Thursday, October 29, 2009
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tonight is an opportunity to flex some muscle

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"OK, man, give us a reason to get pumped for this week's Tech game."

My friend Rick Watson made that request to me Monday. Unfortunately, this occurred on the air.

It's times like these I'm glad Rick has a radio show and not a television program.

That way, nobody could see me panic.

Nobody could see the tumbleweed blow by.

And the crickets? They don't chirp as loudly through a cell phone connection as they do in a microphone.

But I gave it a shot. And when you boil away the hemming and hawing and the circuitous baloney I heaved onto the airwaves, here's what I said: "It's another opportunity to see the Hokies pound somebody."

I hated that answer Monday. But the more I've thought about it since, the more I'm OK with it.

Because that's really what tonight's game against North Carolina is about -- not much more, not much less.

Could be better, obviously. But in the end, that's not so bad.

Twelve days ago in Atlanta, Georgia Tech peeled away two layers from the Hokies' onion o' significance. Any hopes for a national title are now gone. Perhaps even more discouraging, a third straight ACC title would require help from one of two sources -- Wake Forest or Duke -- that both look ill-equipped to provide it against a hot Yellow Jackets team.

But the center of an onion -- in this case, the opportunity for further competition -- can still pack plenty of flavor. And that's the message Tech's players and coaches need to carry with them as the burst through the tunnel at a sold-out Lane Stadium: Tonight is another chance to be great.

We hear the "one game at a time" mantra every week, but when you think about it, this is the most appropriate week for the Hokies to heed it. It's all they really have left. This is one of five more guaranteed opportunities to show what they can do.

Granted, the Hokies will no doubt adjust their big-picture goals, and you'll probably hear them often as we move forward.

They still have a good shot at 10 wins.

They're still mathematically alive -- albeit tenuously -- for the Coastal crown. They still have time to return to the top 10 of the rankings before the season ends.

But compared to Pasadena dreams and Orange Bowl certainties, these are reaches. Better instead to get myopic.

It's fitting that the Sprint Cup circuit visited our area during Tech's bye week, because NASCAR is struggling with some of the same issues as college football. It used to be that each of the 36 auto races was its own little Super Bowl, with winners and losers and celebration and drama.

But ever since they've instituted the Chase format, everything that happens is framed by how it affects the season championship. So-and-so won the race, but how many points did he gain? Does he still have a title shot? If not, does his win even matter?

Similarly, the BCS has shifted the focus of college football almost entirely to a handful of teams. Once you fall outside that fraternity, it's difficult to feel important. Never mind that the majority of sports fans get into the games for the journey and not the destination. Never mind that there are thrilling games played outside the BCS scope every week.

Tonight's may or may not be one of those. Vegas certainly doesn't think so, having installed the Hokies as 16 12-point favorites.

So maybe it's just another opportunity to see the Hokies pound somebody.

Sure beats working, don't you think?

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