December 14, 2011
    A terrific matchup looms in Sugar Bowl despite talk of ticket sales

    In the history of college football, no team has won more games than the University of Michigan.

    And since the start of the 1995 season, no team has won more games than Virginia Tech.

    The first meeting between the two teams in the Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl game features two dynamic quarterbacks (Logan Thomas and Denard Robinson), award-winning players (ACC Player of the Year David Wilson and Michigan’s Rimington Award winner David Molk), and two proud fan bases who respect the sport and who – if you haven’t noticed by now – take football really, really seriously.

    We’ve got two highly successful programs, with catchy fight songs, rockin’ marching bands, cool helmets, unique on-field entrances and plenty of star power. Yet the pregame build-up to the first meeting between the two universities has centered more on ticket sales than the game itself.

    Ticket sales.

    I get it. Tech’s selection to this game is a lightning rod for the anti-BCS establishment out there, plus the coaches and fan bases at some other schools, specifically Kansas State and Boise State.

    We can debate the merits of the bowl system ad infinitum and go back and forth on team merits forever. Yes, K-State is ranked higher in the BCS, but the Hokies dropped below the Wildcats following the loss to Clemson in the ACC title game. If Kansas State had lost to Oklahoma State (the Big 12 champion) a second time, where would it be ranked? Don’t penalize Virginia Tech for winning its division and playing in the ACC title game. K-State never had to play its eventual league champion a second time.

    Remember, Tech was fifth in the BCS before losing to Clemson. And furthermore, the Wildcats got a great bowl game. K-State will play a top-10 team (Arkansas), in a Friday night Cotton Bowl game (terrific date) in one of its biggest alumni areas (Dallas).

    Tech’s strength of schedule is ranked 17th nationally heading into the Michigan game. The Hokies played five teams ranked in the top-30 (Sagarin ratings) and got a boost from Arkansas State’s 10-2 record this year.

    As for tickets, we have no idea what Tech AD Jim Weaver promised the Sugar Bowl’s Paul Hoolahan when they talked on Sunday, Dec. 4, but Weaver said on this week’s Tech Talk Live! radio show that “we’ll have 17-20,000 people there, just like the Orange Bowl.”

    While that might be somewhat optimistic based on the mid-week, post-holiday date of this year’s Sugar Bowl game, it’s still an understandable ballpark prediction based on the fact that Virginia Tech sold 17,500 (or more) in its three previous Sugar Bowl appearances (1995 vs. Texas, 2000 vs. Florida State and 2004 vs. Auburn).

    Of note, Weaver said this past Monday that Michigan was one of the teams named most often by Tech fans (along with Penn State, Notre Dame and Tennessee) as an opponent they’d like to see on future schedules. When Tech finally had the chance to play Tennessee – in the 2009 Chick-fil-A bowl in Atlanta – it sold out its ticket allotment in just over two weeks. (Link to story: http://www.hokiesports.com/football/recaps/20091223aaa.html).

    The secondary ticket market had a huge impact on Tech’s Orange Bowl ticket sales in recent years, so it’s safe to assume that several thousand Hokies will go the StubHub route again this year for the Sugar Bowl. The question is will that total be 2,000? 5,000? 7,500? We’ll know at kickoff.

    There’s no question that Tech’s decades-long success helped in getting this bid. So did the relationship between Hoolahan and ACC Commissioner John Swofford. The behind-the-scenes conversations between those gentlemen, and the work of Weaver and ACC Associate Commissioner Michael Kelly ensured that the ACC got a second team in the BCS for the first time ever.

    As I wrote last week, Tech’s 2012 Sugar Bowl bid was as much a validation as an invitation. (link: http://www.hokiesports.com/rothreport/recaps/20111206aaa.html).

    Now it’s time to start asking questions about the game.

    Can Logan Thomas and the Hokies bounce back after the Clemson loss?

    Will David Wilson break Tech’s single-season rushing record in this game?

    How will the Hokies handle Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson?

    Can Tech set a school record by recording its 12th win of the season?

    In the Detroit paper, a columnist suggests Michigan’s road to respect runs through Beamer and the Hokies. Can the Wolverines get it in New Orleans? (link: http://www.freep.com/article/20111212/SPORTS06/112120347/Michigan-s-road-to-respect-runs-through-Virginia-Tech-coach-Frank-Beamer)

    In the days leading up to the game, Bourbon Street will be filled with the sounds of the “Let’s go, Hokies” chant mixed with Michigan fans singing “Hail to the Victors.”

    Two proud football programs with passionate fan bases are going to play in a great city inside a sensational venue that’s been the host of some of the most memorable college and professional football games (and NCAA Final Fours) in history.

    And by kickoff, the place will be packed with plenty of orange and maroon and maize and blue.

    Feel free to share your thoughts by using the link at the bottom of the page.

