Tech-Miami matchup a great situation for BIG EAST
The Kroger Roth Report-By Bill Roth
October 30, 2000

Virginia Tech faces Miami this weekend at the Orange Bowl in the most important BIG EAST game since Villanova-Georgetown in 1985.

That, of course, was a different era and a different sport. Rollie's Wildcats beat Patrick Ewing and the Hoyas 66-64 to win the national championship in men's basketball. But Saturday's game at college football's most fabled venue between the Hokies and 'Canes is the biggest this young football league has had since its formation in 1991. It will mark the first time in league history that a pair of top-five BIG EAST teams will play each other. Second-ranked Tech and third-ranked Miami both have national championship game aspirations and the winner controls its own destiny for a spot in the BCS title game.

Sure, BIG EAST football has seen national championship contenders over the years. Miami, West Virginia and Virginia Tech have all compiled 11-0 records and played for the title over the past decade. In fact, Miami won it in 1992. But this year, the BIG EAST boasts two heavyweights in the Hokies and Hurricanes and that's a significant step in the maturation of the league and its acceptance as a player on the national scene.

It was only 15 months ago that the commissioners of football-playing conferences who rule the political and powerful BCS machine enacted stipulations and clauses in their team selection policy. These clauses could potentially strip a league of its automatic berth in the BCS if the average rank of its champion was lower than No. 12 over a four-year period.

Some observers interpreted the new clause as the "BIG EAST Rule." In reality, it protected the power conferences - the upper crust - from having to share one of the precious BCS slots (and their accompanying millions) with the lower level leagues. After all, can the WAC or Conference USA champion rank among the top 12 over a four-year period? Of course not.

But some national media types pointed at BIG EAST commissioner Mike Tranghese and questioned why his league's champion deserved to have its ticket to college football's biggest party punched in advance. Saturday, Tranghese can gaze over the Miami skyline from the press box at the Orange Bowl with pride knowing his league boasts two of the top three teams in the country. Regardless of the outcome of the game, Tranghese's already a winner. He'll have a team in line for a possible appearance in the title game for the second year in a row.

If Tech wins, the Hokies need only to beat Central Florida and Virginia in their final two games to ensure a second consecutive appearance in the BCS championship game. If Miami wins, the 'Canes would need to win three more (Pittsburgh, at Syracuse and Boston College) to get to the big show.

So both teams would still have work to do. But unless you subscribe to the 'one-game-at-a-time, never-look-ahead, don't-overlook-any-team because on-any-given-Saturday' rhetoric that coaches quote as if it were the AFCA pledge of allegiance, you know that Tech's Jim Weaver and Miami's Paul Dee are playing a high stakes game of monopoly. The winner will get about $4 million unless it lands on 'Go to Jail' by losing a game it shouldn't.

Tech has performed very well over the past few years when it has been invited to sit at the high-stakes baccarat table. In fact, when it's played for big bucks in 1995, '96, and '99, Virginia Tech has compiled a record of 12-0 during the month of November. As a reward, the Hokies received Sugar-Orange-Sugar invites as well as millions of dollars of upgrades to their athletics complex in Blacksburg. We'll know Saturday if the Hokies can do it again.

The game has other significance as well, especially for the residents of Coral Gables, who have seen their beloved 'Canes knocked off the familiar perch as the league's power team in recent years. Tech has defeated Miami five years in a row and thus the HokieBird has supplanted Sebastian the Ibis as the Beast of the BIG EAST. In fact, Tech has now won an all-time record 14 consecutive BIG EAST games heading into the showdown, a streak that would even impress Gino Auriemma, the fiery Italian who coaches Connecticut's women's basketball team.

The reward for a 15th consecutive conference win would be substantial. But if you take a look at the youthful rosters at Tech and Miami and judge the recruiting classes the two schools have put together in recent years, you get the feeling that November showdowns between these two programs will always be significant games on the national scene.

That's terrific for the schools - and even better news for the BIG EAST.

Meyer the perfect man if Vick can't go
If he had it his way, Michael Vick wouldn't be walking around campus this Halloween dressed up in a cast and crutches. But it's no costume Tech's quarterback is wearing. It's desperate medial measures to get Vick ready for the Miami game.

If there's any way Vick can play, you know he will. You can be sure he wants to play more than anyone. But missing a minimum of three days of practice isn't the best way to prepare for Miami and that means the focus will turn to Tech backup quarterback Dave Meyer.

