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Champions Again

The prognosticators were right after all. Last August, the media covering ACC football picked, in overwhelming fashion, Virginia Tech to win the league’s football championship. While being tabbed the favorite in the post-expansion ACC has usually been the kiss of death, the media, lo and behold, this time got it right. Tech actually won the whole ball of wax, defeating Fredo in the near-solitude of Jacksonville Stadium.

The game seemed to mirror the season for Tech. They took an early body blow, managed to hang around, regrouped, then spent the Second Half demonstrating that they were the superior team. That was pretty much how the season went, too. Revenge was taken for that October gaffe; instead of Matt Ryan leading Fredo to a miracle comeback, the game was punctuated with Xavier Adibi snatching a Ryan pass and setting sail for the end zone with the clinching score. From this Hokie fan’s perspective, it was a far more satisfying outcome.

The ACC hardware gave Frank Beamer his second ACC championship in four years in the league, his fifth conference title overall. It also looked a lot like his best coaching job, even better than 1999. That team, with its freak of nature quarterback and a dominating defense, spent most of the season steamrolling people from the outset. This time around, things were a little tougher.

This team was held together by the coaching staff and regrouped following both the Week 2 smackdown at LSU and the horrific loss to Fredo, either of which could have produced devastating consequences for the rest of the year. I was reminded during a Sunday night phone conversation of what had happened years ago when a Tech team thought to be very good faced a highly-ranked SEC team in a high-profile early-season showdown.

That was 1969 and the very tough loss to Bear Bryant and Alabama eventually spelled the end of Jerry Claiborne’s Tech tenure. That did not happen in 2007. The LSU loss was shrugged off and the coaching staff got the team back down to business.

The October loss to Fredo did not spell the disaster a similar one to Pitt caused in 2003. Instead of collapsing down the stretch, this year’s team rebounded and played its best football through the rest of the season. Hooville’s Great NFL Legend might have received the ACC’s Coach of the Year designation, but it is hard to do anything but praise the job done by Frank Beamer in 2007.

A hearty ‘job well done’ also goes to quarterback Sean Glennon. After losing his starting job during and following the LSU debacle and expressing natural disappointment, Glennon then buckled down and was there when needed, which was down the stretch of the season. The MVP trophy for the championship game and the likely 2008 preseason All-ACC quarterback designation are his rewards. Well done, Sean.

Tech has established itself as the dominant ACC football program in the post-expansion ACC. Things can change and likely will, but this is just liable to continue for a while. Even with some major personnel losses, the 2008 Tech team looks to be the favorite of at least the ACC’s Coastal Division. This would be the division where the Hoos face not only the loss of their defensive meal ticket but the law of averages, the Canes are a looming train wreck, Georgia Tech seemingly is possessed by a football death wish, Butch seems mostly interested in how much cash he can extort from the Ram’s Club before heading out the door and Duke is still Duke. At this early date, you have to like even a retooled Tech team’s chances, especially with that most prized of football possessions, an experienced senior quarterback.

But that is next year and this is still this year. Tech now moves on to the Orange Bowl to face Kansas. The Jayhawks are a mystifying choice, to say the least. So much for winning one’s conference division, head-to-head, or any other resemblance to objective criteria. And I was so looking forward to discovering whether BobLee’s daughter had an ‘older man’ thing.

At least Tech will not be tangling with the Cousins, which seemed the unpleasant possibility most of the day Sunday following their Choke for the Ages Saturday night. How’s that Alabama job looking now, RichRod? With the Cousins shunted off to the desert, Tech fans will not have to deal with a month’s worth of holy crusade talk from the hills about getting back at the ‘traitors’ or all of the fights that would have broken out along South Beach. For their part, the Miami city parental units will not have to deal with 20k drunken West Virginia louts tearing up hotel rooms and taking one look at the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean and thinking, ‘outdoor toilet.’ Tough luck, Cousins.

Tech nearly managed to slide into the MNC game. If you think the howling from the media droids is bad now, imagine what it would have been if Tech has snaked out the MNC bid over a team to whom it had lost by 41. Yikes! It is perhaps just as well that Tech is heading to the Orange.

This was not exactly the year for a smooth BCS MNC game. It was kind of hard to figure out how one gets in, especially with Mike Slive announcing that there is a set criterion for playing for the MNC unless there is not. Ohio State seemed to receive a Traditional Power pass into the game. This for a team from a conference where the two dominant programs managed to break even in their games against I-AA teams.

LSU did shine in. Well, why not? They did manage to win their league, a little something Georgia’s Mark Richt might want to try before whining about how his Dawgs were jobbed. Oklahoma seemed to have a legitimate gripe over exclusion, especially after they throttled Missouri in the Big XII championship. But, that’s the way it goes, Sooners. They certainly have been the beneficiaries of BCS oddities before.

The usual and predictable howls for a playoff are in full throat. There are two things to consider. One is the negative impact it would have on what is a seriously delicious regular season. Suppose that Saturday night hilarity in Morgantown counted for nothing except the Cousins’ playoff seeding? The Cousins’s message boards would not have been nearly as much fun to read on Sunday.

The other thing the playoff proponents never seem to consider is how the stadium in Jacksonville looked Saturday afternoon. Thousands of empty seats would become the norm if the teams and fans were looking at another game the next week. It ain’t worth it.

What we probably will see the next time BCS contracts are up for renewal is the much-discussed ‘Plus One.’ That would have given us this year a semi-final of a Tech-LSU rematch and a Ohio State-Oklahoma game. All things considered, that might not have been a bad thing, although there would have been a strong possibility that the bowls hosting the first two games would have experienced a bit of Jacksonville Syndrome.

Ah, yes, Jacksonville. It is safe to assume that Jax has hosted its last ACC championship game for a while. It had the first three and attendance got worse every year. There seems to be scant interest in the game from the locals and of the six teams to have played in the game, including two from Tech, three did not carry strong reputations for traveling fan bases and showed why.

Worst-case status was reached this year when Fredo qualified for the game. That guaranteed discounted game tickets and a surfeit of available hotel accommodations. Fredo simply has no fans. Imagine how empty the stadium would have been had Tech and about 15k of its fans not been in town.

ACC Commissioner Little Johnny Swofford said that attendance was ‘not what we expect.’ Tell me, Little Johnny: exactly what did you expect when Fredo was invited into the conference? Little Johnny also pointed out the difficulties the ACC faces from an attendance standpoint with four lightly followed private schools in the league, four times the number of the SEC or Big XII. Unlike the ACC, those leagues seem to have bylaws prohibiting Vanderbilt and Baylor from playing in the league’s showcase game.

Well, whose idea was it to double the existing number of ACC privates and spend a month vainly trying to add another? Did the concept of Fredo bringing virtually no fans never once cross Little Johnny’s mind? And, BTW, how were television ratings last Saturday? Army-Navy probably came close to the ACC’s numbers in Boston.

The hints seem to point to the ACC football championship giving Charlotte a shot. That is a central location within easy driving distance of ¾ of the member schools. Still, given the ACC’s luck in the football championship game business, moving the game to Charlotte would seem to guarantee that next year the ACC finally gets its Florida State-Miami championship game. It will be amusing to observe another set of local officials openly hoping for a Tech-Clemson championship. Yep, it’s all about the media markets.

Next year is next year, however. There is still the bowl season left for this year. That includes the Orange, where Virginia Tech will play as its reward for winning the ACC, again. Good job, guys.

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