BLACKSBURG, Va. — Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer began his weekly news conference Tuesday by proclaiming two-time defending national champion Alabama the best team he has ever faced during his 27 years in Blacksburg.
Better than the Bobby Bowden-led Florida State squad that bested the Hokies in the 2000 BCS title game. Better than the 2001 Miami squad that featured 17 future NFL first-round draft picks. And even better than the 2004 Southern California team that went on to win a national championship after beating Virginia Tech at FedEx Field to open the season.
Beamer admitted he never thought a program could be so dominant – the Crimson Tide have won three of the past four national titles – in the modern era, when every football team in the country deals with scholarship limits.
His players have taken a different stance. When Beamer’s thoughts were relayed to senior offensive lineman Andrew Miller, his mind wandered back to a saying from his grappling days under Virginia Tech wrestling coach Kevin Dresser: “Never take a back seat to anybody.”
“That’s embedded in my heart,” Miller said. “I’m never gonna take a back seat. I’m gonna play Alabama like I play the next team.”
The Hokies are well aware of the challenges in front of them Saturday in Atlanta when they’ll look to dethrone the Crimson Tide. They are 19.5-point underdogs, the biggest pregame disparity Virginia Tech has faced in more than 20 years. Even Beamer concedes few outside of Blacksburg are giving his team much of a chance to put a dent in Alabama’s armor.
The lack of national respect – linebacker Jack Tyler mentioned Tuesday how the talk of Alabama looking ahead to their highly-anticipated matchup with Texas A&M on Sep. 14 irks him — has been used as motivation for months.
“I don’t think I see intimidation in anyone’s eyes,” Tyler said. “I think I see a dog that’s ready to pounce and to win a game.”
Beamer worries about the youth Virginia Tech has on offense this year. The Hokies have several new wide receivers, a redshirt freshman starting at tailback and two first-time starters at offensive tackle, including the first true freshman to start at left tackle (Jonathon McLaughlin) in a season-opening game under Beamer.
Quarterback Logan Thomas has gone back and watched film of Alabama’s lone loss a year ago to Texas A&M to try and locate some kind of weakness. What he saw was Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel turning broken plays into big gains, and Thomas was quick to point out two of the Crimson Tide’s past three defeats have come against running quarterbacks (Auburn’s Cam Newton was the other).
Thomas believes the pundits will be singing a different tune about the Hokies come Sunday.
“I think y’all going to see a different team than y’all are used to seeing here at Virginia Tech,” Thomas said. “I think y’all are going to be writing about a chance of us having a superior season.”
When he wasn’t praising Coach Nick Saban on Tuesday, Beamer talked about how this season opener will a barometer for what the Hokies need to work on as the year progresses. He wants this team to be ready for conference play.
But that doesn’t mean Beamer is ready to throw in the towel before kickoff. Instead, he has presented the Hokies with a simple question in recent days: “How often do you get a chance to play the best team in the country?”
“It’s not always who should win, it’s who does win,” Beamer said. “We’re not conceding anything now. We’re not going down that path.”