by Bill Glose, 10/16/02
Now that the Red River Shootout has passed, the college world is looking ahead to December 7, expecting an undefeated Virginia Tech to challenge an undefeated Miami to close out the season. Of course, plenty of opponents can knock off either team before that final showdown -- this past weekend was a perfect example, as Boston College came close to derailing the Hokie Express and Miami received a last second reprieve with Wide Left I -- so the coaches and players better stay focused and not overlook anybody. But, we’re not the players. We’re allowed to look ahead and wonder, "What if?" Okay then, what would happen if both teams make it to the Orange Bowl unscathed?
Hokie fans everywhere point to that game as an all-or-nothing extravaganza, with the winner getting the conference’s BCS bid and playing for the MNC. But if VT wins, there is also a strong probability that Miami will still play in a BCS bowl as an at-large selection, since they are the media’s golden child. It would be a coup of unimaginable proportions for the Big East to score two BCS bids. With only eight teams in the conference, the influx of additional millions of dollars would make a huge impact on every program. And VT and Miami would rake in the largest share of the pot, since the BE weights payouts in order of conference standing.
But what happens if the game goes the other way? What happens if Miami wins? Does history repeat itself, sending Virginia Tech to the Gator Bowl for the third year in a row? It could happen.
Money is all that matters to the BCS bowl committees, and it’s an unfortunate fact of life that Blacksburg doesn’t draw a major TV market. Recent history also gives the Hokie nation good cause to worry. In 2000, when Tech boasted the most exciting player to ever suit up in college, a one-loss record, and a #5 ranking in both the final polls and BCS standings, the Hokies were passed over in favor of Notre Lame and their TV allure. The Oregon State Beavers were chosen as the second at-large team, since the bowl committee expected them to pack the stadium in Tempe, allowing the Fiesta Bowl to exploit both options for earning money: strong TV appeal and a sold-out stadium.
This year however, the Fiesta will not be choosing at-large candidates. Tempe will host the National Championship Game and the bowls that give up the #1 and #2 teams will get the first at-large picks. The Hokies’ ace-in-the-hole is a large contingent of fans that travel to all their games. In 2000, bowl organizers didn’t count on Tech selling many tickets to the game in Arizona. But this year, at-large selections by the Orange and Sugar Bowl committees know for certain that Orange and Maroon fans will flood their cities if the Hokies play there. In the nine straight years since the Hokie’s trip to the Independence Bowl, VT’s followers have earned a reputation of filling up hotel rooms and spending large quantities of dough for days before and after bowl games. That reputation benefited Tech last year when the Hokies were picked above Syracuse for the Gator Bowl, even though the Orangemen beat Tech during the season. It’s all about the money, and Tech’s large traveling fan base will be taken into consideration again this year.
Additionally, the Hokies have been playing in the top five of both major polls for the past four years. Though many Tech players and fans will argue the Hokies still don’t receive respect, one only has to read a week’s worth of college news to come up with numerous positive feature articles on the Hokies. ESPN continually runs features on The Untouchables and has gone so far as to commission comic book superhero caricatures of them. Early BCS projections place VT at #1 and Miami at #2. And CNNSI’s Stewart Mandel grades Miami and Virginia Tech as the top two in his football power rankings, stating that one of them will go to the Fiesta Bowl since "Neither is likely to be touched by the rest of the Big East." Columnists throughout the nation recognize Tech as an elite program, and that perception will aid the Hokies in their quest for a major bowl.
As a side note, ABC now owns the Big East television contract. They just happen to also be the network that airs the BCS games. That doesn’t mean they’ll pull some strings to help a 10-2 Tech team get the nod, but it should result in lots of good PR for a 12-1 Hokie squad.
So what hurdles stand in Tech’s path to an at-large bid? Notre Dame, second place teams in the major conferences, and our own league commissioner, Mike Tranghese.
Of course, Notre Dame is the obstacle that draws the most ire these days. The golden domers have already been granted exclusion to the BCS rules when their Kickoff Classic Game was given exempt status, meaning they only need to win nine games this year to play in a BCS bowl. However, they’ll need to finish in the BCS top 12 to be eligible, and if they lose three games in the second half of the season to wind up 9-3, it’s doubtful they’ll be ranked that high. But their chances of finishing 10-2 are not too shabby. They have one game remaining that they should lose (Florida State) and two walkovers against Rutgers and Navy. The other three could go either way, with contests against Air Force, Boston College, and USC. If they finish 10-2, which is starting to seem more and more likely, they will go to a BCS bowl, which would only leave one additional at-large berth.
If Notre Dame takes one spot, that does not bode well for the Hokies. Although the Hokies have many things going for them, their chances of beating out every second place team from the other major conferences for the last remaining at-large berth are slim. In the four years of BCS regulations, the ACC and Big East are the only two major players to never send two teams to the BCS bowls. At-large bids have been given out to the SEC three times, the Big Ten two times, and one time apiece for the Big 12, PAC-10, and Notre Dame.
There is one clause in the BCS rules that could assist the Hokies, though it’s doubtful to do anything for them this year. The highest ranked at-large team is guaranteed a slot in a BCS bowl if that team finishes in the top four of the BCS. Two years ago, the ACC restructured their schedule to try placing two teams as high as possible in the rankings. They expected both Georgia Tech and Florida State to have a shot at the MNC, so they scheduled them to play each other early in the season. One would win and bolster their run at the title; the other would lose, and have the entire season to climb back up in the polls.
However, the Big East is not that forward-thinking. Instead of structuring the schedule to gain the best bowls and most money for the conference, the schedule favors an end-of-the-year showdown of the top two teams, a scheduled-for-TV pseudo-Big East championship game. Unfortunately, that means that the #2 team will most likely take a beating in the final polls because of the late season loss.
For years, Miami and Syracuse faced off in early December to finish the BE calendar, and now the Hokies close out with the Canes. While this creates an interesting end to the season, it is not the most beneficial to the teams, or to the conference. In 2000, if the Hokies had lost to the Canes earlier in the season, they would have been ranked higher in the polls. They finished ranked #5, but would have been higher with the entire season to move ahead. If they’d moved up four more spots, both teams would have played in the championship game. Okay, that might be a stretch, but imagine what that would have done to the college football world. Instead, the Hokies headed down to Jacksonville and took out their aggression on Clemson.
For now, the best scenario for VT is to win out then play in the Fiesta (duh). However, should the team drop only one
game to Miami, then the next best thing for the Hokies would be for the SEC champion to also play in the Fiesta Bowl and
for Notre Dame to lose 3 games. That way, the Rose Bowl gets the Big Ten and PAC-10 winners, while the Orange and Sugar
Bowls each get two at-large picks. One of those picks will be the Big 12 winner, which won’t likely sell many tickets.
In that scenario, VT stands an excellent chance to be celebrating New Years in New Orleans’ Big Easy or Miami’s Big
Sleazy. Either way, an investment in beads and a good hangover remedy are in order.
Bill Glose is a former paratrooper, a Virginia Tech graduate, and a die-hard Hokie fan. When he's not watching a game or writing an article for TSL, he spends his time editing the literary journal, Virginia Adversaria. Over 150 of his articles have appeared in numerous markets and his fiction has been accepted for publication in four countries.