Syracuse figures to be a tough chore for more reasons than the Dome
The Kroger Roth Report
October 19, 2000

Well, here we go again.

This week, Virginia Tech takes its highly-ranked, supremely confident, well-balanced, star-studded, high-scoring, momentum-building football team to the ear-numbing, teflon-covered, dream-shattering, heartbreaking, personal house of horrors known as the Carrier Dome to face a highly-talented, yet under-achieving Syracuse team which has puzzled its coaches and frustrated its fans by losing games it shouldn't.

Sound familiar?

This is where, in 1994, the 10th-ranked Hokies brought a seven-game winning streak to town before losing in the fourth quarter 28-20.

This is where, in 1996, the 14th-ranked Hokies brought a school-record 13-game winning streak to town and promptly got hammered 52-21.

This is where, in 1998, the 12th-ranked Hokies saw their hearts ripped out when Donovan McNabb lofted a last-second pass into the end zone to lead SU to a 28-26 win on the game's final play.

Each time, the Orangemen resurrected their seasons by upsetting Tech and relieving the heartburn of frustrating, unexplained losses to inferior teams. To the Orangemen, the Virginia Tech football program has been like a giant Maalox.

Well, if Syracuse ever needed an antacid, this is the week. The Orangemen fell to 3-3 after dropping a 20-13 decision at Boston College. SU quarterback Troy Nunes - who had been among the nation's most efficient passers coming into the game - turned into Rick Ankiel and threw the ball all over the place in a four-interception disaster at Chestnut Hill. That game- coming on the heels of losses at East Carolina and Cincinnati- have SU boosters (the ones who wear those orange polyester slacks) gritting their teeth while renewing their subscriptions to CoachPmustgo.com, the hottest new web site in central New York.

Coach 'P,' of course, is Paul Pasqualoni, who has won 70 percent of his games since taking over for lovable Dick MacPherson as SU's head coach in 1991. He's 5-2 in bowl games, has led Syracuse to three league titles and is the nation's 10th-winningest active coach. Good resume stuff, but a pattern of puzzling losses each season have the SU faithful seething and needing some relief.

Plop-plop, fizz-fizz, here come the Hokies.

Every two years since 1994, when the heat has really turned up on the SU coach and his staff, the Hokies have conveniently arrived on campus and - on-cue - allowed the Orangemen to pull of a huge upset, so the students can storm the field to tear down the goal posts and Pasqauloni can maintain his claim that he's never lost to Virginia Tech at the Dome.

Adding to the motivation is this - the Hokies demolished Syracuse 62-0 last year in Blacksburg. If ever a team both wanted and needed to pull off a Herculean upset, it would be Syracuse. This week. Against this team.

As you know, the Hokies have not won at the Carrier Dome since September, 1986, when Tech running backs Eddie Hunter and Maurice Williams each rushed for more than 100 yards in Tech's 26-17 win. Since then, the Hokies are 0-5 at Syracuse.

Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer won eight national coach of the year awards last year, has coached for the national title, visited the White House to meet with the President, authored a book, turned his alma mater into a national power, has been a three-time BIG EAST coach of the year, has had 70 players sign with NFL teams, has gone to three BCS bowls in the last five years, became the first active coach to be inducted into Tech's Sports Hall of Fame, and has coached the Hokies to a 26-4 record in their past 30 games.

But his own personal Mount Everest is that he's yet to win at the Carrier Dome.

The Hokies haven't lost a BIG EAST game since McNabb's pass drove a dagger into their hearts at the Dome in 1998. Since then, Tech has won 12 straight league contests. They've rolled through two years of league play unscathed.

But now, here we are again. It's desperation time at Syracuse and here come the Hokies. But while Coach 'P' might need this one badly, this week's game is even bigger to Beamer and the visitors from Virginia who are ranked second in both polls and would likely also occupy that spot when the season's first BCS ratings are released next Monday - if they win.

As you know, the series has followed a very familiar pattern. The Hokies win big in Blacksburg (45-24, 31-7, 31-3, 62-0) in the odd years, but lose at the Dome in even years.

Claiming it's the Dome itself that has beaten the Hokies on their past five visits to Syracuse is being unfair to a couple of guys named McNabb and Marvin Graves, who were two of SU's best players ever. Those two quarterbacks - and some wonderfully talented players - were the reasons SU knocked off the Hokies.

Sure, the Dome is a tough road venue. The field is flat, the crowd is intense, the air is still, and the acoustics make the place sound like a giant racquetball court. The Orangemen play their best when Tech is in town and will likely play their best game of the season when the Hokies visit.