    Sugar Bowl Radio/TV information

    We’ll have three Tech Talk LIVE! radio shows from New Orleans in advance of this year’s Sugar Bowl. All three will be held in the main lobby area of the Hilton Riverside Hotel. Here is the schedule:
    Dec. 31: 6-7 p.m. CST (7-8 p.m. EST)
    Jan. 1: 6-7 p.m. CST (7-8 p.m. EST)
    Jan. 2: 6-7 p.m. CST (7-8 p.m. EST)

    We will have Tech coaches and players on each night. You can hear the show plus our Sugar Bowl game broadcast on Jan. 3 on all our regular Virginia Tech IMG Sports Network radio affiliates (http://www.hokiesports.com/radio/) and on Hokies All-Access.

    If you’re in New Orleans, join us in person at the Hilton. This is the exact same location we used in 2000 for our Sugar Bowl radio shows, and the place was packed. Lots of fun those nights, and we hope for a good time again this year.

    You can also hear our game broadcast at the game. Our station in New Orleans is 96.3 FM.

    XM Radio is carrying the game, but will air ESPN radio’s feed with my pal, Sean McDonough, on the call. That’s on XM Channel 84.

    We are also producing a Virginia Tech Sports Today Sugar Bowl preview show, which will air on New Year’s Day on our network of stations and cable networks. Here are times and stations for the Sugar Bowl preview:

    Roanoke WDBJ-TV Channel 7 11 a.m.
    Richmond WRIC-TV Channel 8 Noon
    Norfolk WAVY-TV Channel 10 Noon
    Bristol WCYB-TV Channel 4 930 a.m.
    Harrisonburg WHSV-TV Channel 3 Noon
    Bluefield WVVA-TV Channel 6 Noon
    CSN-Washington 1030 a.m.
    Fox Sports South 930 a.m.

    Hi Bill,
    Huge fan of your column and your radio play-by-play!

    I'll get right to the point. It seems as though Virginia Tech is the most HATED program in all of college football right now. Every single media outlet/talking-head/blogger/radio host is ragging on us and really being downright nasty for our selection to the Sugar Bowl. I've been following college football for quite a while now, and I have NEVER seen such disgust targeted toward just one program. Would a big win against Michigan help to quiet the naysayers? I hope the football team and coaches are seeing this bad pub (it's hard to miss really) and use it as motivation to get a big win in the Sugar Bowl. Thanks, and GO HOKIES! Tommy H. Arlington, Va.

    Tommy,
    Thanks for your reading and listening. Sure, a win would help, and yes, our players are aware of the negative press. However, much of the angst you’re hearing is from those who are anti-BCS in the first place and who are playoff proponents. Their frustration is more over the bowl system itself than this current Tech team or its players. Thanks for writing.

    Bill,
    Thanks for your recent article about the Hokies heading to the Sugar Bowl (http://www.hokiesports.com/rothreport/recaps/20111206aaa.html). Your upbeat outlook and energy-filled broadcasting excites the Hokie Nation as much as the playing of Enter Sandman before home games. You and Mike Burnop are a key part of the why the Hokies were invited to this year's Sugar Bowl. Keep up your great enthusiasm and keen sense of humor. I listen to your Tech Talk Live! every Monday and enjoy your interviews with coaches and players. As someone said once, success is a process and not an event. One success doesn't make you and one failure doesn't break you. Yesterday ended last night. Today is your brand new day. Go out and make it a masterpiece. Frank Beamer and Virginia Tech football have been building a masterpiece since 1999. It will continue with another win in the Sugar Bowl. Michael Hall, Annandale, Va.

    Michael,
    Thanks for sharing such kind words and for taking the time to write. As part of the Hokie Nation, YOU are a key reason Tech got this Sugar Bowl invite. Hope to see you in New Orleans.

    Bill,
    Where do you get your incredible optimistic/glass half full outlook on Hokie football? Did you watch the Clemson game(s) this year? Two blowout, embarrassing losses in front of national TV audiences are enough for me in one year. The thought of Denard Robinson running circles around our ‘D’ will make me sick for a month straight.

    Also, as a serious question, when do you think the system will change to a playoff model? For me, anything short of a national title is the same (i.e. – second place/not champions). Going to the Orange Bowl or Sugar Bowl is the same as going to the Champs Sports Bowl – if you’re not playing for a title, nobody cares. The system as it stands today is stupid. Adam Loucks, New York City, N.Y.

    Adam,
    Go ask fans in Manhattan, Kansas, or Boise, Idaho what they think about the importance of getting into BCS bowls. (See below.) They are upset in Idaho, believe me.

    These are special times at Tech. How can you not be excited? We should treasure these seasons – it won’t last forever!

    Mr. Roth,
    No one questions the quality of your fan base, only the quality of this selection. Boise State (remember them??) should be in the Sugar Bowl, not Virginia Tech. You can talk all you want about money and a Hall of Fame coach. You'd retire him in a minute if you could replace him with Chris Petersen. ‘Fess up, the system IS broke and choosing Virginia Tech over BSU validates it. Eric Bouchard, Boise, Idaho.

