Hokies following Osborne's Big Red Book from 1983
The Kroger Roth Report
September 18, 2000

We don't keep many old media guides around the office anymore. Other than the Virginia Tech publications dating back over the years, the policy has been to toss the various publications from the opposing schools into the recycling bin at the end of each season. Media guides are getting so big - most are about 300 pages now - there's not enough space to save them all. (Plus, Tech's veteran Sports Information Director Dave Smith saves all those other teams' books so if we need a key statistic from the 1995 Texas Football Guide, we just put in a call to Dave.)

But two non-Virginia Tech publications from days gone by are still on the shelf. The 1995-96 University of Kentucky men's basketball book and the 1983 Nebraska football guide. Those are the two best teams in their respective sports I've seen on the college level and I feel some sort of comfort having their materials on hand. Call me obsessive, but I want to have the numbers on both Antoine Walker and Turner Gill at my fingertips if need be.

Anyway, this year's Virginia Tech football team - and the Hokies' current program overall - is reminding me a lot of those 'Huskers.

Back then, Tom Osborne was regarded as one of the great coaches in the country. The Huskers growing legion of fans sold out every game in a stadium that had just been expanded to meet the growing demand. They punished teams that went to Lincoln by lopsided scores and they had a Heisman candidate in I-back Mike Rozier. Osborne hadn't won a national championship (yet), but in his 12th season, was still changing the national perception that his team - and not Oklahoma- was king of the Big Eight.

Today, Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer is certainly regarded as one of the nation's top coaches. If you haven't been around to see the job he's done in Blacksburg , then the eight national coach of the year awards which sit in his office should offer sufficient proof.

Lane Stadium has just been expanded and will grow even larger in coming seasons. Tech has sold out every home game since the end of the 1998 season. The current streak is at nine consecutive sellouts (10 if you count the Georgia Tech game which was also sold-out before it was cancelled.)

One thing that was always impressive about those Nebraska teams was the scores of their games. Nearly all were blowouts, especially those played in Lincoln. Big 8 Conference teams would roll into Lincoln, only to be humiliated by 40, 50, or sometimes 60 points. The 'Huskers would have most of these games decided at halftime allowing Osborne to play his reserves in the second half. It helped develop his team's depth.

Well, in their last six Big East home games, the Hokies have outscored their league brethren 266-44 for an average of 44-7. The scores (62-0, 43-10, 38-14 and 49-0) in the last four games have come against Big East foes who were either ranked or undefeated at the time of the game. Not only are the Hokies beating teams, they are dominating and humiliating them.

"They crushed our spirit," is how Rutgers Coach Terry Shea described the feeling after the Hokies ran his team through the Lane Stadium Cuisinart last week.

Like Osborne, Beamer plays everyone on his roster. Developing depth. Getting experience for younger kids. "How can Nebraska's fourth-team I-back be so good?" foes would ask about the wave of talent on the 'Huskers roster.

Rutgers was asking the same question last week after Tech's fourth-string tailback - former high school All-American Keith Burnell - rushed for 70 yards on six carries.

Like those 'Huskers, the Hokies have a great big veteran offensive line and a Heisman candidate in the backfield in Michael Vick. And, like Osborne, Beamer has yet to win a national championship and is still in the process of changing the perception that his program - and not Miami's - is king of the East.

Of course, what many consider the greatest college team of all-time didn't win the national title in 1983. Nebraska lost to Miami 31-30 at the Orange Bowl when Osborne elected to try for a two-point conversion on the game's final play. Had he kicked the extra point, the game would've ended in a tie and the 'Huskers would have won the title. For Osborne, winning that game - and the pride taken in doing everything possible to win it- was more important than the title itself.

As you may know, Virginia Tech has copied much of the Nebraska system and brought it to Blacksburg. Strength coach Mike Gentry has visited Lincoln and the Hokies use most of the same weight training, speed, and agility drills that are used at Nebraska. Offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle flew to Lincoln to brainstorm with the 'Huskers offensive staff on speed option schemes that worked for Nebraska and they have worked so far for Vick. Beamer has followed the Cornhuskers formula for recruiting walk-ons and turning them into key players in his program. No other programs rely on walk-ons more than Tech and Nebraska.

Theirs' is a good formula to follow if you have the facilities and talent. Fortunately, Beamer has both.

This is the seventh year in a row Tech has been ranked in the top 12 at some point during the season. It's a program that continues to grow and - fortunately for Tech fans - looks more and more like that Big Red power in the Midwest every year.

Could a rematch of the '96 Orange Bowl be played in Miami in January? Don't bet against it.

A Happy Ending to a wet night
If you thought your experience the night of the now-infamous BCA Bowl between the Hokies and Georgia Tech was memorable, consider the tale of Luke Constantinides, whose uncle George played for Tech from 1966-68, and his girlfriend, Stephanie Norton. I received the following note from Stephanie's father, Gary, who lives in Colorado:

Bill, There was another story on the night of Perfect Storm II that you may not be aware of. My daughter, Stephanie Norton, a 1998 Tech graduate was in the stands with her "Beau," Luke Constantinides, a 1998 graduate. Luke had been planning for months on proposing to Steph and, if you can believe this, even asked for my permission last spring.

