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Hokies fans: I've been there

It was different this time, in the press box instead of the stands of Michigan Stadium, watching a highly ranked team lose its home opener to a division I-AA opponent. For one, I'm a Michigan alum and fan, whereas I'm paid to remain objective and neutral when it comes to Virginia Tech.

But trust me, Hokie Nation. I feel your pain. You're embarrassed, seeing the team you support and love loop over and over on "SportsCenter." Commentator after commentator just piling on to your misery. You're getting text messages from Virginia, Miami or any other rival fans taking shots at you after years of being able to hold Virginia Tech's success over them. All of a sudden, everything you thought you knew about college football gets flipped upside down.

And the game, it's almost like a blur. Sure, there were times when the pesky underdog played well, but not until they started kneeling the ball in a victory formation did the possibility of a loss enter your mind.

See, I was a senior at Michigan when the No. 5 Wolverines lost, 34-32, to Appalachian State to open the 2007 season. And since my first ever game at Lane Stadium was the second time something like this has ever happened (seriously, am I bad luck or what?), I feel obligated to help you cope.

Before I go any further, I bring you a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel that appears to represent the rest of this season. The week after that loss to Appalachian State, Michigan looked even worse getting blown out by Oregon, 39-7. But the Wolverines regained their footing once Big Ten season arrived.

That 0-2 start was followed by eight consecutive wins, and Michigan was even in contention for the Big Ten title before losing its last two games to Wisconsin and Ohio State. The season actually ended on a memorable note, with Lloyd Carr being carried off the field into retirement after a 39-7 win over Tim Tebow-led Florida in the Capital One Bowl.

Considering the state of the ACC, I think the Hokies are entirely capable of having the same kind of turnaround. I actually believe this year's Virginia Tech team is eerily similar to those 2007 Wolverines.

Michigan had talked convincingly about a national championship all offseason with the return of battle tested playmakers at the skill positions (senior quarterback Chad Henne, senior running back Mike Hart, junior wide receiver Mario Manningham). Virginia Tech made its goals for the season known early and often with offensive weapons like Tyrod Taylor, the Ryan Williams-Darren Evans duo and Jarrett Boykin back in the fold.

Both were led by occasionally unappreciated head coaches with great career records, who also had a tendency to irk fans with their conservative play-calling and penchant for not winning "the big one" enough. With Michigan it was Lloyd Carr. Here in Blacksburg, it is Frank Beamer.

And even the games were fairly similar in terms of how each team lost. Michigan's offense didn't play particularly poorly, racking up 479 yards. At times, Virginia Tech looked to be clicking, gaining 238 yards on the ground and marching 94 yards on its opening drive of the game.

Each were done in by a defense that created big plays with mistakes. In the end, neither could seem to consistently wrap up a running quarterback and get stops when the game was hanging in the balance.

The Hokies will indeed have to "go back to the drawing board" as Taylor said during his postgame press conference. They'll have to find some answers to serious questions.

Can this offensive line give Taylor enough time to throw the ball or Ryan Williams room to run it? Is this defense just going through growing pains or are they developing bad habits that will last an entire season? Does this group have the motivation to pick themselves up and compete for an ACC Championship?

It's certainly going to be an interesting week in Blacksburg before East Carolina comes to town. But I want to reiterate, all hope is not lost. I should know.

By Mark Giannotto  |  September 11, 2010; 10:27 PM ET
 
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Next: Virginia Tech's defensive line takes a hit

Comments

It's okay Hokie fans. There's no shame in losing to the best football team in VA. That's right, the JMU DUKES!!!!

Posted by: Kenbeatrizz | September 11, 2010 11:28 PM | Report abuse

I'll set Michigan comparisons aside for a bit. We Virginia Tech fans, have been there before. More specifically we were at the same position in 1995. Tech was coming of a bowl game against Payton Manning and the Volunteers. The hope for the season were high, even for a Tech team which had struggled to put forth two consecutive winning seasons in a row. Coming to Blacksburg, VA in those heady days of yore, were Boston College followed by Cincinatti. Granted, they weren't JMU but Hokies were big favorites given their to No 20 ranking to start the season. They lost 14-20 to BC and were shocked 16-0 by Cincinatti on rainy Saturday. The fact that the 1995 season turned out to be the greatest in Tech history until that time made a 0-2 start an afterthought, if that. The blue collar Virginia Tech team went on to beat a No 17 ranked Hurricane team in Miami the week after they lost slammed by Cincinatti. They whitewashed the Mountaineers at Morgantown 26-0, slammed the ranked favorite Syracuse Orange 31-7 in Blacksburg, came from behind to win shock the 13th ranked Wahoos in Charlottesville (yes UVA used to be good then). The icing on the top was a Sugar Bowl win against Texas after Tech spotted the game horns a 10 point lead before winning 27-10.

This is not meant to be a history lesson or a remembrance of the good ol days. It is meant, however, to show what could happen down the road if Tech plays to its potential. It could have been very easy for the Frank Beamer and company to have closed shop after the Cinci wipe out. Yet, they were successful because of their never say die attitude instilled by Frank Beamer and his coaching staff.

