Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Teams in search of silver linings

This week's Q&A-Mac is brought to you by The Silver Lining: Virginia Tech could use one; UVa soon might need the same.

Q: So what do you have for the Hokies?

A: Just a number: 13. That's Tech's ranking this week in both polls. It might not look great today, but that's about as good as the Hokies could have hoped for given their Labor Day loss.

Q: Who cares about rankings in September unless you're in the BCS title game discussion?

A: Tech should. The Hokies need new goals, and the old "10 wins" standard is stale and distant. They should strive to be considered among the nation's top 5 by season's end. What this current ranking does is provide Tech a very tangible objective for the short term: Getting back in the top 10. This might require mere weeks instead of months, given the small drop after Boise.

Q: But the Hokies only lost by three -- in the final two minutes, no less -- to the No. 3 team in the country. Why should they have fallen any lower than 13th anyway?

A: I'm not saying they should have, but I'm still a little surprised they didn't. What this tells you is that the voters actually believed their preseason ballots when they sent them in; they legitimately viewed Boise as a top-5 team. That's not always the case; some people rank based on paper, not their gut, then make radical reassessments after Week 1 that reflect their biases. It would have been easy to watch that game, which was entertaining but sloppy, and dismiss both teams if you weren't bullish on Boise before.

Q: How many no-shows will we see at Lane Stadium today?

A: Very few, I'm guessing. The home opener is always packed. But if you're going to skip only one game this year, this would be the choice. It's not just the hangover from Boise or the Division I-AA opponent, but it's also the fact that there are some killer games on TV today. Three of those -- Miami-Ohio State, Florida State-Oklahoma and Michigan-Notre Dame -- start at 3:30. The Hokies kick at 1:30.

Q: What's at stake for the ACC today?

A: A ton. Tech's loss continued a trend of early-season defeats for the league in high-profile nonconference games. The ACC really needs Miami or Florida State -- each of which is more than a touchdown underdog on the road -- to strike a national blow for the conference. Until that happens, the league has no legitimate gripes about any lack of respect.

Q: The experts say UVa is going to get killed tonight at USC. If I'm a Cavaliers fan, should I stay up late and subject myself to this potential bloodletting?

A: My advice would be to watch with a purpose. That is, pick a few areas you're concerned about long-term -- the running game, for example -- and try to make an assessment. I wouldn't go in with the plan of getting too emotionally invested. If it happens to be close in the second half, switch off the clinical lever, jack up the passion and enjoy. But not before then. It's for your own good.

Q: What's the coolest story you saw this week?

A: That would be the tale of resilience shown by L.A. Dodgers first baseman John Lindsey. After 16 years and more than 1,500 games in the minor leagues, he finally got his first at-bat in the majors on Thursday.

Q: Why does that name sound familiar?

A: Friday marked the ninth anniversary of one of Lindsey's top moments on the farm: a two-homer day against Wilmington that clinched the Mills Cup title for the Salem Avalanche. "This is wonderful," he told The Roanoke Times that night. "I can't wait to call my parents and tell them."

Q: This week's call home had to be an even better one, huh?

A: No doubt. Get this, too: Dodgers skipper Joe Torre said he plans to start the 33-year-old Lindsey today. Awesome. It just makes you wonder how many times, when this guy was bouncing around on buses from Portland to Ashville to Salem to San Bernadino to San Antonio to New Jersey and all those places in between, did he have to remind himself of one thing.

Q: What's that?

A: To look at the silver lining.

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