With my blessing in hand, he laid his plan. He arranged through a friend who was an ex-band member to have the band unfurl a 50-foot marriage proposal at halftime of the VT-GT game. It was then that he would pop the question.

His parents were alerted to be sure to be watching and he knew, of course that my wife, Connie, and I would be glued to the TV. (As an aside, we relocated to Durango, Colo., this summer and had to forgo our season tickets but will do all we can to be able to watch every game from here.)

When the lightning came, along with the rain, Steph and Luke went undercover for a while. They were already soaked, having left their ponchos in the car. (Not thinking too clearly, I guess, but understandable given the excitement of the night.) Eventually they went back to their seats, which were still surrounded by many of their diehard fan friends.

When the game was finally canceled, Luke faced a dilemma. But figuring there was no time like the present, he dropped to his knee and proposed. Stephy's tears were mixed with the rain running down her face as all of their friends whooped and hollered and cheered.

So though in most respects that night turned out differently than most people planned, it was still memorable, and for some, even more than for others.

Sincerely,
Gary L. Norton
Gary, thanks so much for the note. And we offer our congratulations to both Stephy and Luke.

Thumbs up after three games
Here's 10 things to like after three games:
  • Tech's record and ranking: Being 3-0 is expected. But being ranked in the top five in both polls is terrific. It's a long season, but the Hokies are in the thick of the BCS title hunt again.

  • Tech fans: Even Beamer congratulated the fans for sitting through that Rutgers games.

    "I was thinkin' that we might come out after halftime and there would be a lot of empty seats because of the score (35-0)," Beamer said after the Rutgers game. "But they were all there again and our entire team appreciates the energy they give us every week."

    Tech fans have been loud and have arrived early for all three home 'events' of this season.
  • The bands' feet: The stomping of the feet by the band and the fans sitting in the new north end zone bleachers makes the kickoffs impressive. It's not the tomahawk chop, but darn close. Keep it up.

  • Offensive linemen: You've got to be impressed with the time Vick gets when he sits in the pocket to throw and the running lanes the backs get - especially in goal-line situations. Take a look at Akron, ECU and Rutgers linemen on their knees as Tech backs come firing through the holes.

  • Lee Suggs: In the first three games, Suggs has rushed for 288 yards and seven touchdowns. He is averaging more than seven yards per carry and looks like a pro prospect. The loss of Shyrone Stith to the NFL a year early was a blow, but Suggs has been sensational thus far. He's bigger and faster than he was a year ago and getting better each week. Remember folks, Suggs is just a sophomore.

  • Michael Vick: Nice passing, sensational running, good check-offs, and a killer flip. The kid is so good, it's crazy. He's as humble as they come too, which makes him even more likeable. Good acting job on the NCAA anti-gambling TV spots too, kid. What's next? A spot on the Hollywood Squares?

  • WVU Mountaineers: Last year, WVU lost to BC and Maryland. This month, Don Nehlen's team has avenged both of those losses. A great start for a good guy in the coaching biz.

    Now, keys to beating Miami on Saturday: 1) No more special teams snafus. 2) Avon Cobourne can't be hobbled by a sore ankle. 3) Don't let Santana Moss and Reggie Wayne zig-zag around the Mountaineer's young secondary. Big plays are a killer against Miami. If the WVU crowd can get to UM quarterback Ken Dorsey and Cobourne isn't hobbled, WVU has a great shot at winning in Morgantown.
  • UCLA and Stanford: Heck with USC and Washington, the teams with guts are the Bruins and the Cardinal. All summer, we heard how UCLA's kids are soft, Stanford lost too much to contend, and the Rose Bowl race would be between two teams (USC and UW) who don't even face each other this season. Hogwash. The Pac-10 has three teams ranked in the top 10 and another (Stanford), which just upset Texas after losing its starting quarterback in the first quarter.

    Sure, Michigan probably beats UCLA had quarterback Drew Henson played, but top-five teams have to make 25-yard field goals, right?
  • Walt Harris and Pitt: Claiming Big Ten rivalries and intersectional games were more important, Penn State coach Joe Paterno ended the Pitt-Penn State rivalry after 96 games. More hogwash. Give Pitt credit for shutting out PSU 12-0 and dropping the Lions to 1-3.

    Now, PSU can concentrate on Iowa, Indiana and their other big rivalry games. A prediction: When JoePa retires, the Pitt-Penn State rivalry will resume.
  • Carter Warley: In a pool game last week in the Hokies' players lounge, Warley didn't hit the cue ball hard enough and left the eight-ball a bit short. It's the only thing he's missed all season. Warley has hit all his PAT's and both field goals, including a 46-yarder. His back is feeling fine, his kickoffs have great depth, and he's making his conversions. So far, so good.

The Roth report appears weekly in hokiesports.com-the newspaper and is posted for the general public on hokiesports.com.

The opinions expressed here are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Virginia Tech Athletics Department, hokiesports.com, or it's advertisers.