Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: National title for Hokies? Don't bet on it

I know what your question is. It's the only one that has really mattered around here all summer: Will Virginia Tech win the national championship?

Don't worry, I'll answer that. Before I do, though, I have a few questions for you.

Please answer yes or no to all of them.

I promise there's a point.

n Do you think Arkansas will win the SEC?

n If not them, how about South Carolina?

n Will Colorado win the Big 12?

n Will Northwestern claim the Big Ten crown?

n Will the Washington Redskins have the best record in the NFL after Week 9?

n Will the Utah Jazz win next year's NBA championship?

n Will Jevan Snead of Mississippi hoist the Heisman Trophy?

n Will the Tennessee Titans win the Super Bowl?

n Will Carson Palmer lead the NFL in passing yards?

n Will Ryan Grant pace the NFL in rushing?

n Will Greg Biffle win the NASCAR Sprint Cup championship?

OK, pencils down. How many affirmative answers do you have on the above? Probably not many, if any.

But before you shrug those off as ridiculous longshots, consider this: Las Vegas bookmakers have set the odds on each of these occurrences at 20-to-1 -- the exact same shot they're giving the Hokies to win the BCS national championship.


Why does this matter? Because Vegas does not tailgate.

Vegas does not post on message boards.

Vegas did not spend all summer tossing bean bags in the back yard on a custom-build Hokies cornhole set, yearning for the first glimpse of the maroon and orange.

Vegas doesn't deal in fan loyalty.

We in the local and regional media have our own challenges when it comes to staying objective. Vegas does not swing by practice and get sucked in by all the optimism. Vegas has not billed Ryan Williams and David Wilson as the next big things. Vegas doesn't print 100,000 copies of a special football section with Tyrod Taylor on the cover.

All Vegas does is build very large hotels by being right about these things more often than not. And clearly, the bookies aren't going ga-ga over the Hokies.

But it works both ways. I know some UVa fans who would set the odds on Tech winning a national title this year at a million to one -- and then feel queasy about it being that low. Trust me, they've e-mailed.

Tech certainly isn't being dismissed like them in Sin City.

Only six teams have skimpier odds than the Hokies: defending champion Florida (5-to-2), Oklahoma (5-1), USC (6-1), Texas (13-2), Ohio State (11-1) and Alabama (16-1). The Hokies are getting more respect than three-time national champ LSU (22-1), two-time king Penn State (28-1) and Hokies nemesis Florida State (33-1).

Hope is valid -- why else would we watch? -- but we shouldn't confuse that with expectation. Considering the sizeable vigorish bookies swipe from futures wagers, you can safely assume Tech's true odds are closer to one in 30.

So my answer is no. The Hokies will not win the national championship this year. If their first trip to Atlanta doesn't derail them, their second one -- to Georgia Tech on Oct. 17 -- will.

Then again, what do I know? When I went to bed on Aug. 15, I'd never heard of Y.E. Yang, and I certainly didn't imagine he'd be the guy to rally past Tiger Woods on the final day of a major championship.

Vegas didn't completely count him out, though. Yang's odds of winning heading into that Sunday at Hazeltine?

You guessed it: 20-to-1.

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