12.31.2009

On the Docket - Chick-fil-A bowl: Virginia Tech (9-3) vs. Tennessee (7-5)

Synopsis:

This is a game that has as good of a geographic draw as any bowl game this year. This matchup has been in the works for several years now, but every attempt to get the two programs together has failed. Virginia Tech is led by the legs of freshman running back Ryan Williams, who is 110 yards away from breaking the school’s all-time rushing record in a single season. Tennessee is led by its great defense, coached by longtime NFL coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Volunteer program is on the way back to the top under Lane Kiffin, and he surely wants to help use a win in this game to recruit and bolster his program.

Player to watch: Eric Berry is arguably the best defensive back in college football since Charles Woodson (apologies to Chris Gamble, DeAngelo Hall, Sean Taylor). Monte Kiffin loves to place Berry in different situations all over the field to get him involved in as many plays as possible. It will be up to Berry to stop Ryan Williams from breaking off long runs, and from letting the Tech receivers break open downfield.

Who has the edge?

The Hokies were more than likely the better football team in 11 of their 12 games this season. Talent-wise, few teams can stand toe-to-toe with Frank Beamer’s squad. However, Lane Kiffin has had the Volunteers play their best football against the biggest teams, i.e. Florida and Alabama. This game will be a great one, and a close battle.

Prediction:

Virginia Tech 24, Tennessee 17

On the Docket - Sun Bowl: Oklahoma (7-5) vs. Stanford (8-4)

Synopsis:

This game lost a bit of its luster when an announcement came that Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck is doubtful to play following surgery to repair a broken finger. Still, this game is a great opportunity for Stanford to take down yet another dominant program this season, having already defeated USC and Oregon.

Oklahoma must have walked under thirteen ladders, broken thirteen mirrors, and slept with a baker’s dozen black cats before the season, because they have come across the worst luck any team has seen in recent memory. Both of the team’s top NFL prospects, quarterback Sam Bradford and tight end Jermaine Gresham, missed virtually the entire season due to injury. With those two players healthy, the Sooners could have potentially been a top-five team.

Player to watch: Toby Gerhart is the star of the Cardinal’s team, but the key player in this game will be Stanford quarterback Tavita Pritchard. Pritchard is most fondly remembered in the hearts of Cardinal nation for leading his team to an improbable upset of USC in 2007. With Luck’s status uncertain for the game, Pritchard will start and most likely play the whole game under center. All coach Jim Harbaugh will ask him to do is manage the game and let Gerhart carry the load.

Who has the edge?

Stanford is a blue-collar team in the mold of its coach, and they will be fully prepared for this game. Oklahoma has dealt with too many distractions to count this season, and are more than ready to put the 2009 season behind it.

Prediction:

Stanford 31

Oklahoma 24

On the Docket - Armed Forces Bowl: Houston (10-3) vs. Air Force (7-5)

Synopsis:

Case Keenum will almost undoubtedly break Timmy Chang’s all-time passing yardage record for a career should he return to school next season. The Cougar quarterback has thrown for 5,449 yards and 43 touchdowns this season. Despite some disappointing losses to Central Florida and East Carolina late in the season, the Cougars are still one of the most entertaining teams in the country.

The Falcons’ strength lies in their defense, allowing only 15 points per game, including two shutouts. Their offense lacks the firepower of Houston’s, but their defense makes up for much of the lost ground.

Player to watch: This may be a little bland, but it’s Keenum. The guy throws the ball nearly 70 times a game, and completes nearly 50 of those passes every week. He threw for over 400 yards in seven games, and over 500 yards three times. The most amazing statistic about Keenum is that only nine of his 659 passes have been intercepted.

Who has the edge?

Houston laid a couple of eggs late in the season, leaving doubt that the Cougars are really as dominant as we thought they were. However, Air Force in no way, shape, or form has an offense to keep up with Houston. This game could be the most lopsided of the bowl season.

Prediction:

Houston 52, Air Force 28

12.30.2009

Parakhouski drops 34 on George Mason


Radford University dominated George Mason at home Wednesday night, winning 80-53 thanks to a 34-point performance from center Art Parakhouski.

This was my first in-person glance at Parakhouski since the 2009 Big South Championship game, when he led the Highlanders to the title over VMI. He was most impressive.
He displayed great intensity on the glass, going after rebounds rather than relying on his height and letting the ball come to him. He finished the game with 12 rebounds. He also displayed phenomenal court vision for a seven-footer, making several key assists in a second half that saw Radford outscore the Patriots 46-24.

I admit, after seeing Art last year I had my doubts when I began to read about his stock as an NBA prospect, but after tonight, it looks like he could very well be selected in next June's draft. He is very strong inside, and his nose for the ball on the glass could be valuable for a team at the next level.

He will have to develop more of a face-up game at the next level, which is one of the most rapidly developing trends for players of his size in the NBA. He already has a decent mid-range jump shot, but he must show the ability to put the ball on the floor against the Dwight Howards of the world.

Radford also looked very strong as a team Wednesday night, with a suffocating effort on the defensive end that held George Mason to a season-low 27 percent shooting.

It looks like the Highlanders should once again rule the Big South, as conference play cranks up this Saturday when UNC-Asheville comes to town. However, if Radford is able to make a second consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament, they will be hard pressed to have a chance for an upset.

They have absolutely no depth in the backcourt. After point guard Amir Johnson, there is no other solid ball handler on the roster. Teams with superior athleticism in the backcourt compared to what Radford faces in-conference will pick the Highlanders apart. It will be hard for Parakhouski and frontcourt mate Joey Lynch-Flohr to even get the ball in the paint.

Head coach Brad Greenberg's biggest task between now and the end of the regular season is to develop more options in his backcourt, or it may be the same story, different season for his up-and-coming program.

Delaney’s injury overshadows easy win

With all due respect to the hit song by the musical group “The Verve”, Virginia Tech’s 85-50 win over Longwood Wednesday afternoon was a bittersweet symphony.

After only one minute, 22 seconds had elapsed, the Hokies season may have taken a turn for the worse when leading scorer Malcolm Delaney suffered a frightening injury.

Delaney hit the floor hard underneath the Hokies’ basket, rolling on the floor in severe pain for over a minute, even after athletic trainer Chad Hyatt and head coach Seth Greenberg arrived at his side. The injury was diagnosed as a sprained left ankle.

Greenberg summoned seldom-used reserve guard Paul Debnam to assist Hyatt in carrying Delaney off the floor. He was unable to put any weight on the injured ankle, while exiting the floor to a standing ovation from the home crowd.

X-rays on the injured ankle were negative. Greenberg announced Delaney would undergo a precautionary MRI prior to the team’s departure for Cancun Wednesday night.

