Saturday, August 13, 2005

Legends of the Fall

You could have forgiven Virginia Tech fans for fearing their seemingly annual swoon had started a month early when kicker Brandon Pace missed a 43-yard field goal attempt as time expired resulting in a 17-16 setback at NC St. last September. However, unlike the past few years, the Hokies shook off the defeat and won their 8 remaining regular season games, culminating in a de facto ACC championship victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl. How did the Hokies avoid the late-October/early-November sag that had affected them the past 3 seasons? The answer is simple: They were a better team. Not exactly a groundbreaking revelation. To emphasize this point lets analyze the Virginia tech teams from 2001-2003.

Virginia Tech began the season 6-0. They then proceeded to lose 4 of their last 6 contests and finish 8-4. However, of their first 6 victories, only 2 came on the road – at perennial Big East doormat Rutgers (2-9) and rebuilding West Virginia (3-8). Additionally only 2 of those wins came against teams with winning records – Central Florida (6-5) and Boston College (8-4). In their last 6 games Virginia Tech faced 4 teams with winning records, including Syracuse (10-3) at home, Pittsburgh (7-5) on the road, eventual National Champion Miami (12-0) at home, and Florida St. (8-4) in the Gator Bowl. They lost all 4 of those games. The reason for their slide is pretty evident, they faced stiffer competition.

Virginia Tech began the season 8-0. Just like the season before, they lost 4 of their last 6 and finished 10-4. However, this 8-0 start was not fueled by home dates with lesser competition. At this point in the season, Virginia Tech had won 3 road games, at Texas A & M (6-6), at Western Michigan (4-8), and at Boston College (9-4). They also claimed quality victories at home over Louisiana St. (8-5) and Marshall (11-2). The backend of the schedule was once again strong. The Hokies faced 5 teams with winning records, Pittsburgh (9-4) at home, West Virginia (9-4) at home, Virginia (9-5) at home, Miami (12-1) on the road, and Air Force (8-5) in the prestigious San Francisco Bowl. Virginia Tech managed to win 2 of those games, against Virginia and Air Force. However, they would also lose on the road to Syracuse (4-8). Again the reason for the slide is fairly simple, an upgrade in competition. The road loss to a poor Syracuse team may look like an anomaly, but remember Virginia Tech has only beaten Syracuse once in the Carrier Dome with Frank Beamer as coach (and that required a 55 yard TD run to seal the game by Ron Mexico).

Virginia Tech again began the season 6-0. This year the slide was even more magnified as they lost 5 of their last 7 to finish the year 8-5. Their first 6 games included only one against a team with a winning record, Connecticut (9-3), and only one on the road, at Rutgers (5-7). Their last 7 games included 4 road games and 6 contests against teams with a winning record. The schedule consisted of West Virginia (8-5) on the road, Miami (11-2) at home, at Pittsburgh (8-5), a little breather at Temple (1-11), a home date against Boston College (8-5), at Virginia (8-5), and a shootout with Cal in the Insight Bowl. They defeated Temple and (amazingly) Miami, and lost the remaining 5 games. Again the prime culprit for the slide is the schedule. Without a major upset over Miami, the Hokies would have finished the year on a 1-6 slide.

The Hokies of 2001-2003 were a solid middle of the pack Big East team that fooled the general public into thinking they were a championship contender for several reasons:

1) Frank Beamer, the head coach, who raised the Virginia Tech program from the doldrums in the late 80’s to National Championship contenders in the late 90’s. Too much emphasis was put on Beamer and not enough on the Hokies talent level relative to the rest of the Big East.
2) The legacy of Michael Vick. The Hokies lost only 2 games with Michael Vick at quarterback (to Florida St. and Miami). People, especially the poll voters, tend to overrate teams who performed well the previous year(s).
3) Great starts powered primarily by home games and contests against inferior competition. Poll voters will continue to move ‘name’ programs up in the polls as long as they win. ‘They beat Western Michigan 31-0. They have to be in the Top 10.’ 2002 was the exception, but the next reason still applies.
4) A back-loaded schedule with road games and games against winning teams (and sometimes a combination of both).

2004 was the polar opposite of the previous 3 seasons as the Hokies lost their opening game against eventual National Champion Southern Cal, and began the season only 2-2 after their defeat at the hands of NC St. The schedule was again back-loaded with home games against West Virginia (8-4) and Virginia (8-4) as well as road tests at Georgia Tech (7-5), North Carolina (6-6), and Miami (9-3). This time Virginia Tech finished the season strong because they were a better team.


Anonymous said...

My good man, I must disagree. Your post seems to imply it was a lack of talent that doomed VT to poor finishes from '01-'03, along with a strong finishing kick.

I will agree that the scheduling played a major role in the Hokies' undoing each of those years, but these teams had current NFL starters Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall, and Ernest Wilford on the roster.

Unfortunately for all of us, I beleive the key to VT's reversal of fortune in '04 lies in such hackneyed and overused terms such as "team chemistry" and "heart." I can't say for sure if KJ and D-Hall had massive egos that created a poor locker room environment, or if it was simply the maturation of '04 stars Bryan Randall, Jimmy Williams, and the offensive and defensive lines that led to the ACC title, but I think that answer lies in how well the team meshed together, rather than the overall talent level.

Anonymous said...

What in the world happened Monday night w/ Miami? I have never been so disgusted in my life. Whoever it is that runs/heads the offensive line (Art Kehoe- he needs to "hoe" himself in the ground) as well as the offensive coordinator (Dan Werner)and anyone else involved in that whole 'offensive process thing,' need to incorporate somewhere in their "two-a-days" a little something I like to call PROTECTING THE QUARTERBACK!!! (I was yelling that part) I mean Damn. Miami would've really spanked Florida St. with all their turnovers and stuff if it hadn't been for those little tackles called SACKS- 9 to be exact. When Wright did have the opportunity to throw, he made great plays! The whole game sucked. It was a disgrace on both sides. So many mistakes that even I, a girl (no implications given) was appalled. Florida St. beating Miami? What is the world coming to?!

Hold up, Hold up...Stop the Press. Lancaster no tiene Taco Bell??? Ay Dios Mio!

Okay. Let's get on these names.

What the hell? Dick Shiner? Are you forrreal? (you gotta drag it out like that: f-o-r-r-r-real!) Butkus? But-Kus? Might as well be But-Kis. Ima just leave that one alone. Lymp Dicky? huh? Oh, no I meant Lynn, but Todd Phil-a-cock? Are you trippin me? But what really takes the cake is this Boobie dude. BOOBIE? Can you just imagine your mommy calling you in for dinner with that name, (high-pitched voice) "BOOBIE! OH BOOBIE! WHERE'S MY BOOBIE? HONEY YOU HAVE TO COME IN AND DRINK YOUR MILK!" Whhhat? (gotta say it like my man Lil Jon) Whhhat? HaHaHa LMAO-man I'm trippin tonight. Ima let you good people go. Just dropping some love for your enterntainment. Holla Back

~Sapphyre Hollywood Johnson

"You have just been given the cold shoulder. That's why they call me the Ice Princess."