Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

December 26, 2012

Unexpected bowl destinations for Hokies, WVU

BLUEFIELD — What a difference a year makes.

One year ago, Virginia Tech was preparing to prove they deserved to be in the Sugar Bowl, while West Virginia was poised for its move to the Big 12 by scoring 70 points in an Orange Bowl rout of Clemson.

Here we are one day from the Russell Athletic Bowl and two days from the Pinstripe Bowl and it is difficult to find anything about either game on the Associated Press wire, or anywhere else.

In fact, there is no buzz from anyone. Neither fan base seems to thrilled about either game. That is what happens with the current bowl system. Some games just don’t need to be played.

I had hoped that the AP would come through today and I could spend time trying to catch up the Bounce high school basketball website, but it didn’t happen.

There was no choice, I had to put together what I could about the two bowl games. Trying to report on bowl games can be a challenge when you’re not actually there, and unfortunately we are not at either one.

I would rather have been following Virginia Tech, not because I have an allegiance to the Hokies, but because they’re in sunny Florida and the Mountaineers are stuck in snowy New York.

The weather was so bad on Wednesday that West Virginia’s practice was moved inside their hotel, and the only media availability was going to be “for a few minutes” at a Pinstripe Bowl function later than night at Yankee Stadium.

Usually the media is given more than they can ever use because bowls love publicity almost as much as money, but even the West Virginia sports information folks, who are usually so good about sending quotes and emails, were not going to have anything from those ‘few minutes’ of interviews.

I was able to find two picture on the AP wire from Florida with the Hokies, but nothing from New York, which is the so-called media capital of the world.

I suppose the New York writers have seen enough football that doesn’t matter with the Jets in town.

When the college football season began back in September, no fan of Virginia Tech or West Virginia would have expected these bowl destinations.

Virginia Tech (6-6) endured its worst season since 1992 when the Hokies were 2-8-1, while the Mountaineers (7-5) haven’t been this close to the .500 mark since a 3-8 mark in Rich Rodriguez’s first season in Morgantown in 2001.

The Hokies, which had an eight-year run of 10-win seasons come to an end, had to beat Boston College in overtime and Virginia on a late field goal to extend its bowl streak to 20 years in a row.

West Virginia, which had won at least nine games in eight of the last 10 seasons — and they won eight in the other two — started 5-0, lost five straight, and had to beat either Iowa State or Kansas — they won both — to qualify for a bowl game.

The Hokies will play Rutgers (9-3) in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. on Friday, while the Mountaineers will face Syracuse (7-5) in the Pinstripe Bowl on Saturday at Yankee Stadium.

Ironically, both Virginia Tech and West Virginia played their bowl foes when they were still Big East schools.

The Hokies are 11-3 against the Scarlet Knights, with the last meeting being a 48-22 win in 2003. The Mountaineers are 27-32 against the Orange, with their last game being a 49-23 West Virginia loss just last season.

No one could have foreseen such a drop for both teams.

The Hokies dropped a 23-20 overtime decision in the Sugar Bowl to Michigan last January — with help from a controversial reversal of an apparent touchdown catch by Danny Coale — while West Virginia simply hammered Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl.

Both teams entered 2012 with high expectations, but neither team came close to meeting them.

Virginia Tech has lost most of its offense, which meant the defense would have to carry the Hokies — which didn’t happen — while West Virginia lost plenty on defense, but had a prolific offense that simply couldn’t outscore every team it played.

I can still remember an associate talking about West Virginia winning the national championship after a 5-0 start, and playing Alabama to do it. That would have been fine with me, but I wrote a column with warning signs ahead. He later acknowledged I was right.

Virginia Tech’s expectations were simply way too high for a number of reasons, but a nearby daily newspaper touted the Hokies as national title contenders.

I was left to wonder what title they were talking about. It wasn’t a college football championship, not with trying to rebuild an entire offense from the previous season, a second year quarterback who came to Tech expecting to be a tight end, running backs by committee, a defense that was vastly overrated, and the still missing components of Beamer Ball.

At least Virginia Tech gets to finish its season in the warmth of Florida, but the Hokies will lose to Rutgers and endure its first losing season since 1992.

West Virginia will have to face temperatures in the 30s and a 40 percent chance of snow, but at least they will return to Morgantown as winners.

From the Sugar Bowl to the Russell Athletic Bowl, from the Orange Bowl to the Pinstripe Bowl, it’s been a long year for the Hokies and Mountaineers.

The season is about to end for both teams, but as any avid college football fan will tell you, the best part about the end of a season is the next season is on the way.

—Brian Woodson is the sports editor for the Daily Telegraph. He can be contacted at bwoodson@bdtonline.com

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