For a team to go 11-0 in major college football, it almost has to have a player who every week is head and shoulders above everybody on his team and the other team, a player so talented the NFL scouts would row a boat and climb a mountain to see.
Virginia Tech is 11-0 after a 38-14 victory over Boston College, and quarterback Michael Vick is that player. He won't win the Heisman Trophy and might not finish in the top five. He'll probably finish behind Purdue quarterback Drew Brees on most all-America ballots. Regardless, he's the most breathtaking college football player anywhere. When he tucks the ball and runs, he's Bo Jackson. When he throws, he's a young Terry Bradshaw. For his first three years at Virginia Tech, defensive end Corey Moore would rest when the offense took the field, mostly oblivious to what was happening. Moore, now a senior, doesn't rest, he sometimes doesn't sit. He's usually scared to turn his head for fear of missing something because Vick is a show unto himself. And if entertainment value isn't enough, "He's the reason we're 11-0," Moore said after Friday's victory over the Eagles completed a perfect regular season.
The Fighting Gobblers--isn't the original nickname much better than "Hokies," especially on Thanksgiving weekend?--would be a contender with even an average quarterback. That's because the defense has as many as three players who will be in the NFL next season. And the offense has three capable runners and a wide receiver named Andre Davis who is the two-time Atlantic 10 sprint champ in the 100 and 200 meters and has the nerve to be big (200 pounds), too. Coach Frank Beamer appears to have built a program that is beyond being dependent on a couple of players.
But this particular team, which absolutely should be in the Sugar Bowl with Florida State, is a powerhouse with Vick behind center. Playing against a Boston College team that beat Notre Dame last week, with a national championship game appearance on the line, Vick completed 11 of 13 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. The two incompletions? They were both dropped passes, where the ball hit the receiver in the numbers. He was perfect on all 13 passes. A few weeks ago, Vick completed 11 of 12 passes for four touchdowns against Rutgers. In the first half.
Oh, by the way, Vick is a redshirt freshman. He and his high school coach decided he should get used to college life last year, and try to play this year. And oh, before we move away from statistics, Vick carried the ball 11 times for 118 yards against the Eagles, although five sacks for minus-42 yards reduced his "official" rushing total to 76 yards.
Here's what really mattered in the game against Boston College. On the first play from scrimmage, with BC defenders wrapped around every Virginia Tech receiver, Vick ran 31 yards for the big play in the drive that made it 7-0. When BC failed on a fourth-down play in Tech territory, Vick made the Eagles pay dearly; he threw the ball 69 yards to Davis for a touchdown to make it 14-0.
This wasn't a 20-yard pass and a 49-yard run. Vick threw the ball 69 yards in the air. "I thought it would bring rain," BC Coach Tom O'Brien said. "That's a bomb."
Davis, who runs a 40-yard dash in less than 4.3 seconds, said: "I looked back and the ball still wasn't in the air. I looked again, and it kept climbing and climbing. . . . We test each other all the time in practice. I run as fast as I can, and he throws it as far as he can. . . . How far does he throw? We don't measure, but we both start out in our own territory, on the other side of the 50."
It seems crazy now, but two years ago Vick was considered the second-best quarterback in his own neighborhood. Syracuse and Virginia wanted him. But Ron Curry was the belle of the ball in the Newport News area of Virginia. Vick was the other guy. Talk about a tortoise-and-hare story. Curry is on the shelf with a torn Achilles'; Vick started as an afterthought and now can see Curry in his rear-view mirror. "He's a special player," Beamer said. "He's one of the great talents in the country. It doesn't take long to see his talent. But we wanted to see him in game situations, how he'd react to pressure."
And how has Vick reacted? "He likes it. He's calm, under control. Some kids like it, others don't. But this kid . . . he can handle everything we throw at him and more. It's because of the way he is, and what he wants to be. He's got all the right things in my opinion."
You think that's just high praise from a coach high on going 11-0?
BC's O'Brien, one of the stingy-with-a-compliment guys, said, "Vick is playing at a level right now that Charlie Ward or Donovan McNabb got to in their third or fourth years."
It's almost scary that Vick is 19 years old. And that his motion is Marino-like in that he needs little wind-up, but can generate absurd velocity. In high school, he loved being a passing quarterback, which flies in the face of the stereotype of Southern black quarterbacks being run-obsessed. After Friday's game, the BC defensive players said at times they thought they were where they needed to be to knock down a pass, only to have the ball shoot by them for a completion.
This is why Virginia Tech has a good chance to beat Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, should Tech actually finish ahead of Nebraska when all these incomprehensible Bowl Championship Series rankings tabulations are complete. Vick is as good as Florida State wide receiver Peter Warrick, but Vick has the ball every snap; Warrick doesn't.
Beamer knows he's got something special, here and now. He lobbied shamelessly Friday for a spot in the Jan. 4 Sugar Bowl, just as he should have done. He and his team have earned that right. "We've defeated four ranked teams [BC, Syracuse, Virginia and Miami] by a total of 174-31. . . . There's something terribly wrong if we're not in New Orleans."
If the Hokies get there, they would face the No. 1 team in the nation. Florida State, however, would have to contend with the man who might be the nation's No. 1 player.
CAPTION: Hokies QB Michael Vick, getting flipped by Eagles' George White (40), showed pin-point accuracy, completing 11 of 13 passes for 290 yards.