It will be 80 degrees when Virginia Tech’s football team steps off its charter plane today here in Florida for the 2009 FedEx Orange Bowl, and the steamy temperature serves as a metaphor. The heat is on. It’s time to win a BCS bowl game again.
This is the sixth time Virginia Tech will appear in a BCS Bowl (twice in the Bowl Alliance format, four times in the current BCS format) and the Hokies have won just once – a 1995 win over Texas in the Sugar Bowl.
In all, the Hokies have lost four of their last five bowl games leading head coach Frank Beamer and his staff to completely rethink and redesign their pre-bowl preparation philosophy this year.
Compared to last year’s pre-Orange Bowl schedule, the Hokies have spent nearly twice as much time on the practice field for this year’s game compared to their work leading up to the Kansas game, and the workouts were rugged.
“Our bowl-prep was more like August camp,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “It was colder than August, but the approach was the same.” The ‘camp’ included a two quarter, full-speed scrimmage this past Sunday.
Following their 30-12 Orange Bowl clinching win over Boston College in the ACC Championship game, Tech’s players got a rather terse directive from the league’s Commissioner John Swofford.
“Go to win,” was his three-word Orange Bowl message.
As frustrated as Hokies everywhere have been with recent bowl results, it’s been even worse for the guy with the big desk in Greensboro.
The ACC, as every national college football writer has noted in the past two weeks, has lost its last 8 BCS bowl games and has a 1-9 record since the official BCS formula was put in place in 1998. While the ACC rightly counters that it’s the winningest BCS conference overall with a .529 bowl winning percentage, that number is a bit misleading because the league has dominated the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Camps Sports Bowl, and others.
But when it comes to the ‘big bowls,’ ACC teams have struggled in recent years. And if you’re not sure what a big bowl is, here a quick rule of thumb: If there are palm trees (or Pat O’Brien’s) it’s a pretty significant game.
And there are plenty of palm trees here in South Florida, which the Hokies will see when they board their designer motor coach and take a police escort to their five-star beach front hotel. Those are the same trees as last year, and the same hotel. Heck, it might be same Broward County troopers too.
But while it’s the same bowl game, the vibe is different this year. The mood is different., and it starts at the top.
“We’ve lost the last two [the 2006 Chick-fil-A Bowl and last year’s Orange] and I thought we had a great chance to win the last two,” Beamer said.
“The thing I’ve learned is that those things stay with you for a little while. The alumni don’t forget those things quickly. We didn’t either.
“It’s very, very important that we not only represent the ACC well in this Orange Bowl, but also that we make the preparation we need to go and win this Orange Bowl.”
But a great preparation doesn’t ensure a win.
Cincinnati is having its greatest season in school history and has a bunch of seniors who have shown tremendous leadership. Like Tech, UC has found a way to overcome injuries (both Bearcat quarterbacks are being held together by bolts and screws) and adversity to win its league and will ride the euphoria that comes with playing in a BCS bowl for the first time.
As practice begins this today, some things to watch:
- Redshirt freshmen Jaymes Brooks will start at right guard for the Hokies next to tackle Blake DeChristopher, who is also a redshirt freshman. Does it concern you that both guys on the right side of the OL are rookies? “I think they’ll play well,” Stinespring said. “We’re moving Sergio [Render] over to the left guard and I think that helps us there but Jaymes and Blake have spent the last week or so together and will work together in Florida for a week. They have a good idea of what we need from them.” In all, the Hokies could start six freshmen on offense against the Bearcats. Conversely, UC’s defense starts 10 seniors and one junior.
- Punter Brent Bowden needs a good week of work and will be a key guy in this game. Cincinnati leads the nation in net punting thanks to all-American punter Kevin Huber who averaged 44.9 yards per punt this season. UC can play – and win – a field position game because of Huber. Tech coach Frank Beamer would like the Bearcats to move 80 yards to score. UC Coach Brian Kelly can play a similar game thanks to Huber. The last time Tech played at Dolphin Stadium, one of the key players for the Miami Hurricanes was that team’s punter Matt Bosher who basically eliminated the punt-return game from the Hokies’ arsenal. In this game, Bowden needs to be a weapon for the Hokies.
- Injuries: Cincinnati receiver Dominick Goodman (shoulder), and corner Mike Mickens (cornerback) are coming off injuries. Goodman, who needs just nine receptions to become the Big East’s all-time leader in catches, hurt his shoulder on the first play of Cincinnati’s final game at Hawaii. Mickens, who had his knee scoped on November 25th, has 14 career interceptions which is the UC record. Both are expected to play next Thursday. For the Hokies, defensive end Jason Worilds (shoulder, doubtful) and linebacker Brett Warren (knee, doubtful) are in Florida with the team. Beamer promises another physical week of practice down here too.
