By Zach Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 29, 2010; D03
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Since Frank Beamer became the football coach at Virginia Tech in 1987, he's turned an engineering school tucked in the southwest corner of the state into a football power -- one that knocks on the door of college football's elite, but has never filled the vacant national championship spot in the trophy case of the athletic department's headquarters.
Beamer admitted that only a select group of programs enters a season with the opportunity to win the national championship. He said there have been "two or three times" during his 23 years in Blacksburg when he believed the Hokies were among those teams, and Virginia Tech was on the cusp after the 1999 season, when it lost in the BCS title game.
And though he acknowledges that questions remain about his 2010 team, Beamer thinks the ACC preseason favorite could contend for the national title.
"There's several -- I wouldn't say a lot -- but there's several that start out and have the capabilities to do that," Beamer said during ACC media days earlier this week. "I've been in it long enough to know things have to fall in place, pieces have to fit and injuries have to go the right way. There's a fine line there [between] being able to do it and not able to do it. But if you're in the running, you're in the ballpark. And I won't back down from it."
It's similar rhetoric to last season, when the Hokies returned much of an Orange Bowl-winning roster. They opened the season ranked No. 7 before losing their opener to eventual national champion Alabama. The Hokies still ascended to No. 4 in the polls in October before consecutive losses sullied hopes of sneaking into title contention.
This year's team faces perhaps another daunting opener against Boise State, which is poised to be ranked among the top teams in nation. The Broncos return all but one starter from an undefeated 2009 campaign. Although the Hokies players point to last year's campaign as an example that one loss does not break a season, the Labor Day matchup at FedEx Field could determine whether they are worthy of the preseason expectations.
"When I said we'd play them, I didn't realize they'd have everyone coming back," Beamer said. "Seriously."
Beamer said a marquee season opener is an advantage because it provides a spark for offseason workouts. It also gives the coaching staff an entire summer to formulate a game plan for the Broncos, who feature an unconventional offense that will force defensive coordinator Bud Foster's unseasoned defense to quickly develop.
The Hokies' defense has been so illustrious under Foster that Virginia Tech often won despite its offense. This season, the offense should be among the conference's finest while the defense, which returns only four starters, has much to prove.
"I know we're going to be a good defense, but how quickly?" Beamer asked when identifying his concern entering the season.
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor enters his final season in Blacksburg, and Beamer insists he would not want any other player behind center. Running backs Ryan Williams and Darren Evans form a backfield combination that competes with Alabama as the nation's best. And after much development and criticism, the wide receiving corps returns two players -- Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale -- who recorded 30 or more catches and averaged more than 20 yards per catch.
"Some people know Virginia Tech hasn't really won a lot of games with their offense the last couple years," Taylor said. "I think this is the year we can do it."
Taylor said the Hokies displayed their offensive prowess at the end of the last season, when Virginia Tech averaged 38.3 points in its final four games. That included a 37-14 win over Tennessee in the Chick fil-A Bowl to reach 10 victories. It was the Hokies' sixth consecutive season with 10 or more wins. Only Texas can match that streak.
But the Longhorns have won a national championship during that span. Virginia Tech's glass case remains empty, reserved for a trophy that marks the only unobtained milestone for Beamer and the Hokies.
"I think we're thought of differently right now than 15 years, maybe even 10 years ago," Beamer said. "And I think we've accomplished a lot of things. Now once we win that national championship, I think we hit another deal there."