November 30, 2004
CHARLOTTESVILLE On the day he was hailed at midfield by rival fans at Virginia Tech, Virginia president John Casteen continued to alienate his own fans and cause headaches for the ACC office.
As soon as Virginia Tech had taken advantage of a fourth-quarter UVa collapse and won 24-10, Virginia distributed a news release in which it announced its unavailability for a bowl played between Dec. 13-21, the exam period in Charlottesville.
That effectively knocked the Cavaliers out of the Champs Sports Bowl, previously the Tangerine Bowl, slated for Orlando on Dec. 21. The Champs Sports Bowl, with the fourth choice of ACC teams, was the game for which UVa was best-positioned after finishing 8-3 overall and 5-3 in the ACC, tied for fourth with North Carolina.
As late as the Wednesday prior to the Tech-UVa clash, Champs Sports Bowl executive Tom Mickle had expressed his excitement at being able to select from among four ACC teams that had at least eight victories apiece. That apparently was the same day that Virginia notified Mickle of its exam conflict.
The exam issue had been discussed in the past, but the Cavaliers had never been the first pick of the Tangerine Bowl. Why Virginia waited until Wednesday, Nov. 24, to deliver its ultimatum is inexcusable. That is something that should have been put on the table as soon as the bowl agreements were solidified.
While some found it commendable for Virginia to put academics before athletics, there also were questions as to why UVa still has exams on Dec. 21, later than anybody else in the conference and three or four days later than Virginia had them previously. Some foresight might have been advisable when UVa drew up its academic calendar; the students, no doubt, wouldn't have minded going home on Dec. 16 or 17.
The whole situation spoke to Casteen's cluelessness when it comes to athletics and provides some insight into his decision to support Virginia Tech when many UVa fans would have opposed the Hokies' ACC membership. While self-serving politicians were falling all over themselves, taking credit for getting Tech into the ACC, it was clearly Casteen's call.
Obviously, athletic director Craig Littlepage has some bridges to mend with the ACC and the bowls, but not before he finds a place for the Cavaliers to play in the postseason. The MPC Computers Bowl would love to have the Wahoos for its game in Boise, Idaho, but Virginia isn't wild about settling for the game with the sixth choice of ACC teams, and there's also the matter of the Champs Sports Bowl.
If Georgia Tech had finished off a wounded Georgia, the Yellow Jackets would
have been 7-4 and much more attractive than they are now at
6-5. Plus, the Jackets don't travel particularly well. Champs Sports Bowl representative Michael Strickland said at the Tech-UVa game that his committee would work with the ACC to find a team with equal value to the Cavaliers, but where?
Bowls with potential openings include the Music City, Liberty and Independence, so it won't be hard finding a place for Virginia. But where will the Champs Sports Bowl come up with a team of equal value when the SEC, Big Ten and Pac-10 don't have enough teams to fill the bowls with which they have ties?
There was one other possibility at week's end. Peach Bowl chairman Gary Stokan said his committee would attempt to fill its SEC spot early in the week and was looking at Alabama and Florida. If the Peach Bowl takes Florida and is left with Florida State after the first two ACC teams are slotted, it will not stage a rematch of the Nov. 20 Florida-Florida State game.
"That is a given," Stokan said.
In that case, FSU could go to the Champs Sports Bowl and Virginia would be available for the Peach. The Cavaliers would bring people, and they have the same record as the Seminoles (8-3), but why would anybody want to accommodate the Wahoos? Any attempts by Virginia to get out of a trip to Boise would fall on deaf ears in the ACC office, most likely.
Huge Questions: QB, Wideouts, NFL
All the mess could have been avoided if Virginia hadn't died in the second half at Blacksburg. After holding the Hokies to 82 yards in the first half, the Cavaliers gave up 265 yards and 24 points in the second half. Tech suspected Virginia was vulnerable to the deep ball and victimized the Cavaliers on touchdown passes of 45 and 32 yards to redshirt freshman Josh Hyman.
Hyman played at Fork Union Military Academy, a prep school 35 minutes from Charlottesville with which Groh has had cool relations. The Cavaliers weren't going to get him anyway; Hyman had played at Chesapeake Deep Creek, an in-state high school with strong Tech ties. But the difference between Tech's young, athletic wide receivers and Virginia's depth-shy wideout group was striking.
Virginia quarterback Marques Hagans, who opened the season by passing for 200 yards or more in five of six games, threw for only 111 yards against the Hokies. That followed a 94-yard passing day on Nov. 13 in a 31-21 loss to Miami and is certain to spark debate in the months ahead. Does Hagans automatically lead the Cavaliers in 2005, when he will be a fifth-year senior?
Hagans might have been UVa's best wideout returning from 2003, when he caught 27 passes while also serving as the understudy to Matt Schaub. Clearly, Hagans will not be a quarterback in the NFL, but he might have a chance as a wide receiver and return specialist, another duty he performed in 2003.
Besides, if one of the other Virginia quarterbacks can't get the job done and there are two SuperPrep All-Americans (Christian Olsen, Kevin McCabe) waiting for a chance then Hagans would be a perfect fall-back option. Going into the Tech game, he was ranked third in the ACC in total offense and second in passing efficiency, and for the season he was intercepted only five times in 231 attempts.
In terms of playmaking ability, Hagans is the closest thing the Cavaliers have to Alvin Pearman, a departing senior who had 240 all-purpose yards against the Hokies, including a spectacular reception for the Cavaliers' only touchdown. Pearman was Groh's recommendation for ACC player of the year and, with more than 60 yards per game more than the conference's runner-up in all-purpose yardage, a worthy choice as a first-team All-ACC running back.
Not only will the Cavaliers lose Pearman and dynamite defensive end Chris Canty, recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered in October, but there are three underclassmen whose return is up in the air: fourth-year junior tight end Heath Miller, third-year junior linebacker Darryl Blackstock and second-year sophomore linebacker Ahmad Brooks. After spending the fall semester of 2001-02 in prep school, Brooks is eligible to turn pro by virtue of the NFL's Larry Fitzgerald ruling last year.