Tech set to pursue Miami without Vick, expectations
The Big East in 2001 is shaping up to be another two-horse race between powerhouses Miami and Virginia Tech, each of whom has won the league and attained No. 2 national rankings the past two seasons.
Not that you'd know it looking at the conference media's preseason poll released last week.
The Hurricanes, coming off an 11-1 season, garnered 21 of a possible 24 first-place votes, leaving all of three for the Hokies, themselves going on 11-1 for two years running. Apparently, even the closest Virginia Tech observers -- writers who have actually seen the Hokies play games before New Year's -- don't put much faith in the men now that they're without Mike.
"The first question I got today was about Michael Vick ," defensive tackle David Pugh, speaking at Big East media day, told the New York Post. "The second question was about Michael Vick. I hope he sends me a check in the mail."
Far be it for us to question the prediction. After all, Miami did get the better of Tech in their head-to-head matchup last season. And you will find the 'Canes ranked slightly higher in the particular rankings below.
But such a disparity in the voting would seem to indicate overwhelming evidence the 'Canes will prevail again this year. And quite frankly, it doesn't exist. Consider:
The Hokies' biggest obstacle might not be losing Vick, but injuries. Last week alone, Vick's quarterback replacement, Grant Noel, underwent knee surgery for a torn meniscus (he's expected back for two-a-days) and prized incoming freshman Kevin Jones suffered a severe ankle sprain in the Ohio-Pennsylvania "Big 33" game.
All the more reason for Beamer's team to once again come in under the radar. His squads have won at least nine games six times the past eight years, but garnered hardly a speck of national attention prior to Vick's highlight-reel dashes en route to the 2000 Sugar Bowl.
The remaining Hokies are clearly grateful for the legacy No. 7 left. Recruits like Jones, who Joe Paterno had been banking on to stay in-state, probably wouldn't even have considered Tech if not for the Vick years.
But there's also a certain sense of relief that the circus has left town.
"The last couple of years, this was Michael's team," linebacker Ben Taylor said. "It's our team again."
The program was built on prolific special teams and aggressive defense, something that should continue this year with 10 returning starters on that side of the ball.
Offensively, Tech boasts a 1,207-yard, 27-touchdown rusher in Lee Suggs and an NFL-caliber receiver in Andre Davis. Not that any of that can override Vick's absence.
"We've been picked anywhere from third to 63rd," Beamer said. "That's kind of the deal. We've got a good team and a lot of good players. But when you've got a question at quarterback, with a guy who's never played before and you don't know how he's going to perform, you just never know. We've got to see how that guy reacts and how this team reacts."
Buffs on tour
At last week's Big 12 media days, it was clear Colorado coach Gary Barnett feels he has a sleeping giant on his hands.
The Buffaloes went 3-8 last season, but that didn't stop writers from picking them third in the league's North Division, behind only Nebraska and Kansas State. They return the most starters (18) in the conference, and the prevailing opinion is that last year's young squad was done in less by a dearth of talent than by its killer early schedule (Colorado State, USC, Washington, Kansas State, Texas A&M and Texas).
"If people judge this team based on its record last year, then they underestimate how good this team is and how good we'll be," Barnett said. "We played 10 freshmen a year ago because we had to, and now they have gotten through the learning curve of playing in a tough conference like the Big 12 and playing such a tough schedule."
Among those freshmen were quarterback Craig Ochs, who set school freshmen records for passing yards (1,778) and total offense (1,884) and shone during CU's near-upset of Nebraska, and touted running back Marcus Houston, who was averaging 110 yards his first three games before suffering a season-ending hip flexor tear.
Barnett, whose extreme motivational tactics became a thing of legend while at Northwestern and who during last year's struggles threatened to remove the Buffs' helmet decals, was at it again while in Dallas last week.
"On our way back, we are going to take a look at and tour Texas Stadium. That is our focus. We want to be back there on December 1 for the championship game."
As Syracuse prepares to enter its third season post- Donovan McNabb -- the previous two both mediocre -- buzz continues to grow for incoming freshman Cecil Howard, though coach Paul Pasqualoni has downplayed the possibility of Howard unseating incumbents Troy Nunes or R.J. Anderson. The Pennsylvanian Howard was 8-of-14 for 119 yards and a TD in the Big 33 game. ... Auburn is about to unveil a marketing campaign that attempts to give Jordan-Hare Stadium a new nickname: "The Jungle." A logo is under design, and Russell Athletic will unveil a line of "Jungle" merchandise, according to the Birmingham News. ... The big news to come out of WAC media day was that San Jose State star Deonce Whitaker is expected to be academically eligible come fall. Whitaker started to gain some national recognition last year after rushing for 1,577 yards, including 147 against Nebraska and 254 against Stanford ... Responding to criticism from several national media associations, Oregon athletic director Bill Moos said a proposed policy to restrict TV stations to only 20 seconds of Ducks game highlights will likely be revamped. At the heart of the issue is a feud between Eugene TV stations KEZI, the school's paying rights-holder, and KVAL, whose weekly Pac-10 show makes extensive use of Ducks footage.
CNNSI.com's Stewart Mandel will offer his latest Offseason Beat notes regularly from now till Kickoff 2001. If you have questions, comments, ideas or scoops for the Beat, click here.