.5-point underdog?


Beamer doesn't know, nor does he seem to particularly care. All he knows is that Kansas has all the extra motivation it needs to beat the Hokies. They're trying to prove they belong in a BCS game, that this season wasn't an aberration, that they're better than everyone thinks. And sometimes the favorite can get complacent when it feels like there isn't anything to play for.


"Somebody once told me that if you took all [of the bowl games] and bet all the underdogs you'd probably come out a winner overall because more times than not, the underdog has something to play for more than the favorite," Beamer said. "But to me, right now, we have something to play for."


And for that reason, and to combat the long layoff between Dec. 1 and the Jan. 3 kickoff, Beamer has changed up his practice schedule a little. The Hokies are practicing fast and practicing hard for an hour and 15 minutes, rather than your average two hours.


"I think you get better when you do things full speed," Beamer said. "Not just trying to get through, but full speed. And if your feet are moving fast, your mind is moving fast."


These days, Beamer's mind is all about finishing. And he's trying to do his best to ensure his team doesn't finish on the wrong note. Getting beat by a good team is one thing, but ruining what could have been a special season, for many reasons, is quite another.

"It's one thing to play in the Orange Bowl, but the other thing is when you can go back and say ACC champs, Orange Bowl champs. I think that's a special season right there," Beamer said.