CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer has usually been one to support the current BCS system.
“This particular year,” he said with a smile, “a playoff wouldn’t be bad.”
After two losses to start the season, there’s nothing Virginia Tech can do to change its fate in the national picture. The Hokies are doing everything imaginable, though, to redeem themselves and change the perception of them after their 0-2 start.
With its 26-10 road win over North Carolina, Virginia Tech has now won eight straight games. The Hokies have left no doubt they are the best team in the ACC, even if the watered-down conference isn’t giving them any ranked competition. They are the only team still undefeated in conference play heading into Saturday’s game at Miami, and with a two-game lead in the division, are heading towards the best-case scenario: their third appearance in the ACC title game in the past four years.
“I think we’re getting to be a really good football team right now,” Beamer said. “At the beginning of the year, we were just a little too young to be a real, good, consistent football team. Too young.”
Consistency over the long haul, though, is the one thing that has separated Beamer’s program from the rest of the pack. Virginia Tech is now 44-10 in conference games since joining the ACC in 2004, including a 22-5 road record. The Hokies are 22-2 in November games since 2004 (20-2 against the ACC).
They’re even dependable in slow starts and fast finishes. The Hokies have come from behind to win four times this season. Virginia Tech trailed 10-9 at the half on Saturday, but outgained the Tar Heels 141-19, and outscored them 17-0 in the third quarter.
If there was any benefit to the way the season started for this team, it’s that Virginia Tech learned a lesson: Not to get complacent. Despite its control of the Coastal Division, the Hokies did not clinch the title on Saturday because Miami beat Georgia Tech. Though unlikely, it's still possible Virginia Tech can close the season with two losses to Miami and Virginia, leaving the Hurricanes atop the Coastal Division.
“I don’t think there’s a time when you can get comfortable because when you’re comfortable, that’s the time when you’re most vulnerable of getting beat,” said linebacker Bruce Taylor. “I feel good with the lead we have. It’s in our control. If we win out, we’re in the ACC championship game. It’s in our hands. That’s the fun part about it. Everyone is going to give us their best shot, that’s what I love, playing against the best competition.”
Sure, quarterback Tyrod Taylor said, he thinks about what could have been had the Hokies won their first two games. But he said he spends more time thinking about the possibilities that still remain -- an ACC title and Orange Bowl win.
“I think that we’re playing at a high level right now, and as long as we continue to play that way, people will eventually respect it,” he said. “Some people won’t. All we can do is go out there and win games every week. It’s your choice if you’re going to respect us or not.”
It’s hard not to considering how well the Hokies played against a gritty North Carolina team that refuses to quit. The Tar Heels were without leading rusher Johnny White, and a plethora of other injured players, but so were the Hokies. Virginia Tech missed a lot of speed without David Wilson and Dyrell Roberts on the field, and they likely lost another kick returner, Tony Gregory, for the season with a knee injury.
The Hokies were also without starting defensive end Chris Drager, and yet the defense shut out North Carolina in the second half. Standout receiver Dwight Jones, who had 28 catches for 612 yards and three touchdowns in the past four games, was held to just one catch.
North Carolina quarterback T.J. Yates, who had thrown four interceptions all season entering the game, threw four against the Hokies. Prior to facing Virginia Tech, UNC had not turned the ball over more than three times in a game. They gave it up six times to Bud Foster’s defense.
There’s not much more Virginia Tech could have done over the past 10 weeks -- or against UNC -- to prove it’s a different team than the one that started the season.
“I think a key factor is having great kids,” Beamer said. “I’ve said that a bunch, but I really mean it. I think if you’ve got bad guys on your team, they just fall apart when you have two tough losses in a week. … It wasn’t even a whole week. Two losses that stay with you. I think our leadership, our kids, they went right back to work and here we are. I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
And he should be -- even if the BCS isn’t going to recognize it.