the last time Tech began play in a new conference? It was 1993, the first year
the fledgling Big East Football Conference played a round-robin schedule. The
BEFC had been founded in time for the 1991 season, but it took until Ď93 for
all members to rearrange their schedules in order to play each other. Tech had
played only one conference foe in 1991, beating WVU in Morgantown in the
Lightning Bowl. In 1992 Tech had played five, beating only Temple while losing
to WVU, Miami, Rutgers of all people, and Syracuse. Expectations were not high
for Tech heading into their first season of BEFC play. Some things havenít
The 1992 Virginia Tech football season had been an unmitigated disaster. Tech
had failed to gain any momentum from the six-win seasons of 1989-90 and the
five-win close call of 1991. There were some expectations in Ď92- I well
remember driving home from the opening RUTS of JMU listening to Bill Roth
speculating on an undefeated season. They had fizzled, however, into a miserable
2-8-1 year that saw the Hokies blow fourth quarter lead after fourth quarter
lead, primarily due to a defense that could not stop anybody. Something else
Heading into the 1993 season expectations at Tech were very low. A prominent
Richmond newspaper columnist wrote that Tech was over its head in the new BEFC.
Tech was picked to joust with Temple for last place in its new league. There
were also a lot of those following the program who expected 1993 to be Frank
Beamerís last year at Tech.
Frank had narrowly avoided being fired following the 1992 debacle. These were
the days before Frank had copped the million-dollar contract, the posh vacation
home and near-total program autonomy. He actually had to pay attention to what
the athletic director said, and what Dave Braine said was change the defense and
lose a lot of the existing defensive staff who ran the Wide-Tackle Six that
Frank had played under Jerry Claiborne in the Ď60s at Tech and had been
coaching ever since.
While Frank had strongly defended the obsolete Wide-Tackle Six and professed
strong loyalty to his defensive staff, many of whom had played with him at Tech
and had been coaching with him ever since, the preservation of Frankís
coaching neck required that he jettison his pals. Out they went, and in came new
defensive coordinator Phil Elmassian to introduce the attacking style of
defense, variations of which Tech and succeeding DC Bud Foster have run ever
since. Even with the defensive changes, there were a lot of Hokies and media
types who figured Braine had just postponed the inevitable and Frank would be
fired following another poor Ď93 season.
The 1993 opener was a little tougher than the JMU squad that Tech had pounded
to begin the previous two seasons. Bowling Green was summoned from the MAC to
provide opening-day fodder and the Falcons obliged, losing 33-16. It was Techís
third opening-game win in a row and, aside from the 1995 loss to a Boston
College team that had the huge advantage of already having played a game, Tech
hasnít lost an opening game since. If that streak continues it will be a
surprise, to say the least.
Following their methodical dispatch of Bowling Green, Tech headed to
Pittsburgh to play its first official conference game since it had left the
Southern Conference twenty-eight years earlier. Pitt had declined from its glory
years of the Ď70s and Ď80s. Top-shelf talent such as Tony Dorsett and Dan
Marino were no longer to be found and the Pitt program had gradually fallen off.
Former coach Johnny Majors, who had won the MNC at Pitt in 1976 then left for
Tennessee, had come back to Pittsburgh after having been ousted by the Vols in a
palace coup led by his former top assistant, Phil Fulmer.
Majors represented Pittís winning tradition, and had infused some
excitement back into the program. Pitt had upset a pretty good Southern Miss
team to open the season and were feeling pretty good about themselves when an
underdog Tech team came to town. That changed in a hurry as Tech left town late
that Saturday night having blasted Pitt 63-21. Everybody seemed surprised,
including the media and more than a few Tech fans. The enthusiasm Majors had
initially brought back to Pitt evaporated, and the Panthers only won twice more
that season, naturally against Rutgers and Temple. Tech was off and running.
Tech went south to Miami the following week. The Canes had lost the MNC to
Alabama in the Sugar Bowl the previous year and had embarrassed Tech 43-23 the
previous year in Lane in a game that was out of hand after the first quarter.
Elmassianís new defense gave a fine effort against Miami, keeping the game
close until late in a 21-2 Tech loss. That was the beginning of what have turned
into some pretty good defensive efforts against the Canes, with the exception of
the 2002 game when Tech could do little more than wave at Miami running backs
and wide receivers as they raced by.
With some road confidence under its belt, Tech came home to face Maryland.
The Terps were a far cry at that time from what Tech will face this November
18th, a program where Ralph Friedgen has been ticking off ten-win seasons like
clockwork. Tech blasted Maryland 55-28, the first bad loss for a Terps team that
would lose the next week 70-7 to Penn State and only beat Duke and Wake Forest
during a 2-9 year. The Tech rout of Maryland was punctuated by an on-field brawl
between the players that was one of several around college football that day and
received nationwide ESPN coverage. Legend has it that Maryland officials were
incensed and AD Debbie Yow refused to schedule Tech again. The ACC office has
taken that out of her hands.
Tech went back on the road the next week and lost to West Virginia 14-13 as
the potential game-winning field goal missed as time expired. That WVU team
would win a number of close games that year en route to an 11-0 season, Don
Nehlenís second and last undefeated regular season, before the ĎEers were
blitzed by Florida in the Sugar Bowl. It would be six years later before Tech
would hit a game-winning last-second field goal against WVU.
