Since Virginia Tech's victory over Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl--their first of six consecutive bowl appearances--the Hokies have clamored for, even craved, national attention and national respect. Now they've got it and how they handle their new-found fame could have as much of an impact on their future as how they play.
Though there was mild hype in the preseason, Virginia Tech's presence on the national scene was solidified with its 62-0 dismantling of then-No. 16 Syracuse two weeks ago. This week, the Hokies (6-0, 2-0 in Big East) rank third in both major national polls--their highest rankings in history--and in the all-important Bowl Championship Series rankings, behind Florida State and Penn State. They are making such an impression that Florida State Coach Bobby Bowden said they are the best team he has seen this season.
But now the pressure and hype will increase a little more each week--and it's a type of pressure the Hokies never have experienced. This time, a loss in any of their five remaining games likely will cost them a chance at their first national championship. Meanwhile, it will become increasingly easy for overconfidence--never mind increasingly motivated opponents--to ruin their season.
"Not going to happen," redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Vick said. "We're prepared mentally for all of this, and that has been our biggest asset."
Vick and his teammates are saying all of the right words. They claim not to be concerned with anything or anyone but Pittsburgh, which they will face in a road game Saturday night at 7 (ESPN2). But that is the pretty version, with everything boxed neatly and tied up with an orange-and-maroon bow. The reality is that things have changed in and around Virginia Tech's program, and it would be impossible for the players not to notice.
Requests for player interviews almost have tripled. And it's not just the local media who are showing interest. Representatives from ESPN, CNN/SI, CBS and Fox Sports have made extended visits to Blacksburg. Coach Frank Beamer and select players have had to juggle national radio shows with their usual interviews, talking live this week, for example, with stations in Austin, Boston, Detroit, Houston, Nashville, Raleigh, N.C., San Diego and Seattle.
All of that is old hat for perennial national championship contenders such as Florida State, Penn State, Tennessee and Florida. But it's new for Virginia Tech, which is off to its best start in 32 years and has been 7-0 only once--in 1918.
The school's sports information staff also has been bombarded with requests for credentials from professional scouts and reporters from across the country. Bryan Messerly, the assistant sports information director in charge of football, said the requests for passes to the Hokies' home game against No. 23 Miami Nov. 13 have "gone off the charts."
"I knew, eventually, that this time would come for Virginia Tech football," senior cornerback Anthony Midget said. "I just didn't think it would be now."
Read junior rover Corey Bird's comments, and think how many times a Virginia Tech player has said anything approximating this: "People on campus want to come up and talk about the rankings, and I'll entertain them for a few minutes, but I'm not that concerned with it."
What really concerns the Hokies and their followers is their self-destructing patterns. In 1997, after a 4-0 start, the Hokies were upset at home, 24-17, by Miami of Ohio. Even more disastrous was last season's 28-24 home loss to Temple after a 5-0 start--one of the biggest upsets in all of college football last season.
"Those losses are in the back of our minds all the time," Bird said. ". . . Every game for us is a hurdle; it's like we're running the 55 meters."
Said Vick, who, along with all-American defensive end Corey Moore, has been at the forefront of the national exposure: "I know a lot of people are waiting for us to lose so they can say they knew it was coming."
That certainly is the case this week. Pittsburgh (4-3, 2-2) lost to Penn State by just three points early this season--the Nittany Lions needed a blocked field goal in the closing minute to preserve that win--and it played two of the Big East's contenders, Syracuse (5-2) and Boston College (5-2), close. Throw in Virginia Tech's 2-6 record under Beamer in road games that have followed open dates, and the result is peril for the Hokies.
"There's no question in my mind [the Panthers] feel like they can beat us," Beamer said. "I think with their performances--how they played Syracuse, how they played Penn State at Penn State--I don't think there's any question they feel confident."
Still, the Hokies lead the nation in scoring offense (43.3 points per game), scoring defense (8 points per game) and total defense (192.3 yards per game) and they are among the top 10 nationally in six other categories.
Those statistics are part of the reason the Hokies say they no longer worry about national respect. If they continue to play as well as they have, the players believe even their schedule--considerably weaker than that of Florida State and Penn State--will not keep them from a chance to play for college football's top prize.
"If we're 12-0 in January you're not going to tell Corey Moore that we're not the national champions," Moore said. "I don't think you're going to be able to tell a coach on this coaching staff or a player on this team that we're not the national champions. I don't [care] if there are two other undefeated teams in the country. If we're undefeated, we're the national champions. That's the bottom line."
CAPTION: Andre Davis and undefeated Virginia Tech (6-0) are third in all-important BCS rankings that determine which teams will play for national championship.
Virginia Tech's Remaining Games
Date Opponent Time TV
Sat. at Pittsburgh 7:00 ESPN2
Nov. 6 at West Virginia 3:30 CBS
Nov. 13 Miami 7:30 ESPN
Nov. 20 at Temple 1:00 --
Nov. 26 Boston College 2:30 CBS