December 2, 2002 CHARLOTTESVILLE As they waited to see how many bowls with ACC tie-ins would snub Virginia, football coach Al Groh and athletic director Craig Littlepage were united on one front: It may be a while before the Cavaliers accommodate the ACC by accepting another marketable made-for-TV intersectional game. When the bowl committees made their selections, scant attention was paid to a UVa schedule that included non-conference games with Penn State, Virginia Tech, Colorado State and South Carolina. All were top-25 teams at one point this season.
They've confirmed that it doesn't pay to do that, said Groh, after ending the regular season with a 21-9 loss at Virginia Tech. With all due respect to Wofford, maybe we should get them on our schedule.
The reference was to a Maryland schedule that included Eastern Michigan, Wofford and Akron. (The Cavaliers also played Akron.) Littlepage pointed out that N.C. State had a pair of victories over Division I-AA opponents, East Tennessee State and Massachusetts, not to mention New Mexico and Navy.
The Cavaliers thought, after knocking off N.C. State and Maryland in back-to-back weeks, that they might be under consideration for the Gator Bowl. At the very least, they hoped the Gator Bowl might wait to learn the results of Virginia's game at Virginia Tech, the Cavaliers' third straight nationally ranked opponent.
Fat chance. In an early decision that did not sit well with the ACC office, either, the Gator Bowl used its second choice of ACC teams to pick fourth-place N.C. State (10-3, 5-3) on Nov. 25. Then, before the Virginia-Virginia Tech game even started, the Peach Bowl used its third choice to pick Maryland (10-3, 6-2).
At nightfall Saturday, the Cavaliers (8-5, 6-2) didn't even know if the Tangerine Bowl would pick them. The Tangerine, with the fourth pick of ACC teams, was not bound by the two-game rule that is written into the ACC's contract with the Gator and Peach bowls. As a result, the Tangerine Bowl was free to pick Clemson (7-5, 4-4), tied for fifth in the ACC, over a UVa team that was tied for second. And, of course, that's exactly what Tangerine officials did the next day.
In an otherwise bizarre scenario, as this has evolved over the past two weeks, it would continue to move in the direction of the bizarre, said Littlepage, speaking before the Virginia-Virginia Tech game and before the Tangerine Bowl snub.
The truth be known, the new Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte gladly would have passed on the Cavaliers if executive director Ken Haines had been able to get West Virginia or Virginia Tech. Haines, a one-time Tech radio analyst, has a warm spot in his heart for the Hokies, but he also knows that any ACC team is likely to bring fans to Charlotte, while fans of the more far-flung Big East schools are not.
Virginia has a checkered history when it comes to bringing fans, based mainly on the Cavaliers' three trips to Carquest/MicronPC.com Bowl in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a tough sell with fans of any ACC also-ran. UVa has a great history with the Peach Bowl, and a rival bowl director said the Peach might have created a stampede of Cavalier fans in the days following a 48-13 romp over Maryland.
Littlepage, a former basketball coach who is on the NCAA men's basketball committee, reeled off a list of qualifications that should have made Virginia more desirable than State and in some cases Maryland: head-to-head results, strength of schedule, conference record, play down the stretch. In any of the NCAA's other sports, virtually all of them decided by playoffs, such criteria would have made a difference.
The statement that the bowls are making is, while the players and coaches think the issue is decided on the field, that's not really the case, Groh said. It's a matter of back-room politics.
Long after the Virginia Tech game, Groh was seen huddling with ACC assistant commissioner Mike Finn in the Cavaliers' locker room. To his credit, Finn attended the game when he had to know Virginia would not be happy, but this is not the first time the Cavs have been slighted in the bowl-selection process. In fact, it's rare when they don't get the short end of the bowl stick.
Outsiders will see that Virginia has added Troy State as a 12th game in 2003 and construe that as one of the repercussions of the bowl slights. Not true. The Troy State agreement had been reached almost a month earlier, and the rest of the 2003 non-conference slate Virginia Tech, South Carolina and Western Michigan had been in place for a while.
Occasionally, the ACC asks for favors from the teams, such as the addition of South Carolina to the 2002 schedule on a date when the Cavaliers already were scheduled to play Penn State. UVa was able to reschedule the game, but not without some embarrassment.
Take it from us: Now would not be the best time for the ACC office to approach UVa about any more favors.
Schaub Helped By Early Voting
If timing is everything, the Cavaliers caught a big break when the voting deadline for the ACC's postseason football awards came one day after Virginia's lopsided victory over Maryland.
Quarterback Matt Schaub's performance against the Terps, when he was 23-of-27 for 249 yards and three touchdowns, lifted him past N.C. State's Philip Rivers for the first-team All-ACC quarterback spot and got him the nod over Rivers and Maryland linebacker E.J. Henderson for ACC player of the year.
Had the voting been conducted one week later, Schaub might not have gotten either award. He was 12-of-23 for a season-low 43 yards at Virginia Tech, although there were extenuating circumstances. Wind gusts of up to 40 miles per hour were so severe that Groh elected to kick off to start both halves.
It's unlikely that the result of the Virginia-Virginia Tech game would have changed the coach of the year voting. After tying for seventh in 2001, the Cavaliers were picked eighth in the ACC before the season and were the underdogs in nine of 13 games this year. Three of their victories came over top-25 opponents.
Schaub was joined on the All-ACC first team by wide receiver Billy McMullen, a repeat selection, and linebacker Angelo Crowell. Reputation helped McMullen, whose numbers would not have elevated him over several other outstanding receivers. Crowell always has been in the shadow of his brother, Detroit Lions and ex-UVa wide receiver Germane Crowell, but, with his first-team All-ACC selection, the younger Crowell accomplished something his brother never did.
Basketball: Point Guard Concerns
Although a victory over 16th-ranked Kentucky helped save a potentially devastating trip to Maui, the UVa men's basketball team had no time to relax as it faced a third straight top-25 opponent, Michigan State, in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
Virginia found itself tied with Indiana midway through the second half in the Maui championship, but when the 20th-ranked Hoosiers pulled away for a 70-63 victory, it only served to emphasize a lack of on-court direction for the Cavaliers.
At mid-summer, it appeared as if the Cavaliers might have three ACC-caliber point guards, but now they might not have any. Todd Billet, a transfer from Rutgers, is an ACC-caliber player. However, Billet is most effective when other players are setting him up for three-point attempts.
Sophomore Keith Jenifer has been starting at point guard, but he is a poor shooter who is prone to bad decisions at both ends of the floor. In Maui, a national cable audience witnessed Jenifer trying to slug Indiana guard Tom Coverdale in the groin as they were heading up the floor.
Ideally, former McDonald's All-American Majestic Mapp would team with Billet in the backcourt. However, Mapp, the anti-Jenifer, has not played since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a pickup game in the summer of 2000. He has undergone two reconstructions and had planned to play this season before experiencing soreness after the start of preseason drills.
Mapp has been taking part in some practice activities and has been dressing for games, but nobody associated with the program has suggested a timetable for a possible return to action. Whether he's hobbled or not, the Cavaliers need his smarts.
Another player who could help the Cavaliers is Jermaine Harper, a 6-2 sophomore who did not make the trip to Hawaii and faces an uncertain future after his arrest for driving under the influence. Harper is not a point guard and he is a streaky shooter, but he has the kind of quickness that would enable Gillen to employ the presses that are his trademark.