Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Hokies are runaway favorite this season

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The picks surprised Frank Beamer. They did not scare him. They did not send him into a shell, or have him praising other teams excessively to deflect the spotlight away from his own, or prompt him to reach deep into the satchel of weaknesses to try to cry poor.

The voters at the ACC Media Kickoff like Virginia Tech this year. A lot. On Monday, more than half of them picked the Hokies to win the conference title. Sixty-three percent of them picked Tech to win the Coastal Division, a six-team subset that could open the year with four squads in the top-25.

And that's what surprised Beamer -- not the picks themselves, but the force of the majority. The fact that Miami only garnered 21 percent of the votes to win the division. The fact that Georgia Tech, the defending conference champion, received 11 percent. The fact that North Carolina, returning a defense peppered with NFL prospects, got just 5 percent.

Or even the fact that, of the 46 voters who picked Tech to meet Florida State in the title game, only 11 thought the Seminoles would win it.

Beamer sees it as a sign of respect, another step in the evolution of his program.

"I'm appreciative," Beamer said, "but you've got to go earn it."

Then, for the next hour, he spoke like a man who thinks his team will.

He talked about his offense, a unit that could rival the best that have come through Blacksburg, a unit with a veteran quarterback, two electric tailbacks and a group of pass-catchers who've all proven they can play.

"I think the pieces are in place on the perimeter," he said. "I like our receivers; I think they give you the ability to get to the end zone in a hurry. I like our backs; I think they're what you want, powerful and fast. They give you a chance. ... We've got what I think is the best quarterback in Tyrod Taylor."

And he talked about his defense -- not in the cautious, forboding manner you might expect for a unit so raw, but in terms of potential. Talent.


"Everybody's got to take care of their responsibility, don't get me wrong," Beamer said. "But I think defensively you've got a little bit better chance of coming along quicker [than offensively] when you're inexperienced. I think you're just wild-eyed and chasing the ball-carrier and relentless.

"And I think we've got good players; some of them just haven't played a whole lot."

Beamer is not a boaster, and he didn't pound his chest Monday. He threw in the requisite qualifiers -- the depth of the Coastal Division, the supreme challenge of facing a top-5 Boise State team in the opener, the lack of a kicker who's looked game-day pressure in the eyes.

But in the end, he sounded confident. Excited. And never was this more evident than when somebody asked about trying to win a national championship.

"We don't back down from that," Beamer said. "I want recruits to come to Virginia Tech to help us win a national championship. We've been there, we've been close, we haven't quite finished it yet. We're not going to back away from it. That's what we're going after."

Taylor spoke openly on Sunday about that collective goal. His coach, too, seemed more willing than usual to discuss it.

"There's several teams -- I wouldn't say a lot -- but there's several teams that start out with the capabilities to do that," Beamer said. "I've been in it long enough to know that things have to fall in place, pieces have to fit, and injuries have to go the right way. It's a fine line there in being able to do it and not being able to do it."

But he thinks this is a team, at least, that could get its feet on that line. This year.

By midseason, if the defense gains traction, the Hokies figure to be more formidable than they've been in years past. They'll actually be swinging with both fists, capable of attacking teams with more than just Bud Foster's 11.

That's how the hope goes for Tech, anyway. And the voting? That just reinforced that possibility.

Maybe it's not so surprising, after all.

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