In a surprising twist, Virginia Tech will be going to a Bowl Championship Series game after all.
The Hokies were chosen as a BCS at-large team to play in the Sugar Bowl against Michigan on Jan. 3 at the Superdome in New Orleans.
With Clemson earning the ACC’s automatic berth to the Orange Bowl, it’s the first time in the BCS’s 14-year history that the league has garnered two bids to the country’s premier bowl games.
Sugar Bowl CEO Paul Hoolahan said Virginia Tech’s history with the game — this is its fourth trip to New Orleans, all since 1995 — and its fan base’s reputation for traveling were “extremely important” in the selection process.
It’s the Hokies’ sixth trip to a BCS bowl game and their fourth in the last five years, the other three being appearances in the Orange Bowl.
“I think Virginia Tech over the years has proven the caliber of football team that they are,” he said.
Critics of the Hokies’ selection for one of this year’s top bowl games cite Tech’s soft schedule, which includes no wins against teams currently in the top 25, but head coach Frank Beamer defended his team.
“I think the people we’ve been able to beat, they didn’t seem weak to me,” he said. “We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish.”
The pick, for the most part, was a shocker. All hope of a BCS spot seemed to go out the window for Virginia Tech after a lopsided 38-10 loss to Clemson on Saturday night in the league title game.
On the way back from Charlotte, Beamer was filling out his coaches’ ballot when the possibility of an at-large bid came up in discussion. He spoke Sunday morning with athletic director Jim Weaver, who told him it was a possibility, then got the news in the afternoon.
“Again, I think if you look at what our university brings and what the Virginia Tech football program brings, and not only this year, but over the last several years, the name that is built up, I think there are a lot of reasons why you’d like Virginia Tech in your bowl game,” Beamer said.
Several factors went the Hokies’ way. For starters, their second loss to Clemson by more than 20 points didn’t drop them out of at-large contention.
The Hokies fell from third to 11th in the coaches’ poll and fourth to 11th in the Harris poll, which make up two-thirds of the BCS. They were 13th in the computer rankings, which makes up the other third of the formula, remaining at No. 11 overall in the BCS rankings.
To be considered for an at-large berth, a team needs to be in the top 14.
The Hokies were aided by a slim field of at-large contenders, too.
No. 6 Arkansas and No. 9 South Carolina could not be selected because of a rule that doesn’t allow more than two teams from the same conference to play in BCS bowls. No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama, who will meet in the national championship game, were the SEC’s two representatives.
Had Mountain West Conference winner TCU gotten into the top 16 this year, it would have earned an automatic bid under BCS rules. But the Horned Frogs finished 18th.
The other at-large contenders after No. 4 Stanford, a lock for inclusion, and No. 13 Michigan, whose fan base and BCS bowl drought made it an attractive at-large pick, were No. 7 Boise State, No. 8 Kansas State, No. 12 Baylor and No. 14 Oklahoma.
None of those schools have as good of a history in New Orleans as the Hokies.
In 1995, quarterback Jim Druckenmiller led the Hokies to a 28-10 win against Texas.
In 2000, a Michael Vick-led No. 2 Virginia Tech squad lost to No. 1 Florida State in the BCS national championship game.46-29.
In 2005, a fourth-quarter rally by the No. 9 Hokies came up just short in a 16-13 loss to No. 3 Auburn, which finished the season unbeaten but was passed over for the national title game for USC and Oklahoma.
Virginia Tech has never played Michigan and hasn’t played a team from the Big Ten since a 45-20 victory against Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl.
The Wolverines rose back to prominence in coach Brady Hoke’s first season, going 10-2 overall and 6-2 in the Big Ten, good enough for a second-place finish in the Legends Division.
It’s Michigan’s first appearance in a BCS game since the 2007 Rose Bowl, a 32-18 loss to USC.
Plenty more quotes from Beamer’s teleconference. It’s late, so I’ll just post them verbatim on here:
(Think fans will enjoy a change of scenery from Miami?)
“Yeah, I don’t think there was any question about it. I think the fact that you’re playing a program such as Michigan, a program that is so well-respected and looked at in a favorable way, I think that … and then coming to New Orleans, and they’ve had experiences there before and it’s just a great city for a bowl game. I don’t think there’s any question and I think they’ll enjoy the opportunity.”
(Talk about Virginia Tech’s history with the Sugar Bowl, particularly the donation it made after the shooting)
“The people there at the Sugar Bowl, we’ve had quite a bit of experiences with them and they’re just first class. They do things right. It’s always been a great experience to cover that bowl and spend a week in the city there. Just first class all the way.”
(You don’t cross paths much with Michigan. What do you know about that program?)
“No, I don’t know him. I sure know what he’s done this year and through the years. I know his name for the tremendous job he’s done in coaching. I don’t know a whole lot about Michigan. I didn’t until recently. I didn’t really think that us and Michigan would be meeting in a bowl game. But we’re going to pay attention to them now and try to get to work on them and represent the ACC in the best way possible.”
(You were picked over Kansas State and Boise State, who were higher in the rankings. Your response?)
“Well, I think Virginia Tech over the years has built a name for itself, and we have a chance to win 12 games this year, and that’s never been done at Virginia Tech. And in reality, we lost to one team this year, we lost to them twice. We’ve been on national TV several times here in recent weeks and we had won seven straight until last night, and we got the player of the year in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and we’ve been to three BCS bowls over the last three years. … I think there are a lot of reasons why Virginia Tech would be an attractive team to a BCS bowl. Over the years, I think the Virginia Tech name has gotten to be a very good name.”
(Talk about Michigan QB Denard Robinson)
“I think you better have good players on the outside who are fast. It looks like to me. From what I’ve seen, that guy can. go. I think us having that type of guy probably gives us some experience, but it all comes back to the players and being able to tackle the guy when you get them there.”
(Take pride in being first at-large pick from the ACC?)
“Yeah, I do. And again, we want to represent the ACC in the best way possible. We’re proud of where we are and proud to rep the ACC. But to get that second team, I think it speaks well of our conference and we’re proud of the team to do it.”