Virginia Tech Picked to Be the Class of the ACC in Football
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
GREENSBORO, N.C., July 27 -- Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer likes to talk about living in the present. He and his players are not shy to repeat a refrain about their a day-at-a-time mantra. And on Monday at the ACC Football Kickoff, the Hokies did not accomplish anything.
But the announcement that the news media selected Virginia Tech to finish atop the Coastal Division and to win the ACC championship was the latest indication that the Hokies have unseated Florida State, selected to win the Atlantic Division, as the class of the conference.
Before the ACC expanded prior to the 2004 season, the Seminoles had won 11 conference championships in 12 years. In the five years since, Virginia Tech has won three conference titles. The Hokies have to prove themselves this season in a deep conference in which top teams are separated by a sliver. But Virginia Tech is still seen by some as having establishing itself as the cream of the ACC.
"We haven't had the success in the 2000s than we did in the 1990s, when we won more games in the history of football in 10 years," Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said, whose .832 winning percentage in ACC games leads Beamer's .791 among active coaches. "We didn't come close to it after that. I think a lot of that isn't because we got that bad, but the conference has gotten so much better. They're making us look bad."
Entering this season, Virginia Tech has the pieces in place to make another run at the conference crown and perhaps shake up the national landscape. The Hokies won the Orange Bowl last season and return eight starters on offense and seven on defense.
"I think we played well at the end," Beamer said of last season's finish. "You gain some confidence. I think we got a lot of good players coming back. If there's one thing that's out there, it's that we may still be too young overall as a football team. But we'll see where we go with that."
For all of Virginia Tech's success, it might be easy to forget that it almost did not become an ACC member. The initial proposal for the conference's three-team expansion involved Miami, Boston College and Syracuse. When Virginia Tech was added, it dramatically altered the makeup of the ACC.
From 1987 to 2000, Florida State strung together 14 straight seasons with 10 or more wins and finished in the top five in the Associated Press poll in each of those years. The Seminoles dominated the ACC in many of those years, flattening opponents by 40-point margins and showcasing athletes such as 1993 Heisman Trophy winner Charlie Ward.
But the Seminoles have dropped off in recent years, despite upsetting Virginia Tech to win the 2005 ACC title game. Since the conference's expansion, Florida State has not had a 10-win season and has a 40-24 record, with 7-6 finishes in 2006 and 2007.
"For any player that goes to Florida State, we don't have any plans to lose," Seminoles linebacker Dekoda Watson said. "You go there for a certain tradition; you go there to be the top dog. It hasn't happened in a long time."
Virginia Tech is one of only three division I-A programs with 10 wins or more in each of the past five seasons, joining Texas and Southern California.
Still, the ACC has been marginalized in the national championship picture. Although the conference sent 10 teams to bowl games last season, no team dominated and the league was cast as mediocre. Last season, for example, the inexperienced Hokies lost three games and narrowly escaped in many of their wins, and their rise to the top was indicative of the slim gap among the conference's teams.
"If you really step back and take a look at the conferences a year ago, top to bottom, we may well have been the deepest conference in the country a year ago," ACC Commissioner John Swofford said. "What we didn't have was a team or two involved in the national championship race down the stretch. And I think that has a lot to do with how a conference is perceived competitively, maybe more than it should."
Virginia Tech has the opportunity to make a statement about the credibility of the conference, and its legitimacy as a national title contender, when it opens the season against Alabama on Sept. 5 in Atlanta. The Hokies bring back key components from their predictably brutish defense and appear to have reached a level of offensive steadiness with the emergence of quarterback Tyrod Taylor and a developing offensive line.
Asked who was the ACC team to beat, Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis said: "Virginia Tech. Easy."
Only once before, in 2007, has Virginia Tech been the preseason favorite to win the conference. The Hokies won the conference that season but lost to Kansas in the Orange Bowl. But there is a growing energy in Blacksburg, Va., for those hoping this season will end differently.
"I'm excited about this football team," Beamer said. "I do like this football team. I think being picked where we are, if things are legit, then I think it's an honor to be picked there. And I think it's legit."