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Fight for Old DC is a blog covering all sports in and around the District. Main focus will be on the Capitals, Redskins, Nationals, Wizards, United, and Hokies (I know they aren't DC, but it's my alma mater). Enjoy!

Monday, July 13, 2009

ESPN's 50 States Polls: Greatest Team

The “Worldwide Leader” recently released an online poll containing several questions about the history of football in each state in the U.S. Virginia’s poll was obviously loaded with VT vs. UVA banter, with a little Hampton thrown in at one point. Over the next few days we’ll look at each question and decide not only what the answer SHOULD be, but what other options they may have presented.

Today we’ll look at the question one: What is the greatest football team in Virginia state history?

The options given were:

1941 UVA (8-1)
1995 UVA (9-4)
1999 Virginia Tech (11-1)
2000 Virginia Tech (11-1)
2004 Virginia Tech (10-3)

I am by no means an expert on UVA football lore, but I’m going to do my best (based on some research and my trusty College Football Encyclopedia) to explain the significance of each season in terms of win-loss record, big-game wins/strength of schedule, memorable players, and national significance. I feel as though these areas should be able to explain how good the season was in terms of Virginia football lore.

1941 UVA

Win-loss Record: At 8-1, UVA fielded arguably their best and most nationally respected team in 1941. Led by “Bullet” Bill Dudley, the Cavs romped to a one-loss season, which was a loss to 1-7 Yale.

Big-Game Wins/SOS: While UVA walked away with a very good record in 1941, they didn’t play the toughest set of opponents. Wins against Virginia Tech, Hamden-Sydney, VMI, UNC and Lafayette were underwhelming, and UVA didn’t even play a single team that was nationally ranked at ANY POINT during the season.

Memorable Players: Bill Dudley was the obvious star of the 1941 Cavs. He was a Consensus All-American and was 10th nationally in passing, 1st in all-purpose yards, 4th in yards per carry, 4th in punt return yards, and 1st in scoring. He managed to come in 5th in the Heisman voting and won the Maxwell Award. He is arguably the greatest player in UVA history, and would go onto a hall-of-fame NFL career as well.

National Significance: Considering most their games were regional, their only national impact fell on Dudley’s shoulders, as a team, their national impact was very minimal, as they didn’t crack the top-25 once during the season and failed to beat a ranked team.

1995 UVA

Win-Loss Record: This 9-4 UVA squad is the one that ‘Hoos fans hang their hats on. This team still gives them hope for the future, even in times of struggle (Al Groh era). UVA managed a share of the ACC crown in 1995 during an era exclusively dominated by the Florida State Seminoles. The accomplishments of the ’95 Wahoos were more nationally recognized than ever before, and they beat some great teams along the way.

Big-Game Wins/SOS: UVA opened the season at Michigan and lost a heartbreaker 18-17. They reeled off 5 wins in a row again, followed by a loss to UNC. After a win against Duke and another heartbreaking loss 17-16 at #16 Texas, UVA prepared to face FSU at home. Bobby Bowden’s Seminoles had their hands on the throat of the ACC from their inclusion in 1991. FSU held a 29 game winning streak in conference into their date in Charlottesville, as well as a #1 overall ranking All UVA did was shock the world and take down the defending conference champions by a score of 33-28. After grabbing national attention, UVA managed to drop their season finale to VT in the infamous Alvin Banks game (or the orange pants tripping attempt game, whichever you like). They went on defeat Georgia in the Peach Bowl and finished #16 in the AP poll.

Memorable Players: Many NFL caliber players came from this UVA team, including Tiki Barber, Rhonde Barber, Jamie Sharper, and Keith Brooking. This team had arguably the most talented collection of future NFL players of any team in state history. Will Brice and Percy Ellsworth were the All-Americans of the group as a punter and defensive back respectively.

National Significance: This team had a greater national impact because they followed through with a big-time upset of a top-5 national program. No one can underestimate the shock that was expressed nationally as UVA shoved FSU aside for the conference crowd. They were the most visible group of ‘Hoos in history and justifiably so. However, they hauled in no major awards, had no major individual statistical leaders (not counting kicking/punting), and was only top ten in one major team category (turnover ratio).

