December 7, 2005
BLACKSBURG -- If Virginia Tech can manage to go back to Jacksonville and beat Louisville in the Gator Bowl, the Hokies will finish the season with 11 victories.
That's happened only twice in Tech's long football history. The Hokies won 11 in 1999, losing only their final game when Florida State beat them in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. They won 11 games again the next season, losing only at Miami.
The common denominator in both seasons was Michael Vick at quarterback. In the loss at Miami in 2000, he didn't start and barely played because of an injured ankle.
Those seasons safely can be called great. Even though they lost the Sugar Bowl after the 1999 season, the Hokies were thrust into the national spotlight with their strong showing against the Seminoles. They got as much as they possibly could out of that game, short of winning the thing.
Michael's brother Marcus Vick is Tech's quarterback now, and he stands a good chance of helping direct the Hokies to their third 11-victory season. But no matter what happens in the Gator Bowl, Tech won't really be able to call this season a great one. Very good? Sure. But great it ain't.
Tech will be left to wonder what could have been. This season could have been great, could have been a Rose Bowl-quality campaign. The problem: In their two biggest games, the Hokies pretty much looked the opposite of great. Tech was 10-0 against the rest of the nation, but 0-2 against the state of Florida, heading into the bowl game.
Just as there was a common denominator in the earlier 11-victory seasons, there was a common denominator in the two losses this fall. They were the only two games in which Tech was outplayed badly on both lines. As fast as the Hokies are, they aren't as fast as Miami or Florida State, and they paid for that.
Miami and FSU both sacked Vick six times. A line with two All-ACC players on it (and another second-team player) should never let that happen. And though he didn't turn the ball over six times against FSU as he did against Miami, Vick never really looked comfortable in Jacksonville until the final quarter, when the Seminoles went into a prevent defense and almost let Tech pull it out.
Vick was the ACC's midseason player of the year, prompting many to opine that he was as good or better than his brother. He spent the second half of the season soundly disproving that argument, although he still ended up earning first-team All-ACC honors. Michael Vick could get an opponent in trouble when it put him in trouble. That was one of his great strengths. When Marcus is hurried, the results simply aren't as good.
Tech's lines are big, strong and generally very reliable. Until the Hokies figure out a way to handle serious speed on opposing lines, however, they figure to come away disappointed more often than not.
Both lines will be considerably rebuilt next season. Tech loses three starting offensive linemen in center Will Montgomery, guard Jason Murphy and tackle Jimmy Martin. Montgomery and Murphy were first-team All-ACC picks, with Murphy's choice surprising many, including Murphy. Martin has made 45 straight starts.
PREDICTIONS: EARLY NFL DEPARTURES
Last year, cornerback Jimmy Williams opted to return for his senior season instead of going pro early. He wanted a chance to be a leader and knew he needed to mature. He did, and he probably improved his draft stock considerably.
With the 2005 season now winding down, rumors are starting to fly about which Tech players may come out early, or at least consider coming out early.
- Vick. On the surface, this one makes no sense. He's clearly not ready to be an NFL quarterback, and his financial situation is pretty darn good.
But, one source said, quarterback may not even be his NFL position. Vick is a gifted athlete, and he played receiver when Tech lost to California in the 2003 Insight Bowl. He caught four passes, one for a touchdown, and looked natural out there.
Another source said Vick has been terribly uncomfortable under the spotlight that's been on him since he returned from a year's suspension for a variety of legal problems. His every move is pretty much scrutinized. Vick also wants to make his own name, and his own money.
Prediction: He very seriously considers leaving but ultimately stays.
- Junior rover Aaron Rouse. The Washington Post and Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk both did excellent stories on Rouse recently, detailing his background. His father is in prison for life, without the possibility of parole. Rouse has a child who lives with his girlfriend in a housing project. His mother lives in a housing project.
Rouse has promised his loved ones that he'll get them out of there. Going pro now seems farfetched for a guy who didn't even make honorable mention All-ACC, but considering the circumstances, it isn't that farfetched.
Rouse has made a good transition to rover -- a strong safety hybrid -- after working at outside linebacker for two years. He's always been good in run support, and he's better in pass coverage than Tech expected he'd be after one year. He's also one of the best athletes on the team.
When star cornerback DeAngelo Hall was considering coming out early two years ago, a member of the Tech football staff agreed that Hall probably wasn't ready. But, the staffer said, he was extremely fast and extremely strong. He'd go to the scouting combine and make jaws drop with his numbers. It would get him drafted 20 spots higher than he should be picked. And that's exactly what happened.
Rouse also will make jaws drop with his athleticism and skill. He probably could make himself a higher pick with another year, but someone is going to take a chance on him.
Prediction: He considers staying and wants to stay but feels like he has to leave for his family.
- Sophomore inside linebackers Xavier Adibi and Vince Hall. If this tandem departs -- they're both third-year sophomores, so under NFL rules they can apply for the 2006 draft -- it probably would cause the most angst in Hokie Nation.
Adibi and Hall have become quite an inside tandem, which is one reason. The other reason is that Tech doesn't have anyone in the program remotely close to the two of them in ability. The dropoff is huge.
Prediction: Fear not. The two probably have long pro careers ahead of them, but they know they're not ready for that just yet. They'll be back for another year.