Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer has spent the weeks since the Hokies’ surprising at-large berth into the Sugar Bowl talking about how the selection showed Virginia Tech’s newfound prestige within the college football world. But on Saturday at the team’s bowl media day, the Hokies couldn’t escape the annual questions about the program’s struggles in big games.
It’s well documented at this point that Virginia Tech is 1-19 against top five opponents, but Beamer is also just 8-10 in bowl games. This year’s Sugar Bowl will be Virginia Tech’s sixth appearance in a Bowl Championship Series game and it has just a 1-4 record during that time. The one win came over Cincinnati in the 2009 Orange Bowl.
Those shortfalls, combined with all the criticism the Hokies have taken in recent weeks about being selected to face Michigan in the Sugar Bowl, seems to be all the ammunition Virginia Tech needs.
“There’s been years we maybe didn’t get a chance to go to the BCS where we probably belonged more than this year, but that’s just the nature of the game,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “I hope our kids are a little ticked off by this. Hopefully we can use it to our advantage from a standpoint of we are the underdog, we don’t belong.”
Proving skeptics wrong overshadowed any talk of Michigan’s Denard Robinson or the 13th-ranked Wolverines’ upgraded defense, as Virginia Tech once again had to defend its spot in a premier bowl game. But a year after putting a more emphasis than normal on beating Stanford in the Orange Bowl — and then getting blown out by the Cardinal, 40-12 — Beamer took a different approach this time around.
Instead he mentioned how significant winning this bowl game would be, but seemed to put more importance on how the Hokies’ selection to this year’s Sugar Bowl was evidence of how well-regarded Virginia Tech is now compared to its first trip to New Orleans in 1995.
“I think a little bit when you win them, they’re not as big a game as when you lost them,” Beamer said. “But to win the championships that we’ve won and to be the winningest program since 1995 all-time, I believe there had to be some big ballgames in there.”
But when the Hokies beat Texas that season in perhaps the most memorable bowl win of the Beamer era, the backdrop was eerily similar to this year, when many around the country questioned Virginia Tech’s inclusion in the game. Since then, the Hokies haven’t scored the marquee victory their fans have been longing for considering how much sustained success the program has had during the regular season.
“I’m well aware that we haven’t played well in a lot of them, and so, for me, and for the guys who’ve been in and around our program, we understand the importance,” senior wide receiver Danny Coale said. “There’s always going to be people who doubt you, and we didn’t play well enough in the ACC [championship] game to get a lot of people’s approval, so I think it’s important that we play better.”
But as Virginia Tech was quick to point out, it only lost to one team this year and “we want to have that statement game to let people know we deserve to be in there at the top with Michigan,” safety Eddie Whitley said
This year will be a bit different if only because it’s the first time since 2005 that Virginia Tech is entering its bowl game coming off a loss.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said the coaching staff was supposed to hit the road recruiting immediately after the ACC championship, but following the Hokies’ 38-10 loss to Clemson they came in to the office Sunday to review film. That, though, doesn’t mean he thinks Virginia Tech isn’t worthy of this year’s lofty bowl status.
“You look at what Virginia Tech has accomplished over an extended period of time, and this year,” he said. “I don’t think we have to feel like we have to prove that we’re capable.”