As Delaney was being attended to on the baseline, junior guard Dorenzo Hudson gathered the team at midcourt.

“I told the guys to just play ball, and we’ll deal with him after the game,” Hudson said.

By stretching the final margin to 35 points, Hudson’s advised appeared to be heeded well.

“Our kids really rallied (after the injury),” Greenberg said.

The rest of the first half played out seemingly unnoticed by much of the Cassell Coliseum crowd, which was more concerned with the situation of the Hokies’ fallen star.

Erick Green replaced Delaney in the lineup. The freshman played a career-high 30 minutes.

“I was nervous, I did not expect to play so early in the game,” Green said.

Despite the unanticipated volume of playing time, Green played well. He finished with 15 points to go with four assists. He did turn the ball over four times as well, however.

Entering the game, the Hokies expected Longwood (3-11) to incorporate a frenzied trapping scheme defensively, which led to many of the Hokies’ 18 turnovers.

“It was uncharacteristic of us,” Greenberg said, “I don’t know that it was because of anything they did, as much as it was the things we did not do.”

The loss of Delaney provides a world of problems for Tech, which faces Seton Hall (9-3) in Cancun on Saturday. That game should prove to be the toughest challenge yet for the Hokies.

“Seton Hall is a really good team; they rebound the ball, are athletic and long, and have a great scorer,” Greenberg said.

When will Delaney return?

“Not until he is ready to play,” Greenberg said, declining to elaborate.

The coach went on to say that Delaney’s rehab will begin immediately, and that all the necessary equipment to do so will accompany the team to Cancun.

The pressure of keeping the team on the right path now falls on the other 11 players on the Tech roster to pick up the slack created by the devastating injury.

Leadership on the court will have to come from other places, but Hudson is confident in his teammates.

“We will just have to step up and play ball.”

Delaney injured, Hokies on cruise control at home

It took only one minute, 22 seconds for the Virginia Tech basketball team's season to be put in serious jeopardy. Malcolm Delaney, the leading scorer in the ACC, was injured with an apparent left ankle sprain after falling hard to the floor underneath the Hokies' basket.


At halftime, Tech leads Longwood (3-10) by a score of 43-21.

The actual game is taking a backstage to the story of Delaney's injury. After injuring the ankle, he rolled around in agonizing pain for nearly a minute, even after athletic trainer Chad Hyatt and head coach Seth Greenberg arrived at his side.

Greenberg summoned seldom-used reserve guard Paul Debnam to assist Hyatt in carrying Delaney off the floor. Delaney was unable to put any weight on the injured ankle, as he exited the floor to a standing ovation from the home crowd.

Late in the first half, Delaney was spotted leaving the floor once again on crutches. He was also wearing a protective boot. The initial report is the injury is only a sprain, with x-ray results revealing there ankle is not broken.

The Hokies' leading scorer is Erick Green, who replaced Delaney in the lineup, with 10 points. Ben Boggs has added six points, all from the foul line.

Hyatt has earned more than the worth of his paycheck already today. Five minutes after Delaney's injury, freshman Manny Atkins limped off the court after rolling his ankle. He would return to action later in the half, however.

Three minutes after Atkins' injury, Erick Green was hit hard while attempting a lay-up. He winced in pain, but continued to play, until moments later he was fouled on a three-point play. He continued to display signs of pain to his abdomen, leaving Greenberg no choice but to replace him in the lineup.

Green also returned late in the first half.

With the game's outcome already decided, the most important thing for Greenberg's squad is to make it through the second half with no more injuries, as a trip to Cancun against Seton Hall is only three days away.

Leach ousted, logical replacement nearby


As of 1:00 p.m. Eastern time Wednesday, Mike Leach was no longer the head football coach at Texas Tech. The school fired leach after ten seasons amid allegations he mistreated a player who was suffering from a concussion.


Adam James, son of Craig James and a wide receiver for the Red Raiders, accused Leach of forcing him to stay in a dark closet during a three-hour practice after sustaining a concussion.

Leach was the face of Texas Tech football, taking the program to unprecedented heights during his tenure. He compiled a record of 84-45 in Lubbock, including a 5-4 record in bowl games.

During his time as head coach, the Red Raiders produced future NFL stars including Wes Welker and Michael Crabtree, who was a two-time Biletnikoff winner as the nation's best wide receiver.

Despite his success with the Red Raiders, his relationship with the administration at the school was strenuous to say the least. Over the past several years, Leach has either flirted with other head coaching jobs that did not seem to be any better jobs than the one at Texas Tech, leading people to believe he never felt wanted by the powers that be in Lubbock.

However, Leach leaves a program in great shape, and with the right hire, Texas Tech could not skip a beat in its quest to compete with Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 South.

The no-brainer leading candidate for this job is Houston's Kevin Sumlin. The Cougars are 10-3 this season, including a win earlier this season over Leach and the Red Raiders.
Sumlin's offense is very similar to what Leach implemented at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders attempted 615 passes this season, while the Cougars threw the ball 706 in 13 games, one more game Tech.

Leach made a name for himself by developing unheralded quarterback prospects into some of the nation's leading passers. Kliff Kingsbury, Sonny Cumbie, and Graham Harrell are a few examples of players who lead the nation in passing yardage as the Red Raiders' quarterback this decade.

In 2009, Sumlin accomplished a similar feat with Case Keenum, who leads the nation with 5,449 passing yards this season. Second place in that category is Levi Brown from Troy, with 3,868.

Sumlin has turned Houston into an offensive juggernaut in only his second season on the job. With his ties to the state of Texas and his immediate success with the Cougars, the Red Raiders would be very wise to throw quite a lump sum Sumlin's way (no pun intended), to pull him from Houston.

12.29.2009

On the Docket - Humanitarian/Holiday Bowl

Humanitarian Bowl: Bowling Green (7-5) vs. Idaho (7-5)

Synopsis:

Yes, they are playing this game, and yes, it will be televised outside the state of Ohio and Idaho. The Vandals are actually quite a story this season under head coach Robb Akey. This will be the first bowl game for Idaho since 1998, the only other time the Vandals made a postseason appearance. The Vandals come in as losers of four of their last five after starting the season 6-1.

Bowling Green is making a return to the bowl scene under first-year head coach Dave Clawson. The Falcons went 6-2 in conference play, and can lay claim to wins over Troy and Buffalo. They only lost by a touchdown at Missouri in September.

Player to watch: DeMaundray Woolridge saved his best season for last at Idaho, rushing for 854 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2009. He topped the century mark in rushing yards twice this season, including a 143-yard output against WAC champion Boise State. He would love nothing more than to end his career with a few more highlight reel-worthy touchdowns in the bowl game.

