College football countdown: No. 2 Virginia Tech

Monday, August 7th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Hokies eager for return to title game

Virginia Tech's Hokies know their toughest opposition this season – and it won't be ranked in the Top 25.

Actually, the battle between the Hokies, who played for the national championship for the first time ever in last season's Sugar Bowl, and their nemesis has already begun.

The foe is complacency, and every Hokie from head coach Frank Beamer to sophomore defensive back Ronyell Whitaker is on the lookout for its effects.

"We know," said Whitaker of the plague that commonly affects teams after highly successful seasons. "Our coaches have been talking to us about that.

"We've got to be more prepared than ever, because it's only going to get tougher. We'll be the marked team on everybody's schedule."

Combine that fact with the improvement of Big East rival Miami, and many expect the Hokies to fade from the national championship picture this season.

But here's another fact that cannot be overlooked: The Hokies have the most talented player in college football. As a freshman, quarterback Michael Vick toyed with opponents in a manner that hasn't been seen since Tommy Frazier played quarterback at Nebraska or Deion Sanders returned punts at Florida State.

As long as he is healthy, Virginia Tech can overcome even the fact that it had to replace eight defensive starters from last season.

"Michael told me – and I could see the seriousness in his face – that if teams score 50 points on us, it won't be enough," said Whitaker, one of those new starters though he played regularly last season.

That comment leaves Beamer with a smirk. But even the coach who built this new mini-dynasty with nasty defense knows his best weapons in 2000 will be running or passing or catching the football.

"We've had offenses that could score before," Beamer said. "But we've never had a better athlete than Michael Vick running it. We've never had the expectations of scoring as many points."

The offense averaged 40.3 points last season, the most of any of the previous five years, and has eight starters returning, the most of any of those seasons. Expectations are natural. And fair.

And though Vick says he plans to pass more and run less this season – proving his ability as an NFL-type quarterback – his coaches aren't quite as committed.

"Michael has the gift of a great arm and great legs," said Beamer, "and there are times to use both."

The gift could be enough to get the Hokies to a second-straight championship bowl.

Virgina Tech Schedule- Aug 26 Georgia Tech; Sept 2 Akron; Sept 7 at East Carolina; Sept 16 Rutgers; Sept 30 at Boston College; Oct 7 Temple; Oct 12 West Virginia; Oct 21 at Syracuse; Oct 28 Pittsburgh; Nov 4 Miami, Florida; Nov 11 at Central Florida; Nov 25 Virginia

Virginia Tech Hokies Capsule

COACH: Frank Beamer (88-60-2 in 13 years at Virginia Tech; 130-83-4 in 19 years overall).

LAST YEAR: 11-1 (lost to Florida State in Sugar Bowl for national championship).

OUT: Corey Moore, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year, and seven other starters from a defense that allowed 13.5 points per game.

IN: Offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle and his staff will tweak the offense to make more use of quarterback Michael Vick's vast abilities.

BIG PLUS: Receiver Andre Davis and Vick are the most dangerous combination in college football. Vick's 4.35 and Davis' 4.29 speed in the 40 make even a broken play a scoring opportunity.

BIG MINUS: Special teams, which made a serious impact on Tech's success in the '90s, will be a question mark. Both kicker Carter Warley and punter Vinnie Burns are freshmen.

NATIONAL TITLE IF: The defensive line can keep the heat on quarterbacks, not forcing this young secondary to spend too much time in coverage. A great defense would put the Hokies over the top.

BOTTOM LINE: Only a couple of teams have a true chance to upset the Hokies. The showdown is Nov. 4 at Miami.

Top 25 So Far

25. Clemson
24. Mississippi
23. So. Miss.
22. Utah
21. Texas A&M
20. Penn State
19. Tennessee
18. Colorado
17. Oklahoma
16. Purdue
15. Illinois
14. Kansas State
13. Florida
12. Ohio State
11. TCU
10. USC
9. Wisconsin
8. Michigan
7. Georgia
6. Texas
5. Florida State
4. Miami
3. Alabama
2. Virginia Tech