Monday, December 6, 2010

ACC Champions

Another year, another title. Not that I'm complaining, but did you expect anything different?

2010, Virginia Tech's fourth ACC title since joining the conference seven years ago, did get off to a rocky start. However, the goals never changed and the outcome remained the same. Every Hokie football season is about winning the conference championship and making the BCS Orange Bowl. And that is exactly where we're at. The journey getting there was just a bit more roundabout than normal.

It started, as everyone knows, at 0-2. Two losses to Boise State. Well, not really, but kind of. VT lost to Boise the first game of the season, in a shootout. Both teams scored in the 30s with the Hokies falling just short. Then, just five days later, VT had another game against the James Madison we-are-obviously-going-to-overlook-this-FCS-team Dukes. Well, they obviously overlooked the Dukes. Or, they were too worn out from their week one opponent to be up for a game five days later. Or they just got outplayed. Anyone who watched the game will agree with me that it was most likely one of the first two. Nevertheless, a loss is a loss. Virginia Tech was 0-2 and out of the top 25.

Perhaps I was delusional. Perhaps I was simply not as spontaneously worrisome as some of my fellow former Hokies. But I was still feeling okay about the season. Obviously disappointed about the losses, it was still the case that we hadn't played a conference game yet. Our goal was still within reach. The first two games really hadn't effected that.

Let me interrupt myself to explain. Many non-Hokies might think, because of our preseason ranking, that our season goal may have been to make the BCS title game. This would be slightly wrong. Our pipe dream is always to make the title game. A preseason top 10 ranking was a good starting point for that. However, Virginia Tech is never, really, a national title contender. Not in my mind. We are good. We are always good. Seven straight years of 10+ wins proves that. But we are not in that top tier.

Everyone knows the top tier. It's comprised of SEC and Big 12 schools for the most part. It's the group of teams that really has a legitimate shot at making the title game each and every season based on talent, recruiting, schedule strength and impressions in the minds of the pollsters. This group is malleable. It is even slightly cyclical. Florida State and Miami used to be members of the tier, back in the 90's. Notre Dame was too. USC may be falling out because of penalties, but they'll be back. The point is however, that VT has never been up 'there.' Every so often we get a top 5 ranking but it doesn't last.

Like many other schools around the nation, our goal each season is to win our conference. Winning the ACC and receiving that automatic BCS bowl game berth signifies a successful year. From that point, winning the Orange Bowl would put the cherry on top, but the ACC title is our Super Bowl ring.

Okay, so where was I? Ah yes, 0-2. From that point, rallied by the coaching staff and the veteran players, this team decided they agreed with me. No one actually contacted me about this or desired my input, but it was obvious Tyrod Taylor and I were on the same page. Those first two games didn't matter. Let's get back on track for conference play. From that point on, including notching two out-of-conference wins, the Hokies never lost again in 2010. They swept through the remaining schedule, going undefeated in ACC conference play, a feat that hadn't been done this century.

It was thanks to the veteran leadership; it was the talented offense; it was mostly the fact that VT knew their goal was still alive.

In the end, this team was a juggernaut. Starting off slow perhaps just fueled their fire. Everyone then thought of them as a lost cause, not worth following anymore. The VT defense was not as sharp or as talented as years past. It finished outside the top dozen defenses in the nation for the first time in years. But the slack was picked up by forcing turnovers and by the offense.

This team scored 30+ points nine times this season. During the 11 consecutive victories to end the year, they average 38 points a game, and remember, nine of those were conference battles. The offense was, dare I say, dynamic, for the first time since number 7 left early for the NFL.

The team was led by senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He won conference player of the year. In the ACC title game, you could see why. He played one of his best games of his career on Saturday against the Seminoles. I have never been the biggest Taylor fan. I have always thought of him has widely overrated. He was good, but not great. I guess he fit VT well then. T-Mobile, as he was affectionately called as a freshman, could always run. Boy could he run. He is the school's all-time leading rushing quarterback. Yes, ahead of Michael Vick. But his passing skills never did anything for me. The problem was always I wasn't sure if it was really his fault.

I don't know enough intricate details about the offense to know if the lack of big-time passing plays in the past had been the fault of Taylor getting antsy in the pocket, the receivers running poor routes, or the play calling being poor. Any of the three was possible. As Tyrod developed, he began to seem more comfortable behind center yet the big passing numbers didn't come. Even this year, he is a tremendously efficient passer, yet didn't accumulate big yardage. Too often he would sit behind his blockers waiting and waiting, then run. Could he not find open receivers? Did he not have confidence to make tough throws? Were the receivers not good enough to create separation? Were the plays being called not creative enough to confuse a defense? What was it? I still don't know. I just always had the thought in my mind that a stand-out QB wouldn't let this happen. If Tyrod was excellent, those throws would get made and completed. Instead, he tucked it under and ran. It was probably the smart play, but to me it meant Taylor was a very good quarterback but nothing more.

Aiding Taylor in the Virginia Tech backfield this year was a textbook three-headed monster at running back. Ryan Williams was the incumbent, the star, the all-around best. Darren Evans was the bruiser, the former leader returning from injury. David Wilson was the spastic speedster, the new guy trying to earn carries. With all three healthy, the offensive coordinator didn't really know where to turn. Early on in the season it seemed to be more of a hindrance than an advantage. No one could get into the flow of a game. Then Ryan Williams got hurt. This may have turned the season around. He got hurt early on in the Hokies' third game. They were 0-2 at this point if you recall. From that point forward, even once Williams returned, the offense seemed to flow more smoothly. Darren Evans got his chance to re-acclimate himself to the team he couldn't help in 2009. David Wilson got the opening he needed to be given more carries and show what he could do.

The final season tallies show all four guys, including Tyrod Taylor, carried the ball over 100 times. All four men scored at least five rushing touchdowns, led by Evan's 11. And all four backs averaged at least 4.5 yards per carry. Whether they really needed Williams to get hurt to figure out everyone's role or not will be left unanswered. The fact is, it worked out.

An embarrassment of riches at the running back position, helped by the super-efficient season of Tyrod Taylor, turned VT into an offensive powerhouse for the first time in a long time, and led them to the season they had.

Now some people will wonder 'what could have been.' They will say, often in a mocking tone, "Just imagine if they hadn't lost to JMU!" Well, allow me to save you the time of wondering: it wouldn't have mattered. In fact, neither the JMU game or Boise State game mattered. Allow me to explain.

Virginia Tech went 11-2. They finished 13th in the final BCS rankings. They are going to play in the BCS Orange Bowl.

Let's say they had still lost to Boise but rebounded to beat JMU as most expected they would. They would have finished 12-1. They might have reached the top five in the BCS rankings, most likely finishing between 4th and 7th. They would have been placed in the BCS Orange Bowl.

Okay so what if, somehow, they BEAT Boise State but lost to JMU. Perhaps they took the Dukes too lightly after a huge victory. They would, again, have been 12-1. With a bad loss, they would have finished anywhere from 7th to 11th in the final BCS tally and been awarded a trip to the BCS Orange Bowl.

Now wait, what if they had gone undefeated? What if they got away with a victory in that first game against Boise AND went on to throttle the FCS' JMU Dukes? They would have finished with a record of 13-0. Unbelievable. They would have finished 3rd in the BCS rankings and, you guessed it, been playing in the BCS Orange Bowl.

In the end, those first two losses meant nothing. They made for a fun story, a nice redemption season by the Hokies. But they really didn't matter. Virginia Tech still accomplished its goal, the same goal we have every season: to win the conference championship.

Now beating Stanford would be a nice cherry on our sundae.

(Image taken from

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