Who has the edge? Bowling Green is the more accomplished team, and Idaho is coming in on a bit of a losing skid. Idaho does have the advantage of a virtual home game in Boise, and may not be affected by the blue turf, since they play on it every other year during the regular season. Still, Bowling Green is just that much better than Idaho at this point in time.

Prediction:

Bowling Green 37

Idaho 28

Holiday Bowl: Arizona (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-4)

Synopsis:

This may be the most intriguing matchup of any bowl game on this year’s slate. Both teams are defined by great defenses. Mike Stoops at Arizona and Bo Pelini at Nebraska have built their respective programs around shutting down opposing offenses. The Wildcats entered November controlling their own Rose Bowl destiny. The Huskers nearly knocked off Texas in a controversial Big 12 championship game. This game will be the ultimate chess match between two of the game’s best defensive minds.

Player to watch: Ndamukong Suh is the best defensive tackle prospect to play college football since Warren Sapp in the mid-1990s. He wreaks havoc in every opposing backfield he faces. The fact that he was named a Heisman Trophy finalist speaks volumes for the respect he has earned by the national media as a force on the interior defensive line. This is a big-time NFL audition for Suh, who could be the first player selected overall in next April’s draft.

Who has the edge?

Nick Foles has come on strong as the Arizona quarterback in the latter part of the season, and has helped the Wildcat offense score enough points to support their great defense. He has not faced a defensive lineman anywhere near the caliber of Suh, however, nor a defense like Nebraska’s. The Huskers proved in the Big 12 championship that they could stop any offense put in front of them.

Prediction:

Nebraska 23

Arizona 18

12.28.2009

On the Docket - Champs Sports Bowl, EagleBank Bowl

EagleBank Bowl: UCLA (6-6) vs. Temple (9-3)

Synopsis: The Owls, more commonly known as the laughing stock of college football, have made a resurgence under head coach Al Golden. They were one game away from playing for the MAC championship, and are easily one of the better stories of the year. After opening the season with losses to Villanova and Penn State, the Owls did not taste defeat again until the final game of the season against Ohio.

UCLA, on the other hand, started off hot, winning its first three games before enduring a five-game losing streak, all against Pac-10 opponents. There have been inconsistency issues at quarterback that have plagued the Bruins all season long.

Player to watch:

Bernard Pierce is the Owls’ top rushing threat. For the season, he has carried the ball 224 times for 1,308 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named first-team all-conference, and is the primary reason for the Owls’ surprisingly strong season. UCLA has had trouble stopping the run this season, and Pierce should be relishing the opportunity to showcase his skills against a program like UCLA’s.

Who has the edge?

Temple, similar to SMU, is simply happy to be playing in a bowl game. However, Al Golden is of a different mold than June Jones, and you can bet he will have his team looking sharp in the mindset to take down the Bruins and make a statement for the Temple program. The Bruins have limped to the finish line this season, and simply are not that much better than Temple, if at all.

Prediction:

Temple 28

UCLA 17

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Champs Sports Bowl: Miami (9-3) vs. Wisconsin (9-3)

Synopsis:

The Hurricanes endured a rollercoaster of expectations this season. Prior to the season, critics were saying they could start the year 0-4. After winning its first two games, Miami was then proclaimed to have returned to the national scene. At season’s end, the ‘Canes seemed to have fallen somewhere in the middle of those expectations, finishing third in the Coastal Division but with an opportunity for a double-digit win total.

Wisconsin took advantage of all of its weaker opponents, but fell at the hands of all its superior opposition. Brian Clay is a bruising running back tailor-made for this offense, and can punish any defense over the course of a game.

Player to watch: Jacory Harris has been at the epicenter of the Hurricanes’ fortunes this season. When Miami sprinted out of the gates, Harris was touted as one of the nation’s finest young passers. On the contrary, when Harris endured a mid-season slump, Miami lost a few surprising games and some national credibility at the same time. As Harris goes, so does Miami. This game is important for Harris and the rest of his team to give them momentum heading into 2010.

Who has the edge?

Miami has the better athletes, and the better record in games against credible opponents. Wisconsin’s best win came against either Michigan State or Fresno State. Miami beat Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Florida State, and South Florida. They will have plenty of confidence entering this game.

Prediction:

Miami 34

Wisconsin 24

12.27.2009

Affection, sincerity mark Meyer's legacy in shocking announcement


It’s quite an accomplishment to shock the world once; it’s another to do it twice.

Urban Meyer shocked the college football world Saturday night, announcing that, at age 45, he was resigning as head coach at the University of Florida, citing undisclosed health conditions.

Following what must have been the most chaotic night of his life, he experienced a change of heart midway through the Gators’ practice Sunday morning. Within 24 hours of deciding to leave Florida forever, he accepted an offer from Athletic Director Jeremy Foley to take a leave of absence instead.

After seeing the way his players reacted to his announcement to leave, which consisted of an emotional team meeting and inspired practice session, Meyer realized his attachment to the program was worth more than a flat-out resignation.

When asked what factored in to his new decision, he responded with a simple answer: “My players,” Meyer said.

What Meyer displayed in his press conference Sunday afternoon was a new outlook on the important aspects of his life.

“Many coaches can sometimes put their priorities in the wrong order, and Urban is not doing that,” Foley said.

Meyer showed the deepest affection for what he called his ‘two families’ – the one with which he shares blood, and his players at Florida.

Many coaches tend to use their players as pawns, treating them as objects to gain glory for the program, the team, and the coach himself.

Tim Tebow, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback of the Gators, whose tight-knit relationship is well publicized, proved that was not the case with his coach by sharing a story from Sunday’s practice.

“During practice, I ran up to coach Meyer after a play, and he just looked at me, and told me that he loved me,” Tebow said.

Bingo. Meyer’s words, both to his players in practice and to reporters at the press conference, were as sincere as possible. Too often do coaches and athletes seemingly manufacture statements that seem to be the right thing to say.

Meyer was honest and expressive, but he was still able to have discretion when necessary, keeping the details of his health issues private.

To all the cynics and pundits out there who take amusement to poking fun at Tebow’s passion for the game, and more specifically his coach, get a clue. The entire purpose of coaching any sport is to develop players as people first, then as athletes.

Meyer has clearly accomplished that, and Tebow’s commitment to his coach is simply a representation of the rest of the team.

“After coach Meyer told us the news (that he was resigning) last night, many players cried,” Tebow said.

That’s impressive. There are plenty of coaches across the country that jump from jobs every few years, using success at one place to land a more lucrative deal somewhere else.

Most of those coaches, if placed in Meyer’s situation, would stay resigned from the program, and simply look for new work elsewhere if the health problems were resolved.

But not the Gators’ coach.

“I want to coach at one place: the University of Florida. It would be a travesty…to throw other colors on my shirt,” Meyers said, “I have too much love for this university, for these players, and what we’ve built.”