1999 Virginia Tech

Win-Loss Record: You cannot say enough about this team, from their impact on the Virginia Tech football program as we know it today to national perception of the quarterback position. The 11-1 Hokies tore through the Big East behind the legs of r-Freshman QB Michael Vick. Their only scare was against WVU (22-20 on the legs of a Shayne Graham field goal) and loss in the BCS National Championship game was seriously in doubt until the final quarter.

Big-Game Wins/SOS: The “Big Least” nickname did not come about after the infamous three left the conference in 2003. Many people considered the Hokies’ National Championship bid a fluke because they faced some more-than-questionable competition in teams like Rutgers (many forget how truly bad they were), Temple, and a very weak West Virginia team. Their only nationally ranked opponents they played that season (at the time) were #24 UVA, #16 Syracuse, #19 Miami and #22 Boston College. People tend to also forget that Miami was still recovering from NCAA sanctions, and Syracuse had lost Donovan McNabb from the previous season. Throw in a season opener against James Madison (47-0) and nobody thought Tech had a chance against ACC powerhouse FSU. However, going 11-0 in the regular season is nothing to sneeze at, and the Hokies did it in seriously convincing fashion most of the time. Tech managed to take the Seminoles to the brink (29-28 at the end of the third quarter) in the championship before Peter Warrick and Chris Weinke broke their hearts, but their moxy and fight endeared them to many people nationwide.

Memorable Players: Michael Vick (regardless of his later impact in PETA circles) had the biggest impact of any player in state history in one season. He changed the way defensive coordinators recruited and how strength programs developed their players. He finished third in the Heisman voting and went on to be a #1 overall NFL draft pick. He would win All-American Honors in Football News and led the nation in passing efficiency that season. Along with Vick, Tech also saw Andre Davis and Corey Moore have a major impact. Davis went on to become one of the greatest receivers in school history (legendarily scoring touchdowns on three consecutive touches). Moore roped in Big East defensive player of the year (for the second straight year), Consensus All-American honors, the Nagurski Award as the top defensive player and the Lombardi as the top lineman. This was easily one of the most talented teams in school history that was able to ride its athleticism and mental toughness through a perfect regular season.

National Significance: As mentioned above, Michael Vick was the most athletic quarterback to lace ‘em up in the state’s history, and he had a significant impact on recruiting, defensive scheming and training. The Tech team as a whole started a blueprint of successful programs sticking with coaches through tough times and proved that Virginia was a recruiting hotbed. It also showed that special teams was a big part of the game, and the fact that the top two teams in the nation were VERY fundamentally sound in specials was a big deal. Beamerball became a coined term and is now used ad nauseum when referring to special teams and defense.

Virginia Tech 2000

Win-Loss Record: The 2000 version of the Hokies finished with one regular season loss to the eventual national champion Miami Hurricanes and a big Gator Bowl win against the Clemson tigers. They played a similar schedule to the previous year, and many experts felt that they would have had a chance at another title game appearance if Michael Vick hadn’t missed the Miami game with an ankle injury. The resulting loss took them out of contention, but they managed to leave the rest of their competition in the dust.

Big Game Wins/SOS: The schedule was much weaker this year in comparison to 1999. The Hokies only faced two ranked opponents all year in #3 Miami (at the time) and #16 Clemson. The Miami game was the biggest of the season and Tech was defeated handily without their star athlete. Without any major marquee conference games besides that one, the Clemson game was the most nationally prominent, as the Tigers were ranked #16 and it would turn out to be Michael Vick’s final collegiate game.

Prominent Players: The big names were basically the same as the ’99 version, except for Moore. We saw the emergence of Lee Suggs as a viable back with over 1200 yards rushing.

National Significance: This Tech team was overshadowed by the previous year’s team, and it may have been a little unfair, but they didn’t carry quite the historical significance of their predecessors. They did prove that Beamer’s teams might have a little staying power, but they had to bow down to the great Miami teams that would win it all that year and carry their greatness into the following season.

Virginia Tech 2004

Win-Loss Record: It’s easy for me to describe this Hokies team, as it was my first after setting foot in Blacksburg as an undergrad. The 2004 ACC Champions finished with a 10-3 record, and broke the recent trend of late-season collapses by Beamer’s teams. This group faced some of the toughest competition that a Tech team had faced in a long time, and part of that was their participation in the new 11-team (that season BC was still in the Big East) ACC. They also took on USC in a “neutral-site” game at FedEx, and played in BCS bowl against an undefeated Auburn team.

