The Nightmare Season
by Jim Alderson
TSL Extra, Issue #18
A recent post on the TSL Football Message Board that caught my eye talked of Tech possibly exploring a move to CUSA due to the onerous financial requirements imposed by the Big East. After the laughter subsided, I got to thinking about what a football season might look like had Tech joined CUSA back in 1995. Here's a look at an alternate 2002 football season.
I originally set out to write this piece as a dark comedy. While it is indeed dark, I'm not sure it's comedy. If it scares the hell out of you, sorry, but it should make you appreciate what the Hokies have.
August 25th: @ Oklahoma
Oklahoma routed Virginia Tech 41-0 in the Eddie Robinson Classic. The fifth-ranked Sooners scored early and often while limiting the Hokies to only 135 yards in total offense. Oklahoma coach Frank Beamer won his first game coached against his alma mater, where he also coached from 1987-93. Beamer praised the effort put up by the Hokies, saying, "They really got after us. They’ve got some talent that worried us. Virginia Tech should have a good season."
Beamer called coaching against his alma mater "difficult, because I really love Virginia Tech, and might still be coaching there if things had gone a little differently. We have had a chance to do some things here at Oklahoma that weren’t available to us at Virginia Tech," a reference to the national championship Beamer’s Sooners won in 1999. Tech coach Gary Darnell called the game "A learning experience that should help us down the road in CUSA play." Virginia Tech Athletic Director Sharon McCloskey noted that the $500,000 payday received by Virginia Tech would help ease budgetary pressures.
August 31st: @ LSU
A raucous Tiger Stadium crowd of over 90,000 roared their approval as eight-ranked LSU smashed Virginia Tech 49-7. The deafening atmosphere appeared to have an effect on Tech’s play, which was acknowledged by Hokies’ coach Gary Darnell during his post-game remarks, saying, "We don’t play in front of atmospheres like this."
Tech Athletic Director Sharon McCloskey said that she was appreciative of LSU agreeing to schedule the Hokies in a three-for-one deal that would have Tech again visiting Tiger Stadium in 2004 and 2006 before hosting LSU in 2015. McCloskey added, "It gives us a chance to bring a big-time team to Lane Stadium."
September 11th: West Virginia
Keith Burnell ran for 142 yards and Jason Davis threw for a touchdown pass as Virginia Tech notched its first win of the 2002 season, defeating West Virginia 27-24 in a Wednesday night game played before a Lane Stadium crowd of 35,000.
Tech re-claimed the Black Diamond Trophy, although the future of the rivalry between the two schools from neighboring states remained in doubt. West Virginia AD Ed Pastilong said that while he would "love to continue this excellent series, our priorities are our MAC schedule, which includes our season-ending rivalry with Marshall, as well as out-of-conference games against more traditional powers than Virginia Tech. West Virginia joined the MAC following the dissolution of the Big East when Miami, Syracuse and Boston College joined the ACC in 1999.
September 21st: @ Penn State
Kevin Jones rushed for 227 yards and three touchdowns as seventeenth-ranked Penn State defeated Virginia Tech 34-14. Tech coach Gary Darnell said that he "was very glad to see September coming to a close," a month in which the 1-3 Hokies had played three games against ranked opponents, all on the road.
AD Sharon McCloskey defended playing an out-of-conference schedule including so many road games against BCS powers, saying, "It was necessary for budgetary reasons."
September 28th: @ East Carolina
Virginia Tech opened CUSA play by beating East Carolina 31-17 in a game marred by an on-field fourth quarter fight between the two bitter, border state rivals. Tech coach Gary Darnell said that while the bench-clearing melee was unfortunate, "In a rivalry this heated sometimes things get out of hand, and, after Virginia, this is the biggest game on our schedule, considering we recruit so much against ECU."
October 8th (Tuesday): @ TCU
Virginia Tech defeated TCU 28-16 on a Tuesday night game in Fort Worth.
October 19th: Army
Virginia Tech remained undefeated in CUSA by knocking off Army 27-7. Tech won the CUSA Cadets trophy for the third straight time. A Lane Stadium crowd of 30,000 watched as the corps of both schools paraded on the field before the game.
October 26th: UAB
Virginia Tech won its fourth straight game, defeating UAB 24-14 before a Lane Stadium crowd of 28,000. Tech’s record improved to 4-3, 4-0 in CUSA.
In other Tech news, men’s basketball practice opened. Coach Bobby Hussey claimed that he finally had enough talent, after six straight losing seasons and second-division finishes, to compete in CUSA.
November 2nd: Memphis
Memphis upset Virginia Tech 35-21 before a crowd of 26,000 at Lane Stadium. The Tigers under first-year coach and former Virginia Tech assistant Ricky Bustle surprised Tech defenders by throwing the ball 60 times, wearing down slow Tech defensive backs.
The turnout was Tech’s lowest football attendance since 1992. Tech coach Gary Darnell expressed disappointment in the small crowd, saying, "It was a Saturday afternoon game on a beautiful day and there should have been more fans in Lane Stadium." Darnell acknowledged that student apathy continued to be a problem for his football team, but said, "All we can do is play."
November 9th: @ Louisville
Louisville beat Virginia Tech 34-27 and took over first place in CUSA and the inside track to the Liberty Bowl. Tech dropped to 5-5, 4-2 in CUSA.
In other news, the BCS announced that it had renewed its contract with ABC through the 2009 season. BCS Chairman and Big XII Commissioner Kevin Weiberg said that the controversial BCS, which determines a college football champion, would continue to match the champions of the five BCS conferences, the ACC, SEC, Big 10, Big XII and Pac 10, plus three at-large teams. CUSA Commissioner Mike Slive, who called it "Just another example of college football’s elite getting richer at the expense of the non-BCS leagues", denounced the plan.
November 13th (Wednesday): Cincinnati
Cincinnati defeated Virginia Tech 33-10 on a Wednesday night game shown on ESPN2. Tech coach Gary Darnell said of the loss, "I hate to blame the schedule, but we did have to travel on a short week." AD Sharon McCloskey agreed that it [playing on only three days rest] had been very difficult for Tech, but justified scheduling the contest, saying, "At least it was televised."
November 22nd (Friday): Southern Miss
Friday night college football came to Blacksburg as Virginia Tech defeated Southern Miss 28-23. The game, televised by ESPN2, drew only 21,000 fans and was played amid bitter controversy. The game was played opposite a home playoff game at nearby Blacksburg High School, and the Bruins administration had denounced Tech for scheduling a high school game, with Blacksburg principal Alfred Smith claiming, "Friday night should be left for high school."
Tech Athletic Director Sharon McCloskey defended the Friday night game, saying, "It is necessary for Virginia Tech to receive the television exposure that is vital to recruiting. We are not in a BCS conference that gets the regular Saturday slots, so we have to take what we can get."
November 30th: Virginia
Tailback Lee Suggs rushed for 136 yards and true freshman quarterback Marcus Vick passed for two touchdowns as tenth-ranked Virginia defeated Tech 38-14 for their eighth straight win in the series, continuing their possession of the Commonwealth Cup. Tech finished its season with a record of 6-7.
The Wahoo victory marked the last time the teams would play at the end of the season. The series was moved at the behest of Virginia coach George Welsh, whose 11-2 team will play Miami in Charlotte next week for the ACC Championship. The veteran coach had said he wanted a week off before playing a "much bigger and more important game than this one." Welsh, 71, added that he had no plans for retirement, saying he would continue to coach "as long as we keep winning and dominating recruiting in our state."