It was obviously difficult enough for Meyer to walk away from football, albeit for about 12 hours. It was apparent that leaving Florida was something he couldn’t do.

After taking time off to attend to more important matters, returning to football won’t be too far in his future.

“I have a gut feeling I’ll be back next year,” Meyer said.

To be honest, if he’s not back - headset in tow, scowl fixated upon his face – for the Gators’ season-opening game next season, that is simply all right.

If one offseason is not enough time for Meyer to adequately attend to the top of his priority list, he’s earned enough respect from the administration and fan base at Florida to be allowed the time he needs.

That said, it sounds like Meyer is a man determined to be back on the sidelines as soon as the time is right.

When talking about his family’s reaction to the emotional whirlwind this news has created, Meyer’s message was clear.

“We’re an extremely close family… that’s the most important aspect of my life. To put them in jeopardy, I won’t do that,” Meyer said.

Immediately following that statement, he sent a wink towards his wife, Shelley, and their three children, sitting just off-stage. The press conference lasted almost 37 minutes. That wink lasted about one one-hundredth of a second. He could have spared everyone the time with just the wink, because the message it sent was clear.

Urban Meyer is going to be all right.

On the Docket - Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl: Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

Music City Bowl: Clemson (8-5) vs. Kentucky (7-5)

Synopsis: This is far from where the Tigers would like to be playing, and coach Dabo Swinney has been very vocal about it. Clemson rode a six-game winning streak to a division title, before losing its final two games of the season. They were one minute away from winning the ACC championship, but instead allowed a late touchdown by Georgia Tech to hand the Jackets the title.

Kentucky is one of several SEC teams with a 7-5 record, but the Wildcats took advantage of weaker opponents for much of the season. They did salvage two mildly impressive victories against Georgia and Auburn, but besides that they struggled to keep up with better competition.

Player to watch: C.J. Spiller. If you have not heard of the Tigers’ do-it-all running back before now, it’s time you start watching college football. Spiller is the best professional prospect at the running back position in the nation, and for good reason. In the ACC title game, he ran for a career-high 233 yards and four touchdowns. He does most of his damage in the return game however, with his 4.3 speed proving to be out of reach for many defenders.

Who has the edge? Clemson is clearly the more talented team in this game, but that is true much of the time the Tigers hit the field, yet they do not always win. Kentucky makes a habit of giving teams trouble in the postseason, and Clemson is devastated that they fell this far in the bowl selection process. That being said, the Wildcats have no answer for Spiller.

Prediction:

Clemson 27, Kentucky 21

12.26.2009

Breaking Point: the resignation of Urban Meyer

Stress can eat away at the soul. With talent comes success, with success comes prominence, with prominence comes pressure, and with pressure comes stress.

To say Urban Meyer was stressed would do his legacy so little justice it is almost disgraceful.

The man was a victim of the sports media revolution, and his body was ill equipped to handle it.

A series of health problems has led Meyer to resign as head football coach at the University of Florida after five seasons.

After nine seasons as a head coach and 15 more as an assistant, Meyer had reached the pinnacle of his profession faster than maybe anyone before him.

Two seasons was all it took Meyer to completely revamp a football program. In his second year at Utah, the Utes finished the regular season 11-0 and earned the first BCS bowl bid from a non-qualifying conference since the system began. In his second season at Florida, the Gators obliterated the favored Ohio State Buckeyes in the national championship game, putting Meyer at the head of the class in terms of this generation’s coaching greats.

Earlier this month, Sports Illustrated reported that Meyer has an arachnoid cyst on his brain that while not life-threatening, could become more dangerous if subjected to high levels of stress.

Heck, next to politicians, try and find a profession with a higher demand for success than a football coach in the SEC. College football coaches deal with so many outside factions ready to criticize their every move.

How about a little role play for a few moments. You are now the face of a program that, over the course of the last century, has built a reputation for being one of the most successful in the business.

You have over 75,000 living alumni of the school for which your program represents, and they are not afraid to remind you.

You have every media outlet in the country - bloggers, writers, reporters - on both the national and local level following you everywhere, stopping at nothing to tell the country what you had for breakfast if they can acquire such knowledge.

Your competition includes some of the other most elite programs in your field. You are also fighting non-stop on a daily basis to lure potential prospects to your program rather than theirs; if they choose your rivals over you…well, go ahead and pack your things and make room for your replacement.

Meyer deals with the scrutiny associated with each and every one of those tasks, and then some. And Doc told him he has to avoid stress.

Recent developments in the story report that in addition to complications with the cyst, he has developed a chest condition that caused him to be hospitalized just hours after his Gators were knocked from their perch as the nation’s top-ranked team, losing the SEC championship game to Alabama. That condition appears to be more serious than the public was originally led on to know, and it has caused Meyer to leave the program he has come to love.

Meyer was a legend in the making: the “Next Bear Bryant” as many television experts seemed to think. He won 95 games in his nine seasons at Bowling Green, Utah and Florida; an average of 10.5 wins per season.

Even the Bear didn’t win like Meyer did. In 38 years as a head coach, Bryant won 323 games, or an average of 8.5 wins per season.

To make the comparison is some pretty simple math.

The question now becomes: is this the end of the road for Meyer, or is he simply pulling off the highway for more gas? The speculation concerning his future will reach Brett Favre-like levels of frequency in the media, but it’s a topic well worth debating. Tiger Woods and his publicists can start sending Meyer thank-you cards immediately.

In this generation, the only comparable scenario to this development is when Barry Sanders stunned everyone by retiring at age 30, way before his time should have come.

Still, Sanders had no health concerns to speak of and no family trouble to keep him sidelined, he simply wanted to walk away.

When a player, coach, or icon in general relieves himself of duty at an age far too young to be commonly acceptable, it sends shockwaves through the landscape of his or her domain.

A month after Bryant retired from the game of football, he passed away. It seemed almost fitting that as his career on the sidelines came to an end, his life nearly simultaneously went along with it. He had simply run his tank too low, and there was nothing left for him to live for.

Maybe we can all take a page out of Meyer’s book; “re-prioritize,” as he put it in a prepared statement Saturday evening. This is an example of a guy who understands what’s important, and understands the situation at hand.

Maybe, just maybe, that tank of his will be full in a few years. If it is, he’ll have only himself to thank for not running out of gas entirely.

A Dickens of a Decade: The best of times – and the worst of times since 2000.

Part One

In 1966, Clint Eastwood starred in “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly,” a movie about three cowboys on the hunt for Confederate gold.

Where the phrase for which the movie was named came from is a mystery to this day. Whoever spawned such a term must be cringing in his grave after his expression’s severe overuse.

In no genre of today’s culture is the phrase used more than in sports, where anything from players and coaches to owners, and even fans become the subject of such banter.