    Eric,
    I think Tech fans can commiserate with you and other Bronco fans. They’ve been there before (Tech’s 2000 BCS snub). I think Tech fans also respect Coach Petersen and the Broncos program. But bowl games are about putting fans in the seats and packing hotel rooms, and Virginia Tech has the advantage here. Bronco Stadium seats 33,400. Eric, Virginia Tech draws more than that for its spring game.

    Furthermore, and I suggest this knowing in advance how you and other Bronco fans will react, there are several teams in the ACC, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, and Big 10 that would have compiled a similar or better won-loss record than the Broncos over the past 10 years if they played the same schedule as Boise State. Yes, I’m quite aware of the result of the Tech-Boise game from last year, and the Georgia-Boise game from this year. And I really think the Boise-Oklahoma Fiesta Bowl was the greatest game I ever watched. But in a one-game deal, anything can happen.

    Over the years in the WAC and Mountain West, Boise feasted on inferior teams. There has never been a cumulative effect of getting pounded on by future NFL linemen week after week. If you let Tech (or South Carolina or Arkansas or Michigan State or Wisconsin or Florida State or Penn State, etc.) play the exact same schedule as Boise State over the past 150-200 games, they’d have won 90 percent of them, too.

    As for your final comment re: Coach Beamer, I’m being totally respectful again when I suggest that you’d have said the same thing about former Broncos coach Dan Hawkins back in 2005 before he left Boise for Colorado. We know how that turned out, right? It’s great you love and respect your coach. But in fairness, I’ll take ours’.

    Bill,
    Spot-on. You've made the point I've been trying to make to others with your anecdotal reference to the 2000 Fiesta Bowl snub as to how far the Tech program has come in public perception over the past decade. (Kudos for mentioning the historic achievement of being the first ACC team to merit BCS at-large consideration.) Frank owes no apologies. Any system that does not include a playoff to determine a national championship has inherent flaws. Pre-Alliance/BCS, bowl selections were made almost exclusively on a basis that favored the traditional powers. The BCS is an improvement over the old days.

    Eventually, I'm confident that a playoff will emerge, especially in view of the fact that more and more conferences are deciding their champions by way of a championship game, a first round of playoffs, if you will. If Alabama, which did not even finish second in its own conference, deserves a second shot at LSU, we deserve an at-large bid. That Tech made the cut this year, in spite of not winning its conference championship, and even being badly beaten, is a testament to the respect the college football community has for Frank Beamer. Bring those Wolverines on! Larry Cherney, Annandale, Va.

    Larry,
    I agree with you 100 percent. However, even a playoff has its “inherent flaws.”

    Bill,
    As an alum, I have to admit I was as excited, and in some disbelief, as a lot of people about Tech's bid to the Sugar Bowl. I think with all of the discussion about Tech being selected (a lot of it being negative), this game appears to be somewhat of a must-win for Tech (and the ACC). For years, the ACC has been viewed as not worthy of two BCS teams, so I think the college football world will view success as Clemson and Tech winning their games. Being selected is a testament to the years of success on the field, and the fans traveling well to bowl games, but I think the stakes are a little different this time around. Joel. Glen Allen, Va.

    Joel,
    I agree with you. If Clemson and Virginia Tech both win their bowl games, there will be some mighty happy people throughout the ACC.

    Bill,
    Do you think you might put a word in that many alumni out there would really like to see Virginia Tech show up in a classic look against Michigan? You know UM will. After all, the sometimes-maddening shenanigans with the uniform combinations have run their course this season. The Sugar Bowl at-large invite validated Tech’s new status as one of college football's traditional elite. Let's look like it. It’s about time we donned the maroon jerseys and lids and got back to Hokie football … blue-collar, lunch-pail, all-business football. Aaron Frampton, Lawrenceville, Ga.

    Aaron,
    The Hokies will in maroon for this game. Michigan will wear special white uniforms. You can see them here: http://www.mgoblue.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/121311aaa.html

    Hey Bill,
    You ever get that Virginia Tech car inspected? I believe it was a white Lincoln on Southgate Drive some years back. I did just give you a warning (I'm an ex Blacksburg police officer) LOL. Anyway, please send this report to Herbie on ESPN and hopefully get the media off Tech’s back. The Sugar Bowl selected Tech, not the other way around. Have a great holiday season. Now, go check your inspection sticker. Roy Lovern, Fayetteville, N.C.

    Officer Lovern,
    It’s great to hear from you (again!). Good point. I think Kirk and the guys at ESPN were offering opinions and, to be honest, they’re paid to do so. No ill will toward Tech or any other program. But that being said, I’ve already made a few phone calls to some select on-air types whom I know. And thanks for the warning a few years ago. Car inspection and registration are all up to date.

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