As they had done against Miami, Tech rebounded from a hard-fought loss, came
home and slapped Temple silly, 55-7. That was the year Temple had allowed Bill
Cosby to hire their football coach. Ron Dickerson was the Cozís choice, one of
the most disastrous coaching hires in the history of organized sports. That,
however, was their problem.
Rutgers next came to Lane in what was a revenge game for Tech. Tech had lost
to the Knights the previous year 50-49 on a last-second Hail Mary touchdown
pass. I had considered that the most infuriating of Techís many losses in
1992, mainly because I had gone to New Jersey and watched Tech blow a
twenty-point fourth quarter lead. I wanted revenge, and Iím sure the players
and coaches felt the same. They almost didnít get it, as again Tech ran up a
big lead only to see RU rally and come within a missed onsides kick of taking
another game down to the wire.
As hard as it is to believe these days, Rutgers under Doug Graber actually
had a fairly decent program. They had back-to-back winning seasons in 1991-92
and had come into the Tech game with a 4-2 record that was the same as Techís.
After two close games between what looked like two pretty good teams, I
continued to think what I had at the formation of the BEFC, that Tech and
Rutgers were going to benefit the most from conference affiliation, and this
game would become a very good rivalry. Of course, that was before somebody at
Rutgers had the bright idea to fire Graber and bring in Terry Shea to completely
trash the program, resulting in eleven straight Tech wins in games that have
rarely been within three touchdowns and have put the RUTS in RUTSgers.
There was more revenge on the way for Tech. Next to venture into Lane Stadium
was an East Carolina team that had beaten Tech twice in a row, dealing the í92
Hokies the first of their fourth quarter meltdowns. Tech/ECU was a good rivalry
at the time; most of the games had been close, hard-fought affairs between two
programs that were remarkably similar. That changed that rainy afternoon in
Blacksburg, however. Tech knocked off the Pirates 31-12 and has gone on to beat
them four straight times. Tech beat out ECU [and Louisville] for the eighth and
last spot in the BEFC. Their first game after Tech made the cut marked the end
of the drama of the series with ECU, as over the next decade the programs headed
in different directions.
Tech was 6-2 and surprisingly bowl eligible as they traveled to Boston
College. It was Tom Coughlinís last year at BC before he headed to the NFL and
the Eagles hired Dan Henning to wreck their program. BC would go 8-3 that year,
coming within a late turnover against WVU of claiming a share of the BEFC title.
Coughlinís offense had little trouble with Elmassianís defense as BC won
Tech was 6-3 and came home to face a 5-3-1 Syracuse team. This had become an
important conference game in that a bowl bid was on the line. Tech overwhelmed
the Orangepersons 45-24 that day in Lane Stadium to cement a bid to the
Independence Bowl, Techís first under Frank Beamer. It had been a long dry
spell since Tech had beaten NC State in the 1986 Peach Bowl, the last game under
Tech was 7-3 and headed to a bowl, but there was one piece of unfinished
business left for that Tech team. Until 1993 Frank Beamer had never won in
Hooville. At the time he was 1-5 overall against George Welsh and the Hoos,
including 0-3 in Scott Stadium. Elmassianís defense played well that day,
providing a goal line stand that aided greatly in Techís 20-17 win. Frank
would win six of the next nine games against the Hoos and three of the next four
An 8-3 Tech team dismembered Indiana 45-20 in Shreveport. Television news
reports after the game showed an exultant Frank Beamer in the locker room
afterwards claiming that this was just the first. He was right about that, as
there have been ten straight since that rout of the Hoosiers. Whether there will
be a twelfth straight bowl for Frank Beamerís Tech program seems to be the
topic of much discussion these days.
Tech heads into it first ACC season with more uncertainty surrounding the
program than there has been since that first BEFC season. Expectations are about
as low as they have been around Tech since 1993. Also as it was then, there are
huge questions about the Tech defense. That defense collapsed down the stretch
of the 2003 season and racked up numerous blown leads, the same as happened in
1992. This time around there have been no administratively-mandated staff
changes and no radical new defensive scheme. Unlike 1993, Frank Beamer is firmly
entrenched as head coach and his coaching staff seems to enjoy a level of job
security similar to that found in a Japanese keiretsu.
This is also a very different Tech program than the one that entered the BEFC.
Tech has now been to eleven straight bowl games, won three BEFC championships,
played for the MNC, become a regular on ESPN, developed a strong fan following
and generally established themselves as a power in college football. Tech has a
football body of work that was the basis for their case for ACC inclusion,
unlike the potential that had to be sold to gain admittance into the BEFC. That
potential was realized.
Tech now faces its first ACC season. The challenge of play in a new
conference is again there. There is no gun loaded, cocked and pointed at the
head of Frank Beamer this time around, but once again there are many questions.
Disappointment is a very relative term; in 1992 disappointment was two wins,
while in 2003 it was eight. Such are the expectations Frank Beamer has created
at Tech. Hopefully the coaching staff and this team will react to the adversity
of the disappointing 2003 season as well as the 1993 one did and enter its first
season of ACC play as well as they did their first in the BEFC. Iíll take nine