Nevertheless, over the past ten years the sporting world followed an unprecedented course; a course that has seen all three components of the worn-out idiom demonstrated to the extreme.

Where there was excellence, there was often greatness and even legend. Where there was shame, there was disgrace and further still, humiliation.

Unlike any era before it, the turn of the millennium brought out more of the worst, along with some of the very best, this world has ever seen.

For Americans, an air of dominance surrounded the Olympic Games and everything that came along with it in the proud country. For a century and beyond, the games meant much more than numbers on a scoreboard or a stopwatch.

The Olympics symbolically give anything and everything a country could ever have: hope, pride, arrogance… or despair, embarrassment, and heartbreak.

In 2000, the games in Sydney saw Rulon Gardner display the heart of an American, conquering the odds to win the gold medal for Greco-Roman wrestling. The story of Gardner, a farmer’s boy from the middle of nowhere…er…Montana, rose up to defeat the Russian Goliath, Alexandre Kareline for the title. Good.

At the turn of the century, Tiger Woods was merely a glimpse of the marketing giant, golf king, and societal icon he would become. One of the biggest steps he took down that path came at Pebble Beach in June 2000. Never before had a golfer annihilated the field in a major championship like Woods did at that U.S. Open.

Fifteen strokes. Fifteen strokes. That’s the margin by which Tiger ascended from mortality and into golfing lore. Nobody had ever seen a major title dangled so far away from them by a single player until Tiger led from wire to wire.

And so the legend began to grow. Good.

Roger Clemens was known as the rocket for the torpedo-like speed accompanying his fastballs. In the 2000 World Series, the moniker may have better been served to describe the short time it took for Clemens to go from beloved star to jerk of the year.

The Fall Classic that year saw New York’s two teams, the Yankees and Mets, square off in a modern-day “Subway Series”. Leading the Mets was the well-liked Mike Piazza, the team’s catcher and one of baseballs “good guys”. Clemens was on the mound pitching in game two when he became the epicenter for one of the most peculiar acts the sports has ever seen.

As Piazza swung at a fastball on the inside corner of the plate, he managed to connect with the pitch, sending the ball down the third-base line, while his bat splintered into two pieces. The barrel of the bat caromed off the ground directly at Clemens, who proceeded to pick it up and immediately hurl it at Piazza.

Without any delay, both dugouts had cleared and the tension in Shea Stadium could be cut with a knife. Clemens denied that the toss carried any malicious intent, saying the he thought he was throwing the ball.

It is nearly as painful to read that statement, as it was to hear. Bad.

Never has anyone’s escape to sports been more imperative than in 2001. On Sept. 11, the fateful plane crashes in the unforgettable terrorist attacks left America desperate for anything to attempt to ease the pain. No part of the country needed that outlet more than the city of New York, which incurred the most physical damage.

The city that for long could be thought of as the most powerful in the world had lost all happiness, until two months later when the Yankees gave them something to cheer about.

Led by beloved captain Derek Jeter, the Yankees shocked the Arizona Diamondbacks with back-to-back extra-inning victories in games four and five. In both games, New York trailed entering the ninth inning, only to be saved by two-run home runs off of Arizona reliever Byung-Hyung Kim.

After all the trepidation, the Yankees revived a city and lifted it back on its feet again. Forget that a few days later, the Diamondbacks won the championship in Arizona on a walk-off single by Luis Gonzalez. The jubilation of those two games in Yankee Stadium was enough to bring the joy back to the heart of Yankee Nation.

The examples of a sports team rescuing its city in such dire circumstances are few and far between. Good.

The Yankees were the principal leader for reawakening the country from its sorrows, but they were fare from the only segment of the realm of sports to come to the rescue of a nation.

The NFL resumed play two weeks after the tragedy, and never before had players been humanized like they were in those first games.

Seeing the biggest, toughest group of men of such prominence brought to tears, some even crumbling to their knees on the field during episodes of remembrance showed the country that everyone shared the same pain, and there was no shame in displaying such emotion. Good.

In January 2002, the country was circling around another team of destiny. This time it was the New England Patriots. How fitting at the time, that the team which bore the nation’s colors on its uniform, had returned from mediocrity and against all odds was making a run towards its first Super Bowl championship.

Tom Brady, the sixth-round draft pick from the year before had taken control of the team when he replaced injured quarterback Drew Bledsoe in the second week of the season. Despite his lack of experience and expectations from the rest of the world, Brady and Patriots ran to a 11-5 regular season and eventually a birth in Super Bowl XXXVI.

In that game, Brady’s bunch (yep, went there) were 14-point underdogs to the high-scoring St. Louis Rams, led by MVP quarterback Kurt Warner. After leading much of the game, the Rams tied the game with a Ricky Proehl touchdown with two minutes remaining in the game. That’s when Brady truly became a legend. He marched his offense down the field, setting up an Adam Vinatieri field goal as time expired to win 20-17.

It was the most impressive game-winning drive in NFL history, and once again, the sporting world was the source of a feel-good story to captivate America when they had every reason to feel sorry for themselves. Good.

See the trend of “good” stories prevailing the sports culture in the early decade? Just wait, it’s about to get uglier.

12.25.2009

On the Docket - Emerald Bowl: Boston College (8-4) vs. USC (8-4)

Synopsis:

You can’t find a game in the country this season pitting two teams with more polar opposite expectations/results of their respective seasons. USC is the dynastic program of the decade, winning seven straight conference titles and churning out NFL prospects annually.

Boston College, on the other hand, lost two linebackers, one of them to cancer, its quarterback and head coach in the off-season, leaving many skeptics wondering if this team could win more than a couple games.

Instead, head coach Frank Spaziani and his team rallied around the inspirational story of Mark Herzlich, who was diagnosed, battled, and eventually defeated cancer all in the past year. The Eagles were one game away from the third straight ACC title game appearance, but that doesn’t damper the success of this team in the least.

Player to watch: David Shinksie is the Eagles’ 25-year-old quarterback who spent more than five years playing minor league baseball. The rust was apparent much of the year, as the better defenses in the ACC abused the elder statesmen of the league. USC has little motivation to be playing in this game, but their defense is still one of the best Shinskie will see all season. How he responds to that will be the pivotal factor of the game.

Who has the edge? On paper, USC wins this game running away. But the Eagles have shown this season just how little the phrase “on paper” really means. USC has shown down the stretch that it is national championship or bust for that program, so its hard to believe there is any life left in this team.

Prediction:

Boston College 17 USC 14

On the Docket - Meineke Care Bowl: Pittsburgh (9-3) vs. North Carolina (8-4)

Synopsis:

Both of these teams were red-hot heading into the final week of November, before cooling off in the final weeks. North Carolina reversed the fortunes of its season after upsetting Virginia Tech 20-17 in Blacksburg, also beating Miami and Duke in the following weeks.

