Of all the changes that have befallen Virginia Tech's football program the past 10 years -- upgrades to facilities, stadium expansion, a pull in the national recruiting scene -- perhaps the biggest transformation has been in its attitude.
In the early and mid-1990s, groups that included players reveled in even being mentioned in the "others receiving votes" category of the major polls. Today, the Hokies (7-0, 2-0 Big East) own the No. 3 national ranking and also boast the nation's top-rated rushing and scoring defense.
But in the new millennium, that isn't enough. This week in Blacksburg, it hasn't been even satisfactory.
Uttering the phrase "we need to get better" over and over, Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer then affirmed his commitment to avoid complacency by announcing the promotion of three backups into starting roles for today's 1 p.m. kickoff against Temple (3-4, 1-1). Keying the changes are reserve cornerbacks Vincent Fuller and Garnell Wilds. They will start ahead of fifth-year senior Ronyell Whitaker, a third-team all-American in 2001, and sophomore DeAngelo Hall, who many acknowledge as the most talented defensive back in team history.
"It's not a slight to DeAngelo and Ronyell; it's just a credit to the other two," Beamer said. "When you look at Vinnie and Garnell, they played great last week, and they need to be recognized for that. And I think when you keep good competition going, people trying to outdo each other . . . it's healthy competition. And that's what we want to continue here at Virginia Tech."
It's also a hearty reminder that playing well is just as important as winning. Another example: Pass protection has faltered along the offensive line, and so true freshman Jimmy Martin will make his first career start in place of sophomore tackle Jon Dunn. Another freshman, James Anderson, likewise will make his first start at linebacker in the absence of junior Vegas Robinson, who will miss two or more games because of a high ankle sprain.
"If you're taking it [in a negative] way, then you're missing the point," Beamer said. "I personally like it that way. I like that you compete and are rewarded for your performance."
Outside of their dominant rushing attack against Boston College and Rutgers, the Hokies could take few positives from their last two outings. In those games Virginia Tech drew a combined 22 penalties for 157 yards, gave up 292 yards on 10 kickoff returns, lost six turnovers and yielded 454 yards passing.
"We just have to focus on the task at hand and we each have to do our job better," said junior center Jake Grove, who was responsible for a handful of offsides penalties at Boston College when he inadvertently jerked his head. "Winning is what matters, but it does matter how you win, too. We've been too sloppy the past couple games, and that has to change."
Last week the Hokies jumped to a 21-0 lead over the Scarlet Knights before letting them back in. It was a two-touchdown game in the fourth quarter and remained that way until just under five minutes to play, and that was with Virginia Tech's starters on the field.
It's quite possible the only thing that saved Virginia Tech from losing some ground in the national polls was that its game against Rutgers was its first of the season not televised. And the highlights of the game -- 342 yards rushing, including a dazzling, 58-yard run by sophomore tailback Kevin Jones that was replayed throughout the week on ESPN -- was enough to mask the problems.
But in Blacksburg, memories of Virginia Tech's upset loss to Temple in 1998 -- the biggest in college football that season -- remain. That 28-24 loss came when the Hokies were ranked 14th and the Owls were among the country's worst outfits.
This season Virginia Tech is better, but so is Temple. The Owls are coming off back-to-back victories over Syracuse (their first over the Orangemen in Big East history) and Connecticut.
"I'm not going to say our team let down on [Rutgers], but we stopped really executing like we needed to," sophomore quarterback Bryan Randall said. "We had a couple key turnovers and were really shooting ourselves in the foot almost the whole game with penalties and a couple fumbles. We didn't get the job done. We wanted to put them away . . . next time, we will."