Big Game Wins/SOS: As mentioned before, Tech played the eventual #1 and #2 finishers in the BCS from the 2004 season. They gave USC a much tougher game than they had bargained for, and barring a VERY questionable offensive pass interference call against Josh Hyman, the Hokies could have carried a solid lead to a huge upset. Alas, they crumpled after that fateful call and Reggie Bush exploited new field corner Jimmy Williams on his way to a game-breaking performance. After wins against Western Michigan and Duke, Tech found themselves at 2-2 with a last-second missed field goal by Brandon Pace against NC State (17-16) in Lane Stadium. The 2004 Hokies are known for their resilience, as they followed that heartbreaker with eight-straight victories and an ACC Championship. Those wins included victories over #6 WVU, #16 Virginia (both at home) and #9 Miami at the Orange Bowl. The Miami victory was especially sweet given our struggles in the Orange Bowl over the previous several years. That victory also seemed to usher in the demise of the Larry Coker Canes and their dominance of the early 2000s. The Hokies finished up their season with a 16-13 loss in the Sugar Bowl against #3 Auburn. Brandon Pace missed a short field goal and the Hokies defense had trouble with Jason Campbell and his receivers, but the team put up a fight against a very tough Tiger team in an extremely hostile environment.

Prominent Players: Not many Hokies from this team went on to NFL greatness, but guys like Bryan Randall, Eric Green, Vincent Fuller, Jim Davis, and Mike Imoh etched their names into Virginia Tech history with their heart. Darryl Tapp seems to have been the best NFL product of the group, but that’s not what defined their greatness. Randall shed his mentally-weak image. Imoh overcame an early suspension to break the single-game rushing record at North Carolina (243 yards, since broken by Darren Evans). Jim Davis will always stick in Hokie fans minds with his batted ball against Brock Berlin at the OB, and Fuller will be remembered for his returned block for a touchdown in the rain-soaked WVU win.

National Significance: While this scrappy team won the hearts of Hokies everywhere, they missed on two big opportunities to impact the national scene by upsetting either USC or Auburn. They did surprise everyone by taking the ACC crown away from FSU and Miami, but beyond that small amount of shock, they were largely viewed as a group of overachievers that had a nice little season nationally. The win against WVU was great to shake up the top 25, but it was a bigger deal to win the Black Diamond Trophy and upset the rival hill jacks. They finished 4th nationally in total defense and 2nd in scoring defense, setting the stage for dominant defenses of the next four years. I would venture to say the 2004 Hokies had a bigger impact on the program by ushering in an era of five consecutive 10-win seasons (and three ACC championships) than they did on college football as a whole. It doesn’t mean we love them any less.

Teams that should have been included:

1995 Virginia Tech, 1990 UVA, 2008 James Madison, 2004 James Madison: The ’95 Hokies brought the first major-bowl victory back to Virginia in big-time college football. 1990 UVA was one of George Welsh’s finest teams and held a #1 ranking nationally at one point for three weeks. JMU’s 2008 team didn’t win the championship like the Richmond Spiders, but they held down a #1 ranking for a majority of the season while repeatedly beating top-10 opponents. They advanced to the third round of the playoffs before being upset by Montana. Their regular season was easily one of the finest in state history.

Finally, it’s hard to argue with a National Championship on ANY level, and James Madison brought the first one to Virginia. That Dukes team, led by Justin Rascati won the hearts of the valley, and while they didn’t make a huge national impact, they led a charge through the Division 1-AA playoffs that has to be mentioned. They used the motivation from a late-season loss at home against William & Mary to reel of victories against Lehigh, Furman, that same William & Mary team in Williamsburg. They put the icing on the cake with an upset of national powerhouse Montana in the championship game 31-21.

Based on all of that information, my top 5 All-Time Virginia Teams are:

1999 Virginia Tech
2004 James Madison
1995 Virginia Tech
1995 UVA
2004 Virginia Tech

This is all up to opinion. Who would you put in your top 5 and who did I leave out? Tell us what you think!

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