The redshirt senior led Tech on scoring drives of 80, 64 and 74 yards in the second half of the Hokies' come-from-behind victory over Pittsburgh. He completed 4-of-5 for 38 yards on Tech's winning drive, one in which he called all but one play himself.

If any backup quarterback is prepared for this challenge, it's Meyer. He is a fifth-year senior. He's a grad student at Tech who has waited for this opportunity. He's got a terrific arm, great speed, and will be well-prepared after practicing all week. You'd like to see Vick out there, but if Beamer is forced to go to his bullpen, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better relief pitcher than Meyer.

Hokies get it done with the run
This Virginia Tech team has really shown some tremendous character in the last three games, coming from behind to win against West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh. It marks the first time in the Frank Beamer-era at Tech that the Hokies have won three straight games in which they trailed in the second half.

Tech has gotten it done with a tremendous running game, led by rising superstar Lee Suggs. The sophomore has rushed for 827 yards (5.6 per carry) this season and leads the BIG EAST with 17 touchdowns. Against Pittsburgh, he broke Tommy Francisco's 34-year-old record for touchdowns in a season (14) and is now just two shy of the all-time BIG EAST record (19) set by Boston College's Darnell Campbell in 1993. Amazingly, Suggs rushed for 103 yards in the second half.

Nationally, Virginia Tech leads the BIG EAST and is fourth in the nation in rushing, averaging 280 yards per game on the ground. The Hokies have rushed for 34 touchdowns, one shy of the school record set last season.

It will take another terrific rushing game to win at Miami, which will be a challenge. The Hurricanes are second in the conference and 26th nationally in rush defense, allowing just 106 yards per game on the ground.

Pugh leading way on defensive front
Whether he's making a tackle, recording a sack, or - his latest trick - blocking a kick, Tech defensive tackle David Pugh continues to make big plays for the Hokies. In August, Tech defensive coordinator Bud Foster boasted that Pugh was having the best preseason camp of any lineman he's had at Tech and the junior has played consistent each week. He had a terrific game against Pittsburgh.

In fact, Tech's entire defensive front has improved each week, culminating with the seven-sack performance against Pittsburgh. In week five, Tech held the league's leading rusher, Tanardo Sharps, to a season-low 19 yards. Temple had minus-15 yards rushing as a team.

In week six, Tech held WVU to 78 rushing yards and then ended SU tailback James Mungro's streak of 100-yard games by holding him to minus-3 yards. Pittsburgh's Kevan Barlow, fresh off a 209-yard effort against Boston College, was held to just 34 yards.

As a result, Virginia Tech now boasts a rush defense that is tops in the conference and 13th nationally. In this week's NCAA statistics, Tech is 16th in total defense and leads the nation with 19 interceptions.

That unit, of course, will be severely tested at Miami against the nation's highest scoring unit (45.0 ppg).

An interesting scenario
Could the Hokies and Georgia Tech play this season, after all?

Well, it could happen.

You'll recall Tech and Tech were set to kickoff the 2000 season in August in the BCA Bowl at Lane Stadium before Mother Nature stepped in and the game was cancelled.

Now, with Georgia Tech's win over Clemson, the Yellow Jackets have a shot at playing in the Gator Bowl in January. If Virginia Tech does not win at Miami and does not receive an at-large bid to a BCS bowl, the Hokies could play in the Gator too.

It was great to see Georgia Tech break into the top-25 following its last-second victory at Clemson. The Yellow Jackets deserve their ranking and are now 6-2 on the season.

The Hokies, of course, would rather play in the Orange Bowl or another BCS bowl. But consider the irony. Two teams which had lined up to kickoff the season against each other in August eventually could end the season with a matchup in a bowl game.

Bilas delivers words of wisdom
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas did a wonderful job as the guest speaker at last week's National Bank of Blacksburg Virginia Tech basketball Tip-off Dinner held at the Owens Banquet Hall in Blacksburg. The former Duke star recounted his days in Durham when the Blue Devils had yet to become a national power.

"We were 11-17 my first year there and I consider that the most important year in my life," Bilas said. "We learned to improve together and count on each other, and by the time I was a senior, we had the best team in the country."

Bilas' message to the team: Every day counts.

"When you come to practice, you better come to work," Bilas said. "You need to learn to compete every day and in every practice. You might think you know how to compete, but until you get in there and experience it, you don't really know. The guys at Connecticut - they know how to compete. That's the way the BIG EAST is."

Tech coach Ricky Stokes introduced his second Tech team to a crowd of about 250 at the event, which also included remarks by Tech Athletics Director Jim Weaver.

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.