Great Expectations

While this is largely off-topic for this blog, I know a lot of Virginia Tech football fans read this blog, and since I don't have a personal blog, I'm posting this here. Anyone not interested is free to ignore this post.

Things are never as bad as they seem, nor as good as they seem, as Frank Beamer likes to say. His words were never truer than they have been during the last two years. In the summer of 2003, Virginia Tech saw its athletic history pass before its eyes when the Atlantic Coast Conference left it out of its initial expansion plans. It meant permanent relegation to second-class status in the world of college athletics. Things were looking pretty bad. Yet, with the help of some political maneuvering of the most unlikely of bedfellows, VT somehow managed to avoid the implosion of its entire athletic department by being included in the final expansion plans. It was a photo finish, the outcome uncertain till the end. Forty years of wandering as nomads in the desert of college athletics finally ended with a rightful place in the promised-land of the ACC.

The 2003 season that followed was one in which VT was uncharacteristically physically dominated at the point of attack by many of its opponents, was embarassed in Morgantown when the team and even Beamer lost their cool on national television, got caught in a quarterback controversy that hurt the team, faded away at the end of the season for the third straight year, and was shredded by Cal QB Aaron Rogers in a second-rate bowl game. The college football cognoscenti were starting to whisper that the best was over for VT, and its success had been due only to Michael Vick's tenure. The Hokies were facing the loss of two first round draft picks and a host of other seniors. To make matters worse, Marcus Vick, who was looking to be the starting QB for the next season was suspended from school. The team was facing new life in an unfamiliar conference that lacked the pastries of their former conference, the Big East. Things were looking pretty bad.

Yet somehow in 2004, Beamer managed to "turn up the wick" and the team rode the backs of team leaders Bryan Randall and Jim Davis to an outright conference championship in its inaugural season on its way to a Sugar Bowl berth. Along the way, Randall won Player of the Year honors in the ACC and Beamer won Coach of the year. The lunchpail was back and the naysayers were silenced. It was one of the most memorable seasons in VT history.

Now in 2005, the team returns most of its vaunted defense and there's a Vick once again taking the helm. Both the coaches' and writers' polls have VT in the top 10 preseason, and lesser-known publications having picked them much higher, including a #2 ranking. The hype is once again in full swing. Things are looking pretty good.

As we begin the 2005 season, are things as good as they appear? Or should we remind ourselves of Beamer's wise words?

There's quite a bit to be optimistic about. The Hokies return 14 starters from a team that won the ACC last year, including the bulk of the defense that was the heart and soul of the team. They also have potential superstars on both sides of the ball with QB Marcus Vick, CB Jimmy Williams, and LB Xavier Adibi. The receiver and linebacker corps could very well be the best in the country. Add to this a favorable schedule that includes playing Miami in Blacksburg, and things are ripe for another great season.

Yet, many questions remain, the biggest of which is the offensive line. Will Montgomery, Jason Murphy, and Jimmy Martin form a solid nucleus, but the the other two spots are up in the air. It looks like Duane Brown will start at right tackle and will probably do fine as the season progresses but might have some growing pains in adjusting to a brand new position. Hopefully Brandon Gore and Reggie Butler can provide quality minutes at left guard. The backups... well, let's just hope nobody gets injured.

The other big question mark is safety. D. J. Parker and Justin Hamilton will have to have great seasons for the Hokies to have a shot at the ACC championship. Weak safety play has been the missing link in many past VT seasons, including Jimmy Williams in 2003 and Nick Sorensen in 1999. When the safety plays well, like Vinnie Fuller last year, the defense as a whole benefits. The rest of the secondary should be solid, with a pure "shut down" cornerback Jimmy Williams at boundary corner and Roland Minor at field corner, and hopefully Brandon Flowers and Macho Harris as backups.

The strengths of the team will be backs and receivers on offense and the interior of the defense. There are very few question marks and a lot of depth.

Of course, the most intriguing question mark is Marcus Vick. Burdened with a name that inspires great admiration and bears the talent that comes with it, his road to greatness has been marred with personal shortcomings. But now he has a chance to prove his own worth and separate himself from his brother and give VT what his brother never did. It's his time. Should VT have a great season, he will be the "feelgood" story of the year in college football.

Random thoughts and predictions -

The best player at the beginning of the season is Jimmy Williams. The best player at the end of the season will be Xavier Adibi.

The most underrated player currently is James Anderson.

The player generating the most "buzz" among opponents by the end of the year will be Chris Ellis. He is the next great VT defensive end.

Brandon Ore, even as a 3rd or 4th string tailback, will have at least one TD over 50 yards, setting the stage for a career that will eventually make him one of the greats in VT history. Sooner or later, Ore and Elan Lewis will make people forget Suggs and Jones.

The combination of Eddie Royal and Macho Harris returning kicks/punts will be deadly.

I've never heard Beamer praise the team in summer practice as much as he has done this year. He has absolutely gushed at times, not even throwing in a couple of negative statements for motivation's sake. I hope that's a good sign.

I'm not sure what to think of Sunday night's NC State game. Part of me thinks that like last year's opener, the team will be focused and ready, that the defense is too good and too experienced, that there's no way that a team coached by a man with tits is going to beat us. But then again, there's the hostile road environment, NC State's outstanding front four, a senior QB, and first game jitters for Vick portend doom for the Hokies. Senior QBs have historically been a thorn in the side for the Hokies. They have been in the system for 3-4 years, know how to handle the pressure VT brings, and don't get rattled easily. It'll be a close one either way, but I'm predicting NC State 21 VT 20.

Final Prediction for the season: 10 - 2

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