- Big Plays. One advantage UC has in this game would appear to be the ability to make big passing plays. Receiver Mary Gilliard was first team all-Big East as both a returner and receiver. He has six games of 100 or more yards this year. With a healthy Goodman on the other side, UC has a pair of wideouts that have caught a combined 152 passes already this season. For Tech corners Macho Harris and Stephan Virgil, this will be a very busy game. The ball will be in the air an awful lot and Gilliard and Goodman are the primary targets.
- Barquell Rivers. Like Brooks on the offensive line, this will be Rivers’ first career start. “He hasn’t gotten a lot of reps but he knows how to play middle linebacker, make no mistake,” defensive coordinator Bud Foster said. “He’s a guy who has waited his turn and this is his time.” Can the Hokies start seven freshmen, including two making their first career starts, and win a BCS bowl? We’ll see!
TV and Radio Coverage from the Orange Bowl
Sunday, December 28th: Virginia Tech Sports Today Orange Bowl Special. Head coach Frank Beamer previews the game. Offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring comments on Tech’s young group and this season, the story of Macho Harris who finished his senior season as an all-American cornerback. Also, a complete breakdown of the Cincinnati team and a look back at the last meeting between the Hokies and Bearcats from 2006. You can see the show Sunday in Roanoke (WDBJ-7, Noon), Richmond (WRIC, 12:30), Bristol (WYCB, 9:30 a.m.), Harrisonburg (WHSV, Noon), Bluefield (WVVA, Noon), Norfolk (WAVY, Noon), Raleigh (Fox 50, 11:30), Greensboro (WGPX, Noon), Charlotte (WJZY, 10 a.m.) and on Comcast SportsNet (1 p.m.).
Monday, December 29th: Virginia Tech vs. Charleston Southern, Basketball from North Charleston Civic Center. The Hokies put their three game winning streak on the line in this non-conference matchup in South Carolina. For Tech (9-4), this is the final non-conference game before next week’s ACC opener at Duke. Airtime is 6:30, tipoff at 7 p.m. on Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network Radio Stations.
Tuesday, December 30th: Advance Auto Parts Hokie Hotline from Rivals’ Waterfront Sports Grille, Hollywood, Florida. Guests include Frank Beamer, Bryan Stinespring, Bud Foster. Show airs from 7-9 p.m. on Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network Radio Stations. Public is invited. Admission is free.
Wednesday, December 31st: Advance Auto Parts Hokie Hotline from Rivals’ Waterfront Sports Grille, Hollywood, Florida. Guests include Billy Hite, Curt Newsome, and Kevin Sherman. Show airs from 7-9 p.m. on Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network Radio Stations. Public is invited. Admission is free.
Thursday, January 1st: 2009 FedEx Orange Bowl. Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati. Airtime is 7 p.m. Kickoff is 8:45 p.m. from Dolphin Stadium on Virginia Tech ISP Sports Network Radio Stations. Frequency at the stadium is 101.9 FM.
- We’ve heard from over a dozen fans who are driving to the Orange Bowl and will stop in Charleston for the Tech basketball game on Monday night against Charleston Southern. If you can miss a week of work (or are a student on break) it’s a great chance to break-up the drive and see the Hokies play in person in Charleston. Little known fact: Charleston sits exactly halfway between Arlington and Ft. Lauderdale. Who knew?
- Talk about dedication. Three members of Jim Weaver’s staff gave up their Christmas holiday to finish up the preparations for the Hokies’ arrival here in Florida. Assistant Athletics Director John Ballein, Game Operations Manager Cara Walters and Webmaster Damian Salas, all made the trip south in advance of the team to arrange everything from practice site arrangements, police escort and transportation duties, and other logistics from team meals to hotel rooms and more. When you talk about the most dedicated and loyal Hokies of all time, John, Cara and Damian all make the list for their years of terrific work!
- He led Virginia Tech to the 2008 ACC Championship with two touchdown runs against Boston College and was named MVP of the game. To date, that’s Tyrod Taylor’s biggest accomplishment. Sure, Hampton Crabbers’ fans might suggest the 2005 Group AAA Division 5 State Title in 2005 was also big, but the point is this. When you think of the greatest athletes from the Peninsula area, the names that immediately pop to mind are Terry Kirby (Tabb High School), Allen Iverson (Bethel), Ronald Curry (Hampton), Michael Vick (Warwick), Marcus Vick (Warwick), Bryan Randall (Bruton) and Taylor. What’s interesting is that none ever won a BCS bowl game but Tyrod has that chance next Thursday night. Sure, he’s a sophomore so he might get two more chances in a Hokie uniform, but the soft-spoken kid from Hampton has a chance to start his own legacy in a Virginia Tech uniform. This will be his second Orange Bowl and remember, he’s still only 19 years old. This is a classy kid who, as a quarterback, is still just finding his way. The Taylor who played against Virginia and BC was much better than the one we saw earlier in his career. He’s getting better and if he helps Tech win this game next week, he’ll have something to brag about to his idols when he gets back home.
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