Syracuse is a mediocre 10-8 in the 18 games since McNabb graduated, including a 62-0 loss to Tech and an overtime defeat to Rutgers. SU is 4-5 in BIG EAST games over the past two years and losses to ECU, Cincinnati and BC have turned SU fans into a venomous, nasty bunch. On paper, you'd think the Hokies fly into Hancock Airport, enjoy a few chicken wings, put about 48 points on the board and come home 7-0.

Won't be that easy, gang. The Orangemen are desperate and here comes Tech - from their perspective - at just the right time.

Are the Hokies about to clear that final hurdle by winning their first ever BIG EAST game at the Dome? Or will Syracuse once again save its season at Tech's expense?

If you think it is going to be easy, think again. Just pop in the tapes from 1994, or '96, or '98 when Tech came to town extremely confident facing a slumping SU group. It's the same script all over again. The Hokies just hope this year, the story has a different ending.

Reliving the past
You're going to hear a lot about SU's 1984 win over Nebraska this week because of the similarities to this week's visit by the Hokies. In 1984, Nebraska was ranked No. 1 in the nation. Syracuse was coming off a home shutout loss to Rutgers. The year before, Nebraska had defeated SU 63-7 in Lincoln. SU wanted respect, redemption and revenge. Sounds a lot like the scenario heading into this week's game, no?

Syracuse is 0-5 vs. teams ranked in the top five in the Associated Press poll since the BIG EAST was formed, but the folks at the Dome remember the Nebraska game when the Orangemen defeated the mighty 'Huskers the week after the humiliating loss to Rutgers.

Tough times for Rutgers
Speaking of the Scarlet Knights, the search for a new football coach at Rutgers is underway. Before the season began, current coach Terry Shea was given a mandate to produce a winning season - a death sentence if ever there was one. In addition, Shea was told his team must avoid lopsided losses that plagued his first four seasons in New Brunswick.

Recently, Rutgers lost 48-14 to Temple to drop to 0-4 in the league. Rutgers has been outscored 190-30 in BIG EAST play this season, including lopsided losses to Miami and Tech. Amazingly, Rutgers leads the BIG EAST in turnover margin and is the conference's least penalized team. Imagine how bad it might be if the Scarlet Knights had turned the ball over a few times. In other words, Rutgers isn't playing that poorly. It's just the players on the field are totally overmatched by the level of competition.

Play of the year so far
Michael Vick's 72-yard touchdown pass to Bob Slowikowski was not only the longest reception in Virginia Tech history by a tight end, but it might also be the key play to this 2000 season for the Hokies. The play gave the Hokies the momentum and jump-started the team to a dominating second half in the WVU game.

It's also ironic that it comes a week before the Hokies play a team that uses its tight end in the red zone more than any other - Syracuse. The Orangemen - who beat Tech on the throw back to the tight end in 1998 - ran the same play to the opposite side for their lone touchdown at Boston College. After WVU successfully dragged the tight end over the middle on those bootleg plays (including the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter), you can expect SU to utilize its tight ends frequently.

BCS news
Representatives from the Orange Bowl were in town for the Tech-WVU game to scout out Tech and visit with the administration in the event the Hokies finish 11-0 and ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the final BCS ratings. The representatives from the Sugar and Fiesta Bowls were in town to see the game in case Tech doesn't finish 11-0.

As this season progresses, it's becoming very clear that there is a legitimate chance that Tech could still head to one of the four BCS bowls even if it does not win the BIG EAST championship. Nothing would please the BIG EAST more than seeing two of its members in BCS bowls. From a financial and image perspective, it would be quite a coup for the league to have one team playing in Miami and another in either New Orleans or Tempe.

Tech, of course, would love to play for the national championship again. But if the Hokies lose a game, the Fiesta or Sugar Bowls would make a nice - and profitable - consolation prize.

Upsets fire up Tech fans
How neat is college football's regular season when a bar full of college football fans in Blacksburg, Va., are going crazy every time Oklahoma scores in its game against Kansas State? That was the scene in Collegetown, U.S.A when Hokies turned into Okies and cheered for the Sooners in their game against K-State.

The NCAA basketball tournament has its moments and is great for three weekends in March. But the regular season in college football is full of meaningful games with high drama nearly every week. It's three months full of great games and new heroes like Oklahoma quarterback Josh Heupel or Travis Cole of Minnesota, who engineered dramatic road wins which both helped the Hokies.

Oklahoma's win at K-State knocked the Wildcats out of the ranks of the unbeaten and for the second year in a row, Minnesota knocked off an unbeaten. Last year, it was Penn State. This year, the Gophers took down Ohio State - a team on Tech's trails in the BCS standings.


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

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