Pittsburgh was 9-1 entering its game with West Virginia, before losing to the Mountaineers on the final play of the game. The heartbreak wasn’t over for the Panthers, who blew a 21-point lead to lose in the final minute against Cincinnati in a game that decided the Big East championship.

Player to watch:

Robert Quinn was overshadowed in the ACC this season by other big-name defensive ends like Derrick Morgan (Georgia Tech), Jason Worilds (Virginia Tech), and Ricky Sapp (Clemson). Quinn may be the best of the bunch, however, and will soon be playing on Sundays. Expect Quinn to make a big statement in the season finale.

Also worth watching is Pitt’s super-freshman Dion Lewis. The Panther running back toted the ball 47 times in the loss to Cincinnati for nearly 200 yards. The Tar Heel defense is one of the most underrated in the country, and stopping Lewis will be its primary objective for this game.

Who has the edge?

North Carolina’s defense might be one of the few in America capable of containing Lewis. Furthermore, it’s hard to imagine the Panthers being excited to play in this game, when they were 30 seconds from playing in the school’s second-ever BCS bowl game. The Tar Heels would love the opportunity to finish the year 9-4 after such a slow start.

Prediction: North Carolina 23, Pittsburgh 21

On the Docket - Little Caeser’s Bowl: Marshall (6-6) vs. Ohio (9-4)

Synopsis: This is a reunion of a former MAC rivalry, ceasing after Marshall left for Conference USA a few years back. The Thundering Herd are without their head coach, Mark Snyder, who was fired at the end of the regular season. Marshall is led by running back Darius Marshall, who after serving a one-game suspension to start the season has had a fine year.

The Bobcats have become a prominent program (in MAC standards) since the hiring of former Nebraska coach Frank Solich. Solich has built the Ohio program from the ground up, and this year the Bobcats were the East Division champions. They lost to Central Michigan 20-10 in the conference championship game, but there is no doubt that Solich has this program moving in the right direction.

Player to watch: Theo Scott has made his only season as a starter at Ohio a memorable one, passing for 19 touchdowns and completing nearly 60% of his passes. Scott has accounted for 22 touchdowns altogether for the Bobcats. His best game came earlier in the season against Tennessee, when he threw for 319 yards and a touchdown in a 34-23 loss.

Who has the edge? Marshall is struggling down the stretch missing Darius Marshall and its other top playmaker, tight end Cody Slate, not to mention the firing of coach Snyder. Ohio is clearly a program on the upswing, while Marshall seems to have scrapped the foundation from within before the season has even concluded.

Prediction:

Ohio 24

Marshall 14

12.24.2009

On the Docket - Hawaii Bowl: SMU (7-5) vs. Nevada (8-4)

Synopsis: This is a homecoming for Mustangs’ coach June Jones, who left Hawaii after a successful run as head coach for SMU. After finishing 1-11 in 2008, Jones resurrected the Mustangs in his second season with the team, finishing 7-5 in the regular season. SMU boasts a 1,000-yard receiver and rusher, plus two 1,000-yard passers.

Nevada has a few guys top quadruple-digits as well. The Wolfpack became the first team to have three players rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Colin Kaepernick, Vai Taua and Luke Lippincott all reached the milestone in 2009 in the Nevada backfield. The Wolfpack began the year with three straight losses before ripping off eight straight wins, then falling in the season finale to Boise State.

Player to watch: Kaepernick, a junior, is an offensive weapon few people know much about. As quarterback in coach Bill Ault’s pistol offense, his dual-threat abilities are utilized perfectly, and he is an entertaining player to watch. His tall frame and strong arm will earn him at least a look by some NFL teams after he graduates.

Who has the edge? Nevada has played a much more difficult schedule, and is used to playing in big games. SMU is ecstatic simply to have made it this far; beating Nevada would simply be a bonus. Expect the Mustangs to play very loose in this game. In the end, Nevada’s rushing attack will be too much for SMU to contain.

Prediction:

Nevada 41, SMU 28

12.23.2009

On the Docket - Poinsettia Bowl: Utah (9-3) vs. California (8-4)

Synopsis: California’s season started out with high hopes, and the Golden Bears reached fourth in the polls before being embarrassed in back-to-back games to fall out of the national spotlight. Jahvid Best was the Bear’s running back with a Heisman campaign, but a series of concussions sidelined him for the year. Shane Vereen has been a suitable replacement for Best, rushing for 830 yards and 10 touchdowns.

Utah finished third in the ultra-difficult Mountain West conference behind TCU and BYU. The Utes also lost to Oregon 31-24 in September. When the toughest opponents have appeared on the schedule, the Utes have failed to deliver any wins.

Player to watch: Kevin Riley, the Bears’ quarterback has been the key to their season. When he plays well, the rest of the team seems to follow. When Riley completes more than 50% of his passes, the Bears are 8-1. When he completes less than that mark, they are 0-3. Cal needs consistency from that position to beat the Utes.

Who has the edge? Utah is smart when scheduling teams like Oregon in the non-conference slate, because it helps them become battle-tested come bowl season. Even if the Utes lost all three games against ranked opponents, they are used to playing top competition.

After losing Best and coming off a 42-10 loss to Washington in the season finale, the Bears are not top competition. Utah has more to play for in this game, though both squads had higher hopes than this game prior to the season.

Prediction:

Utah 31, Cal 21

12.22.2009

Fifth Down Basketball Special: Hokies dismantle yet another cupcake

Since Seth Greenberg arrived as head coach, Virginia Tech has played 174 games. In the first 173, they had never allowed 34 points or fewer.

On Tuesday night, the Hokies held the UMBC Retrievers to that very point total, while scoring 71 points of their own, thanks to what Greenberg called their most consistent defensive performance of the season.

On its first two possessions Tuesday night, the Retrievers (1-10) failed to attempt a shot, committing a shot clock violation both times.

Bullets have left guns in a longer time than it took to know who would win this game.

Malcolm Delaney hit four consecutive threes, keying a 22-2 run to open the game for the Hokies (10-1). He finished with 17 points.

After that run, UMBC never came within 18 points the rest of the game.

Following Sunday night’s win against Charleson Southern, Greenberg used a phrase with his team: “two feet in,” to describe the mentality they needed to have for Tuesday’s game.

“The whole concept of ‘two feet in’ is that this is the last game before break, and we have to be totally committed to staying in the present. If you have both feet in…you’re going to dominate the game. Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Greenberg said.

The advice was well taken by his team, which never seemed to lack intensity at any point in the game.

The win continues a run for the Hokies against extraordinarily weak opponents. Entering tonight, the combined record of their first 11 foes was 52-62. Of those 11 teams, seven currently have a losing record.

