-- Before leaving the Virginia Tech campus to attend this past weekend's ACC football preseason news conference at the Homestead resort, Hokies tight end Jeff King and defensive end Darryl Tapp took off their 2004 ACC championship rings and left them behind. When Tech Coach Frank Beamer learned what his players did, he removed his ring, as well.
"They knew we had to take those rings off and leave them at home," Beamer said Monday. "We can look at them, but we realize there's a lot of work to do. I think that says a lot about this football team."
Media members attending the two-day event also liked Beamer's team, as the Hokies were an overwhelming choice to win the Coastal Division in the new 12-team ACC. Virginia Tech received 62 of 92 first-place votes and 517 points overall, ahead of Miami (487) and Virginia (356). The Hurricanes, who received 29 first-place votes, lost to Virginia Tech, 16-10, in the final regular season game last season, a victory that gave the Hokies the ACC title in their first season in the conference.
Maryland, which slipped to 5-6 in 2004 after winning 10 games or more in each of Coach Ralph Friedgen's first three seasons at his alma mater, was picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division. Virginia, which finished 8-4 last season, was picked third in the Coastal Division and had one first-place vote.
Florida State, which has endured the losses of quarterback Wyatt Sexton and all-American cornerback Antonio Cromartie to illness and injury, was picked to win the Atlantic Division, receiving 65 first-place votes and 522 points. Boston College, playing in the ACC for the first time after leaving the Big East Conference, got 24 first-place votes and 458 points and was picked to finish second behind the Seminoles.
This upcoming season will be the first time the ACC has included 12 football teams in two divisions. The division winners will play in the ACC championship game at Jacksonville's Alltel Stadium on Dec. 3, with the winner receiving the league's automatic berth in the Bowl Championship Series.
"There's so much to play for now," Beamer said. "Right now, everything is different. We're going to different stadiums than we did last year. It's fresh and exciting."
Florida State won the ACC in 11 of its 13 seasons since joining the league in 1992, but finished second last season with a 6-2 league record.
"The last couple of years, we didn't get it done," Seminoles tailback Leon Washington said of Florida State's 28-11 record the past three seasons. "There's a lot of pressure on us to win this year."
The Hokies are expected to be a top-10 choice when the coaches' preseason poll is released next month. Virginia Tech, which finished 10-3 and lost to Auburn, 16-13, in the Sugar Bowl last season, returns 14 starters -- eight on offense and six on defense. Quarterback Marcus Vick, the younger brother of former Hokies all-American and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, returns after sitting out last season because of a school-imposed suspension.
"I don't have concerns about Marcus Vick," Beamer said. "I think he's going to have a great year. He's prepared for it and he's worked hard. Trust me: This is a talented guy that can establish his own name."