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September 14, 2010

Hokies again find themselves in a familiar position

By: Jimmy Robertson

This issue of Inside Hokie Sports marks the first following Labor Day, that time on the calendar when all youngsters bid adieu to summer vacations and return to bells ringing, lockers slamming and friends rushing into their various classrooms to absorb information as part of the path toward becoming a productive member of society.

In this space, the first class is sports history, that of the recent variety.

Most young kids in southwest Virginia probably wanted to beg off from the first day of school, feeling somewhat nauseated after watching the Hokies open the season with a wrenching 33-30 loss to then-No. 5 Boise State on Labor Day night. Unfortunately, the Hokies played a well-rounded game in this one, with mistakes on special teams, some missed tackles on defense and a botched center-quarterback exchange, the most basic element of football, all of which led to Boise State scores.

The most teeth-gnashing thing of all – most of these errors were unforced.

“It was an opportunity missed,” Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor said. “But I believe that we beat ourselves. It wasn’t anything they did to beat us. I strongly believe that.”

The loss to Boise State marked Tech’s third straight season-opening loss. But to their credit, and that of AD Jim Weaver, the Hokies haven’t been opening with the bologna sandwiches of college football in recent years. In truth, it’s been more like top sirloin.

For a more in-depth perspective on Tech’s history in season openers, let’s dive into our textbook, the 2010 Virginia Tech Media Guide, but instead of looking at the fluff in the opening chapters, turn to page 169. This page provides a list of Tech’s year-by-year results for the past decade.

In 2004, the Hokies opened the season against Southern Cal at FedExField, the site of their most recent season-opening debacle. Tech lost that game 24-13 to a team that went on to win the national championship that season for the second straight year. But the Hokies fared well, too, rebounding to go 10-3 and win the ACC crown. They fell to Auburn 16-13 in the Sugar Bowl, but finished ranked 10th in The Associated Press poll.

In 2008, the Hokies opened against a very good East Carolina squad at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. The Pirates blocked a punt late in the game and stunned the Hokies 27-22. Yet Tech responded again, going 10-4, winning the ACC crown and beating Cincinnati in the Orange Bowl. The Hokies finished ranked 15th in the AP poll.

Last year, Tech played No. 5 Alabama in the season opener at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, and the Tide prevailed 34-24 in a hard-fought tussle. However, the Hokies got off the deck, won 10 games, including five straight to end the season. The final victory was a 37-14 dismantling of Tennessee in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. Tech finished 10th in the final AP poll.


Year Loss Final Record Final AP Ranking
2004 USC, 24-13 10-3 10th
2008 ECU, 27-22 10-4 15th
2009 Alabama, 34-24 10-3 10th
2010 Boise State, 33-30 ?? ??

The point of this lesson? Well, the Hokies find themselves in the exact same situation following the loss to Boise State. Tech finds itself facing adversity yet again.

But Hokie Nation can take solace in knowing that the Hokies know how to handle it. They’ve clearly proven it. First of all, the formula consists of never panicking. Following the Boise State game, Beamer refused to yell and scream at his team, realizing 11 games remain. He and the staff never panic, and the players sense that.

Then the coaches and the players keep working and keep grinding. They take care of the little things, with the realization that the big things will come. The end result is that the team keeps improving – and winning. Consider this, Tech went 5-0 down the stretch last year, 5-1 in 2008 and 4-1 in 2004 (post-Nov. 1).

“When you play a highly ranked team and if you should lose, you’re not necessarily out of the big picture,” Beamer said. “You’re depending on someone else, but you’re not necessarily out of it.

“The thing I’m proud of, for the last couple years, we played our best football at the end of the year. We continued to get better. We’ve got to get this football team better.”

Can they duplicate their past successes? Obviously, there are no guarantees.

But it shouldn’t come as any great surprise if they do. After all, history should have taught Tech fans that.