Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech will step right into the fire against Boise State

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By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 24, 2010; 1:53 AM

It takes a lot to surprise Frank Beamer. After 29 years of coaching college football - he's entering his 24th season at Virginia Tech - he's seen it all: healthy seasons, injury-plagued seasons, seasons that met expectations and seasons that fell woefully short. The players change, the opponents change - heck, the conference has changed. In Beamer's tenure, the Hokies have gone from independent to the Big East to the ACC, where the Hokies are the preseason favorite.

Beamer has been the constant for the Hokies, and a contract extension announced this weekend will keep him in that role until the 2016 season. If he chooses to retire then, he'll be 70, with 30 years as a Hokie under his belt.

It's nearly as hard today to carve a 30-year college coaching career at one school as it is for a major league baseball player to remain with the same organization throughout his entire career. Beamer's first six seasons at Virginia Tech produced nary a bowl appearance, and in 1992 the Hokies went 2-8-1. Since then, they've made 17 straight bowl trips and reeled off six straight 10-win seasons.

And now the Hokies have become the Walmart greeters of the college season. Last year, the first big national game was No. 7 Virginia Tech vs. No. 5 Alabama, and it was highly anticipated long before parents had packed the kids off to college for the semester. The Hokies lost that game, and just like that they were all but out of the national title hunt - on Sept. 5. They finished 10-3, went to their customary bowl game and won, but that elusive national title would have to wait another year.

In two weeks, the Hokies again will play in the most anticipated national game of college football's opening weekend, and perhaps of the season. Virginia Tech, ranked 10th in the AP preseason poll, takes on No. 3 Boise State on Labor Day at FedEx Field. For college football fans, it seems a little premature, like opening your Christmas presents on Columbus Day. For Boise State, a non-Bowl Championship Series school, a loss ends its hopes of a national title. For Virginia Tech, a BCS school, a loss cripples its chances. That's a lot at stake in the first game of the season, when many schools are enjoying the traditional cream-puff appetizer.

"I think whoever wins this certainly has a leg up and whoever loses it has got to overcome some things and depend on other people," Beamer said in a telephone interview last week. "That's kind of the way I see it."

Boise State is on a mission to become a BCS school. It is leaving the Western Athletic Conference for the Mountain West in part to achieve that goal. Winning a national title, however, would be the equivalent of Disney FastPass - the Broncos would move to the front of the line with undeniable credentials. That's their motivation, and to back it up they return 22 of 24 starters from last season's 14-0 team that won the Fiesta Bowl.

"When I said we'd play them, I didn't realize they'd have everyone coming back," Beamer said at ACC media day. "Seriously."

Beamer's team is less experienced; only four starters return on defense.

"Where Boise has us a little bit is experience," Beamer said last week. "They've got everybody back. We're replacing some guys on defense, two guys on the line and two kickers. They've got experience and we're lacking it at some positions."

For once, the offense is Beamer's area of least concern. Traditionally, the Hokies have had a stellar, experienced defense but question marks at some of the offensive skill positions.

"One year it's our offensive line; not only do we not know who the backups will be, but we don't know the starters" when practice starts, Beamer said. "One year it's wide receivers, all of them are new, they're out there running into each other. Two years ago we didn't know who the tailbacks were going to be. Last year running back [Darren] Evans goes down in the preseason. It seems like with our offense it's not just one guy in the position, it's the whole position that was young. We're at the position now offensively that we're fairly stable. I think we're fairly stable."


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