The difference between a 6-7 season and a 7-6 might seem minuscule in most peoples’ minds. No matter how Virginia Tech finishes, it will still be far below the goals the Hokies had coming into the season.
But that hasn’t diminished the importance of winning the Russell Athletic Bowl matchup against Rutgers in the players’ minds.
“I think it says a lot,” quarterback Logan Thomas said. “It doesn’t say that we’re a middle of the road team. It says we’re above a middle of the road team. … 7-6 would be nice, especially the way the season has gone.”
That’s hardly a statement that will pump excitement into a fan base that hasn’t suffered through a season like this in two decades, but it’s reason enough for Virginia Tech to be motivated over the next four weeks to play in the Dec. 28 game in Orlando.
Rutgers (9-3) won a share of the Big East title for the first time under first-year head coach Kyle Flood. Although the Scarlet Knights’ resume lacks a marquee win, they’re still a formidable opponent, one that has won five straight bowl games, the longest streak in the country.
“We want to prove to everybody that even though we’ve had a down year, we can still play with the big boys and still get wins in big games,” Tech linebacker Jack Tyler said.
Virginia Tech’s postseason struggles have been well-chronicled. Coach Frank Beamer is 8-11 in bowl games during his career. The Hokies are 3-5 in bowls since joining the ACC in 2004, with losses in each of the last two seasons.
They were blown out by Andrew Luck and Stanford 40-12 in the 2011 Orange Bowl and, by virtue of several special teams mistakes and an overturned touchdown catch by Danny Coale in overtime, lost to Michigan 23-20 in the 2012 Sugar Bowl.
“We want to be the team that kind of turns around the bowl picture and makes this team feared during bowl season,” Tyler said.
Here are a few more notes and quotes from Monday’s availability …
- Despite rampant speculation that Virginia Tech might alter its coaching staff in some way this offseason, Beamer deflected a question Monday. Asked if any coaching changes were in store for the Hokies, he didn’t answer but also didn’t necessarily close the door. “Right now, our attention is on this bowl game,” he said. “That’s where we’re going to put all of our emphasis right now.” Interpret that as you will.
- Thomas, a junior who at one time was a projected first-round draft pick, said he still plans to ask for feedback from the NFL draft advisory board, a group that evaluates potential draftees and tells them an approximate round in which they might be taken. Receiving feedback does not obligate a player to go pro. Thomas said nothing has changed in his plans for next season. He had previously said he will return for his senior season.
- The Hokies start the first of 14 pre-bowl practices this week . Beamer said it will be a time for evaluating younger players while still getting prepared for Rutgers. “That’s a benefit of going to a bowl game is 14 extra practices you can have to help your football team get better and start evaluating your football team for next year,” he said.
- Beamer said cornerback Donaldven Manning, who nearly left the team last month, will have a chance to get back in the mix during the bowl practices, although Donovan Riley has supplanted him as one of the backup cornerbacks. “It will be good competition,” he said. Beamer also said he wasn’t sure safety Michael Cole would be available for the game after suffering a scary neck injury against Florida State. “Going to leave this up to him and his family and the doctors,” he said.
- As expected, Beamer deferred comment on the arrests of walk-ons Josh Trimble and Brian Rody to athletic director Jim Weaver. With a Jan. 24 preliminary hearing, don’t expect either to be on the bowl trip.
- With Rutgers being a Big East foe (for now), Beamer reminisced a little bit about Virginia Tech being in the league from 1992-2003. “The Big East was a great time in the history of Virginia Tech,” he said. “It came in an important time, to be in a conference, to have access to bowl games and have access to TV. And our association with all the schools there, Rutgers and all of them. … Then, when we were allowed to get into the ACC, it was another step. But the Big East made that possible.”
- The most excited people about a trip to Orlando? Beamer thinks it’s his granddaughters, who he said were “ecstatic” to be going back to Disney World.
- Thomas and Tyler haven’t been to Orlando in years and haven’t made a Disney World trip since they were little. “I remember I was probably about 5 or 6 and I was scared to death,” Tyler said. “I went on one ride, there was a jungle ride and there were spiders and snakes falling on everybody’s laps and stuff. And the rest of the trip, my dad had to buy me a pair of sunglasses because I thought I saw spiders running everywhere and I was petrified. And I’m still scared of spiders now. So now Disney World will be a little bit better experience this time.”
- As usual, Beamer is trying to have a balance of work and play on the trip. “I think it needs to be a good time, but at the same time, understand that … when it’s time to work, work, and when it’s time to enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself,” he said. “Keep ’em separate. And understand why we’re there.”
- Virginia Tech opened as a 1-point favorite against Rutgers. The over/under is 43.