Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer was filling out his final coaches’ poll of the season late Saturday night on the bus ride home from Charlotte when the thought first occurred to him that the Hokies could be headed to a BCS bowl game despite losing in the ACC championship game.
Then Sunday morning, Beamer talked to Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver, who confirmed the coach’s hunch that perhaps the Hokies weren’t headed for the Chick-fil-A bowl as many had assumed following their 38-10 loss to Clemson on Saturday night.
And so it was, less than 24 hours after the most lopsided loss the Hokies have ever suffered against an ACC opponent, Virginia Tech found out it had become one of the biggest surprise at-large picks in BCS history. In a development few predicted, the Hokies will take on Michigan in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
“It’s been an exciting day here at Virginia Tech,” Beamer said on a Sunday night teleconference once the team’s bowl destination became official.
This will be the Hokies’ fourth appearance in the Sugar Bowl (1996, 2000 and 2004) and it’s the first time an ACC team has earned an at-large berth to a BCS bowl game. But none of Virginia Tech’s previous trips to New Orleans will come with as much controversy as this one.
Virginia Tech has not beaten a team currently ranked in the Associated Press top 25, and dropped six spots to No. 11 in this week’s BCS standings. But since the Hokies remained among the top 14, they were eligible to be an at-large pick to any of the BCS bowls.
Sugar Bowl chief executive Paul Hoolahan said Sunday the fact that the Hokies’ fan base traveled in bunches to New Orleans in the past was “extremely important,” as the bowl decided what teams it would select with an at-large berth, since Louisiana State and Alabama are meeting in the BCS national championship game this year.
“Certainly they’re one of the reasons we’re coming there,” Beamer said of Virginia Tech’s fans.
The Hokies found themselves in such an enviable position because Houston saw its undefeated season end Saturday in the Conference USA championship game against Southern Miss. The Cougars dropped all the way to 19th in this week’s BCS standings because of that loss, which meant they no longer were eligible to be an automatic qualifier for the BCS.
Virginia Tech was also aided by the fact that TCU remained at No. 18 in the BCS rankings. If the Horned Frogs had risen into the top 16, they would have been guaranteed a berth in a BCS bowl since they won the Mountain West Conference and would have been ranked ahead of Big East champion West Virginia.
All of that meant the Sugar Bowl was left to pick between No. 7 Boise State, No. 8 Kansas State and the Hokies. And Virginia Tech’s ardent fan base seemed to be the deciding factor.
“Over the years, the Virginia Tech name has gotten to be a very good name,” Beamer said. “Not only this year, but I think over the last several years the name has built up. I think there’s a lot of reasons why you’d like to have Virginia Tech in your bowl game.”
Beamer spent a good portion of his night defending the Hokies’ selection. He brought up the fact that Virginia Tech only lost to one team — twice — this year, and that the Hokies had the ACC’s player of the year in running back David Wilson. Beamer also mentioned Virginia Tech’s string of eight consecutive 10-win seasons.
On the team’s weak schedule, especially before conference play, Beamer said, “The people we’ve been able to beat, they didn’t seem weak to me.”
Michigan had to endure through its own waiting game since the Wolverines did not play Saturday and were outside of the BCS top 14 heading into this weekend. Many assumed Michigan would be one of the Sugar Bowl’s at-large selections, and when the Wolverines moved up to No. 13 they got their first BCS bid since the 2007 Rose Bowl.
This will be the first-ever meeting between Virginia Tech and Michigan, and it’s the first time the Hokies have faced a Big Ten foe since they played Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl.
The Wolverines are 10-2 under first-year Coach Brady Hoke after struggling under former Coach Rich Rodriguez for three years. They feature dynamic quarterback Denard Robinson, who has accounted for more than 3,000 yards of total offense and 34 touchdowns (18 passing, 16 rushing) this year.
Beamer said he’s seen a lot of highlights of Robinson, but wasn’t all that familiar with Michigan just yet.
“Until recently, didn’t really think us and Michigan would be meeting in a bowl game,” Beamer said.
He wasn’t alone.