I think your comparisons with the Wolverines end with the loss to a division IAA foe. I would like to think that we hokies are not so ungrateful as to call for the head of a person who built Virginia Tech football from scratch. But if we are lets look at Michigan and their performance the last two seasons having fired a brilliant tactician. There is no magic bullet in sports.

Even with all the accolades coming his way, Beamer has stayed humble. I am hoping that some of that rubs of on his star recruits and they learn that winning is not a birth right.

In the 1992 cricket world cup, after a horrendous start the Pakistani captain gathered his team into the locker room and gave his side the speech of a life time. It was them against the world; they were the "cornered tigers" who had to respond because there was still light yet and there was work to be done. That team lifted the cup against all odds. No doubt Frank Beamer will as motivational, if not more, as hokies look to rebound. And that makes college football beautiful.

Posted by: imran2u | September 12, 2010 12:01 AM | Report abuse

You know how you know Tech's season is over? When fans try and take solace from a quote from the world of Cricket.

Posted by: rhbancroft | September 12, 2010 1:04 AM | Report abuse

There is a big difference between the two programs (Va Tech and Michigan). Michigan had the huge tradition still and still to this day top tier athletes have Michigan at the top or near the top of their choice schools. Va Tech for the most part gets tier 2-3-4 kids (if you go by high school rankings.) These types of losses as well as the constant inability to win big games early in the season on the road turns potential kids off. They dont have the lure of Miami or Florida State, so unless Virginia continues to improve as a football state, Va Tech may start slipping farther and farther.

Posted by: Killerangel81 | September 12, 2010 2:05 AM | Report abuse

Tech players said they were embarrassed? No reason to be embarrassed when you lose to a better team. When will the the media start covering I-AA football? ESPN's Mark May gives them no respect; evident by his comments following Jacksonville State's victory over Ole Miss. The best teams in I-AA can play with the "majors".

Go App State!

Posted by: bo11 | September 12, 2010 2:46 AM | Report abuse

JMU is a good football team...maybe now the Post will realize that they actually have a football team...but probably not

Posted by: rc2223 | September 12, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

yeah i know all you wash post fans are gonna laugh and pile on. but let me tell you something, as a hokie fan and alumni, i have been to many of our home games and there is no comparison to other area football teams around here, not maryland, not UVA, not even Navy. VT has the best atmosphere, the best fans, conistency in the overall season and a long streak of winning. I don't want to hear this non-sense about UMD and UVA or even JMU. What we at VT have done over the past 17 years is only accomplished by a few teams in the entire country. we're in division 1-A, we recruit well, we will win, but our position coaches suck but that hasn't stopped us in the past so be aware of what you are saying. Even the best fall when it comes to sports but as a good football team, we've always gotten back up and i dont expect any less from this team

Posted by: godpere | September 12, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

so, bcs bowl games are out?

yeah, that blows for you guys.

Posted by: j762 | September 12, 2010 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Hokies were caught with their pants down and this game was definitely butt ugly.

Posted by: gmuhokie2009 | September 12, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

This is a good reason to reserve talk about a national championship until after Thanksgiving.

VA Tech is a much better team than a lot of people think.

Clearly, there are some big problems that need to be fixed, particularly on the offensive and defensive lines, but there is a lot of talent there.

Posted by: postfan1 | September 12, 2010 2:32 PM | Report abuse

big alumni wont stand for this. you will definitely see changes in the coaching staff following this embarassment.

didnt punt once and still lost. clearly there was a coaching issue, not a talent issue.

darkest day in VT football program in last 30 years.

Posted by: m1ke3i6 | September 12, 2010 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Go PIRATES! ECU, ECU, ECU

Posted by: northeaster2002 | September 12, 2010 5:55 PM | Report abuse

I'm a JMU student who was at Lane Stadium yesterday. While I hardly know anyone who goes to Virginia Tech, a whole bunch of JMU and VT students, faculty, and fans do and are connected. Not to mention the schools are 120 miles apart. So I'd say that makes this a lot worse because it involved 2 in-state schools that are ranked in both FCS and FBS respectively, and the FCS school won, giving bragging rights to anyone associated with JMU.

Posted by: purgoldduke | September 12, 2010 10:42 PM | Report abuse

Forget the comparisons with Michigan, VT’s problem has been clear now for awhile, plain and simple they are “oh-for” against Top 10 teams - they cannot win the big one. Beamer Ball is past tense, now they get beat by special teams play by the opposing team. Where’s that special “can-do” attitude immortalized by the lunch pail, it seems gone now that they have “MORE TALENTED” recruiting classes. There is no denying Frank Beamer has brought VT a long way – but just like Moses maybe he’s not the one to take them to the ‘promised land’ of a National Championship. It’s going to take a motivational genius like a Nick Saban to take them there - remember how Alabama was courting Coach Beamer and “settled” for Coach Saban – think they want to switch now?! I say promote Coach Beamer to AD or something like that and hire Coach Petersen from BSU!

Posted by: mbhokie | September 14, 2010 12:19 AM | Report abuse

Great article - especially the "I feel your pain" comparison.
I am a long time VT fan and totally enjoy the game atmosphere at Lane Stadium. Oh course losing is hard to take but even harder is the bad mouthing fans from other schools. It's too bad that you can't root for your team (win or lose) and get on with your life until the next game.

Posted by: hokiehouse | September 15, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

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