January 10, 2006
BLACKSBURG -- Few major college basketball programs toil in as much anonymity as Virginia Tech over the first half of every season. Football remains king in Blacksburg, and it demands much of the attention that goes to basketball elsewhere.
Furthermore, it doesn't help matters when the football team's most visible player does things to grab all of the headlines, even after the gridiron season is over.
So, yes, they're playing basketball at Tech, and the ACC season is cranking up. More on that later. First, let's clean up some important football matters.
The Hokies went 11-2. The 2005 season marked only the third time they've won 11 games -- all, by the way, with a Vick as the starting quarterback. They finished the season ranked seventh nationally.
Nevertheless, as one athletic staffer said in mid-January, "Everyone is miserable around here."
Everyone knows by now that All-ACC quarterback Marcus Vick, the runner-up for the league's player of the year award in 2005, is no longer on the team. Another legal problem, this one as simple as a speeding ticket, did him in. He'd been warned, and Tech made good on what it said it would do.
That's old news by now. Let's look at some other things, the Vick Fallout if you will, that haven't been as well-publicized.
- Beamer said during a press conference about Vick that he'd be visiting with other players about cleaning up their acts. The coach said they'd basically have to get good or get gone. He didn't identify those players.
One certainly is Chris Ellis, the sophomore defensive end who is as talented as anybody on the Tech roster and as flamboyant as anyone, too. Word is, Beamer stopped by to visit with Ellis and his family on the same trip to the Hampton Roads area when he told Vick he was gone.
The Hokies definitely do not want to lose Ellis, and in all likelihood they won't. But Beamer promises that he's going to put a stop to the antics that made Tech look thuggish over the final two games of the season, the ACC championship game and the Gator Bowl.
Another likely candidate is Roland Minor, a sophomore who apparently has been handed the reins as the next mouthy cornerback at Tech. The Hokies always seem to have one. From Ronyell Whitaker to Jimmy Williams, it seems to be an ingrained trait.
As is the case with Ellis, the Hokies don't want to lose the talented Minor. He's a bright kid who certainly should be able to play just as well without the histrionics.
Other players, identities as yet unknown, also are expected to have the required chat with Beamer about their on-field behavior. Those discussions should be very interesting.
- Vick's ouster means that a young player is going to have to be the starting quarterback in 2006.
The advanced timetable doesn't help Ike Whitaker, a well-regarded player who sat out 2005 as a redshirt. Had the competition been for 2007, he would have been the probable successor to Vick. But 2006 may not give Whitaker enough time to get a bit stronger and get a better feel for the offense.
The timetable may put sophomore Sean Glennon in the lead. He was the backup to Bryan Randall as a true freshman in 2004, when he saw only limited action. He also was the backup this year, though he chose to play only if Vick was injured or otherwise unavailable for the long term. That never happened during the season, so redshirt freshman Cory Holt instead got the few mop-up snaps that were available. He made up a lot of ground on Glennon, but maybe not enough.
Either way, spring football suddenly has become much more interesting.
A wild card in all of this is Greg Boone, who like Whitaker sat out 2005 as a redshirt. Gaining weight isn't his problem. Boone reported at 287 pounds, almost 30 over his playing weight. He looks like Byron Leftwich, and he has a strong arm, as do the other candidates. Boone was a standout linebacker in high school, and Vick's situation may have delayed a move there for Boone. He has to get a good look at quarterback first.
- Tech's schedule isn't set. The Hokies are supposed to open with Kent State, which has asked out of the game. That isn't likely, but moving Kent back to late September or early October is likely. There's a rumor that Tech will have another Sunday night opener, this time against Clemson, though that is not at all certain.
Given the quarterback situation, count on Tech to push for a much easier opening game.
- On the coaching staff, a tug of war may end up developing over current James Madison assistant Curt Newsome.
The well-regarded Newsome recently interviewed for one of the vacancies on the staff of Al Groh at archrival Virginia. A former high school coach in the Tidewater area, he's considered an excellent recruiter, especially in that talent-rich region.
Tech would like to have Newsome as well. He and offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring are very close friends.
In mid-January, Tech didn't have an opening, and the Hokies don't change coaches often. In the past six seasons, they've had one staff change. Offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle went to Louisiana-Lafayette as head coach, and Kevin Rogers replaced him as the quarterbacks coach. Stinespring was promoted to Bustle's OC job.
Beamer is exceptionally loyal, and it would be way out of character for him to move someone out just to make way for someone else, even someone such as Newsome. Things always seem to have a way of working out for Beamer, though, the recent Vick debacle notwithstanding.
One possibility: Tight ends/tackles coach Danny Pearman leaves for Clemson, his alma mater. There's no opening there yet, but that's expected to change soon. Stay tuned.
HOOPS: WINNING ACC MARK NEEDED
Now, about that other team.
The Hokies' preseason basketball goal of making the NCAA Tournament was realistic when the season started. But a series of injuries and illnesses have rendered Tech depth-less. Given what they did out of conference, the Hokies probably will have to win nine or 10 league games to have a solid shot at an at-large bid to the Big Dance.
It still can get there from here, but it won't be easy. The next few weeks will be telling. Three of the next four league games and five of the next seven are at home. Tech probably needs to win five of the next seven league games to put itself in a desirable position.
Do-able? Yes. Likely? No.
It will help a lot if Tech doesn't have to redshirt sophomore Wynton Witherspoon. A broken bone in his foot kept him out of the first six games. He played in five, then sat out again because the foot still was bothering him.
The rules say you can play in 20 percent of your team's games in the first half of the season and still get a medical redshirt, as long as you sit out the rest of the season without exception. Witherspoon's sixth game was an intriguing 19-point performance in the Hokies' loss at Florida State. If he plays again, as expected, he can't be redshirted.