The competition will stiffen mightily in the coming weeks. On Jan. 2, the Hokies travel to Cancun, Mexico to face Seton Hall, currently 9-1 on the season. Eight days later, conference play begins on the road against North Carolina.

While comfy 30-point wins are nice, it won’t be long before those games will be distant memories for the Hokies.

“I don’t want to take anything away from UMBC…but they aren’t Carolina, and they aren’t Duke,” Greenberg said.

Good to know he’s on the same page with that thinking, because the challenges that lie ahead are far more imposing than those in the past.

Still, it helps to have a player of Delaney’s caliber leading the way, and the biggest message the Hokies’ star player is sending to his team: have fun.

“I watch a lot of NBA games, and I pay a lot of attention to the Cleveland Cavaliers. We don’t take our fun to that high of a level, but basketball should be fun for us,” Delaney said.

It’s highly unlikely Greenberg is going to allow his team to become a human bowling alley during pregame introductions a la Cleveland, but he has to agree with Delaney’s sentiment.

Greenberg used Tuesday’s game to give valuable minutes to his four freshmen. Cadarian Raines, Manny Atkins, Ben Boggs, and Erick Green each played at least 15 minutes in the win.

The most valuable of those minutes were Green’s, whose development as a viable option a point guard will be crucial in determining the eventual success of this team.

“Erick’s getting better,” Greenberg said, “the best thing going for him right now is he gets to go up against (Delaney) every day in practice.”

Green’s toughness and aggressiveness have been inexplicably pegged as his biggest obstacles to overcome at this point. Nearly 10 minutes of his playing time tonight came alongside two, if not all three of his freshmen teammates. He finished with 10 points, three assists and only one turnover.

“I just need to be more mature, and step up when Malcolm is out of the game. That’s my role,” Green said.

Maturation need be hurried. After all,  that Carolina game isn’t getting any farther away.

Top Ten College Football players since 2000 (offense) - #7

Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech (1999-2001)

Vick completely changed the landscape of a program, a school, and a position in only two years at Virginia Tech. He arrived on the scene as a redshirt freshman in 1999, and wasted no time establishing himself as a dynamic playmaker at the quarterback position.

In his first game against James Madison, he ran for three touchdowns in the first half…on four carries. The show had only begun.

Throughout that rookie campaign, Vick continued to dominate opponents single-handedly with an unprecedented combination of world-class speed and cannon-like arm strength.

He led the Hokies to an unbeaten regular season and their first-ever berth in the national championship game. He was named the player of the year at the ESPY Awards following the season, and was third in the Heisman Trophy voting, the highest finish ever for a freshman at the time.

He returned for his sophomore year with meteoric expectations. Tech returned many key pieces on the offensive side of the ball to support him, and the defense was strong as usual. The Hokies were cruising on their way to a potential national championship when disaster struck.

Vick sprained his ankle in the third quarter of a 37-34 win over Pittsburgh.  The injury kept him out of the following week’s game against unbeaten and third-ranked Miami on the road. The Hokies were ranked second in the country at the time, but without Vick were unable to keep up with the Hurricanes, and the championship dreams were dashed.

Vick returned three weeks later to beat Virginia in the season finale. Then came the Gator Bowl, which turned out to be the final game for Vick in a Hokie uniform. In front of a sold-out crowd at Alltell Stadium, Vick led the Hokies to a 41-20 win over Clemson, earning game MVP honors and bidding farewell to college football.

Following the Michael Vick experience, Virginia Tech went from a program on the rise to one of the premier teams in the country. The talent level of recruits to the program instantly took a leap forward, and national media began to give more attention to the small agricultural school from Blacksburg, Va.

More importantly in the landscape of college football, Vick truly changed the way the position was played. Following his departure, many teams across the country began playing more mobile quarterbacks who have the ability to beat teams by scrambling, rather than simply dropping back and passing the ball.

Prior to the Vick era, mobile quarterbacks were seen as a uncommon advantage for an offense. In the years following, they were seen as a near necessity.  Not a bad impact for only two seasons.

On the Docket - Las Vegas Bowl: Oregon State (8-4) vs. BYU (10-2)

Synopsis:

The Beavers were closer than a three-blade shave to playing in the Rose Bowl as champions of the Pac-10. Instead, they fell 37-33 to rival Oregon and plummet in the bowl selection process to this game. Although this bowl game isn’t exactly shimmering with prestige, the match-up with BYU will be an interesting one.

Max Hall leads BYU on offense. Prior to the season, Hall was mentioned as a darkhorse Heisman candidate. Speaking of the Heisman Trophy, one of the early favorites for next season’s award is Beaver running back Jacquizz Rodgers, who has scored 20 touchdowns on the ground in 2009.

Player to watch:

Sean Canfield has been the unsung hero for Oregon State, passing for over 3,000 yards and 21 touchdowns. He handled the tough environment in the Oregon game remarkably well, and has an opportunity to end his career as a Beaver on a high note after the bitter loss in Eugene.

Who has the edge?

The over-under line for this game could reach 100 points, as both teams boast tremendous offenses to go with lackluster defenses. Hall and Canfield are two excellent field generals for their respective teams, but the difference will be Rodgers. BYU’s running game, led by Harvey Unga, is not quite at the level of the Beavers with Rodgers and his older brother, James. That slight edge for Oregon State will enough to get them by the Cougars.

Prediction:

Oregon State 44, BYU 38

12.20.2009

All-Decade Team: Video (includes unveiling of the Coach of the Decade)

2000-2009 All-Decade Team

Ten years is a long time. 


Ten years ago this time, I was a four-foot, ten-inch fourth grader celebrating my two-week holiday break from school.

Ten years ago, Michael Vick had taken the sports world by storm, carrying Virginia Tech to an unbeaten season and national championship berth against mighty Florida State.

Ten years ago, Ron Dayne broke Ricky Williams' all-time record for rushing yards in a career. Eleven years ago, Williams set that record. 

In the decade since that season, there have been many household names to come through college football, so it is only natural to name an all-decade team.

Even Al Groh couldn't screw this bunch up:

2000-2009 All-Decade Team

Offense

QB- Tim Tebow (Florida)

·      Arguably the best player of the decade, certainly one of the most decorated.

RB- Adrian Peterson (Oklahoma)

·      Outstanding freshman season was enough to get him on this team despite injury-plagued sophomore and junior campaigns.

RB- Darren McFadden (Arkansas)

·      The original “Wildcat”, he dominated a game unlike any other player this decade.

FB- Owen Scmitt (West Virginia)

·      One of the few players who was able to draw TV time from the sideline with his insane helmet head-bashing rampages.

WR- Michael Crabtree (Texas Tech)

·      He never played a season in which he didn’t win the Biletnikoff Award for the nation’s best receiver.

WR- Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech)

·      The best combination of unhuman strength and speed in a 6’4’’ frame maybe ever.

WR- Larry Fitzgerald (Pittsburgh)

·      There has never been a better threat for the fade pass in the history of the game.

TE- Kellen Winslow II (Miami)

·      Very versatile at this position, definitely more of a pass-catcher, but no tight end did it better than him.

OL- Robert Gallery (Iowa)

·      A fierce pass protector helped Iowa to its first BCS bowl in 2002-03.

OL- Bryant McKinnie (Miami)

·      Was the blind-side protector for Ken Dorsey during the Hurricanes’ 34-game win streak in the early part of the decade.

OL- Jordan Gross (Utah)

·      Did not allow a sack in his final two collegiate seasons.

OL- Jake Long (Michigan)

·      The only offensive linemen to be the first overall pick in the NFL Draft this decade.

OL- Joe Thomas (Wisconsin)

·      Extremely athletic tackle was a great run blocker and pass protector for the Badgers.

UTILITY- Reggie Bush (USC)

·      Simply the most electrifying player in recent memory.

Defense

DE- Terrell Suggs (Arizona State)

·      Sack artist brought the quarterback down 24 times in his junior season.

DE- Elvis Dumervil (Louisville)

·      Similar player to Suggs, emerged from nowhere to be win numerous awards before turning pro.

DT- Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)

·      Nearly became the first defensive linemen to win the Heisman in 2009; no tackle changed a game like he could.

DT- Vince Wilfork (Miami)

·      A run-stuffing giant made it hard for teams to gain any ground against the Hurricanes.

OLB- A.J. Hawk (Ohio State)

·      Helped lead the Buckeyes to an undefeated 2006 regular season, how he never won the Butkus award will forever be a mystery.

MLB- Dan Morgan (Miami)

·      One of the hardest-hitting linebackers to ever wear a Miami uniform…hope Ray Lewis doesn’t read this!

OLB- Teddy Lehman (Oklahoma)

·      Four-year starter made Sooner fans forget about the great Rocky Calmus.

CB- Terrence Newman (Kansas State)

·      Probably the fastest player at this position at the collegiate level since 2000.

CB- Chris Gamble (Ohio State)

·      Gamble made big play after big play on both sides of the ball in the Buckeyes’ 2002 national title run.

S- Roy Williams (Oklahoma)

·      If you don’t remember how ridiculous this guy was in college, YouTube search “Roy Williams jump sack”; prepare to be amazed.

S- Ed Reed (Miami)

·      Before he scored touchdowns for the Ravens, he changed games with defensive scores in southern Florida.

Special Teams

K- Mike Nugent (Ohio State)

·      The strongest leg of any kicker eligible for this honor.

P- Daniel Sepulveda (Baylor)

·      Ray Guy award winner in 2004 and 2006, clearly the only choice for this award.

KR- C.J. Spiller (Clemson)

·      Seven kicks returned for touchdowns in his career rank him second all-time.

PR- Antonio Perkins (Oklahoma)

·      Tied for first place all-time with eight punt returns for touchdowns.

 

Hokie History: Virginia Tech’s first bowl win

For the 17th consecutive time, Virginia Tech’s football team will end its season in a bowl game. For the second time in that run, it will play in the Chick-Fil A Bowl in Atlanta.

During this era of perennial consistency, Hokie fans have become accustomed to, and now demand, success in the form of bowl victories.

For 94 years, there was no postseason success to speak of in Blacksburg, until the Hokies played in the Peach Bowl (now the Chick-Fil A) in 1986 against North Carolina State.

Six years prior, the Hokies had lost to future conference mate Miami 20-10 in the same bowl game. The NC State game was only the second postseason appearance in 18 years for the program.

Tech wasted no time finding the scoreboard in that game. After a 77-yard run to the 1-yard line by Maurice Williams on its first offensive possession, Eddie Hunter rumbled in two plays later to put the Hokies up 7-0.

NC State would respond shortly after. Keep in mind this game was pre-Frank Beamer era at Tech, so the Hokies’ special teams were not the juggernaut they are today. The Wolfpack blocked a Tony Romero punt, which was recovered in the end zone to tie the game at seven.

The ‘Pack would score twice more before the half, and led 21-10 at intermission.

The second half saw a comeback for the ages by the Hokies. Williams short touchdown run brought Tech within five points as the third quarter drew to an end.

Early in the final quarter, Tech scored again to take its first lead since early in the game at 22-21.

NC State’s Mike Cofer put his team ahead with a 33-yard field goal midway through the quarter, and Tech was faced with a 24-22 deficit.

The Hokies’ offense failed to produce on the following drive, and was forced to give the ball back to the Wolfpack with the clock drawing closer to zero.

The outlook was grim when on the first play of the NC State possession went 40 yards thanks to a Mal Crite run. After that, however, the ‘Pack sputtered, and gave the Hokies one more chance, punting the ball with 3:14 remaining in the game. . .

Or so everyone thought.

Instead of punting, NC State ran a fake and made the first down. The Tech faithful were deflated, and it looked like the first bowl win in school history would have to wait even longer.

Tech’s defense was able to hold the Wolfpack’s offense on three downs this time, and with 2:01 left, NC State did indeed punt the ball, landing in the end zone for a touchback.

With 11 seconds remaining, the Hokies had driven to the 39-yard line, just outside of kicker Chris Kinzer’s range for game-winning field goal. Head coach Bill Dooley decided to take a shot at the end zone.

Wingback David Everett blew by the secondary down the middle of the field, and quarterback Erik Chapman launched the ball Everett’s way with the clock ticking down.

Wolfpack safety Brian Gay was able to recover enough ground while the ball was in midair to bring Everett down to the turf, drawing an easy pass interference call; 15 yard penalty, first down for Tech.

Though the penalty moved the ball into Kinzer’s range, the play made by Gay was still the right one; had he not knocked Everett down, he would have caught the pass and won the game with a touchdown.

This is when Kinzer, a native of Dublin, VA just 30 miles from the Tech campus, stepped into the spotlight. NC State called its final timeout to “ice” Kinzer, making him wait a little longer before the pressure-packed boot.

Nothing could faze Kinzer that day, though. He coolly stepped through the kick and sent the ball squarely through the uprights as time expired.

Heart attack, check.

Lucky penalty call, check.

First ever bowl win, check.

Although many Hokie fans associate the Frank Beamer era with the glory days of Tech football, 1986 was made by Kinzer a year to remember (though, if you’d like to split hairs, Beamer had already been hired as the departing Dooley’s successor nine days prior to the game).

Simply known as “The Kick” to Tech loyalists, the Peach Bowl has brought some good memories to the Fighting Gobblers. 

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