By TED GIOIA
College Contributor Network
When talking about the premiere college football programs over the past quarter-century, it's hard to keep Virginia Tech out of the conversation -- look at coach Frank Beamer.
Beamer has seen just about everything in his 28 years as the front man. If the length of his tenure doesn't speak for itself, maybe his seven conference championships do. With Mike Vick under center, the program was brought to new heights in 1999. Vick led the Hokies to their first-ever national championship appearance, although the result was a loss to Florida State.
Conference championships and a title run certainly put Virginia Tech on the map, but consistency has been the backbone for this program throughout Beamer's reign. The Hokies have been to a bowl game every year since 1993 -- good for the second-longest bowl-streak in the nation behind, unsurprisingly, Florida State.
It's not like they've been sneaking into bowl games with six wins either. From 2004 to 2011, Beamer coached eight-consecutive teams to double-digit win seasons. Tech has also completely dominated the annual battles with bitter rival Virginia, coming into the season with 10-consecutive Commonwealth Cup victories.
There's no denying that Frank Beamer has brought both success and stability to Virginia Tech's football program. That being said, great success is always followed closely by tall expectations. For Hokie fans, anything short of a conference championship and a run at the national title is a disappointment. We're talking about a team that, until recently, had an empty case in their facilities labeled with the words, "This area is reserved for the national championship trophy."
So, after the 2012 and 2013 seasons brought nothing but frustration, it made sense that the morale surrounding Blacksburg was at an all-time low heading into 2014. It's funny how quickly things can change.
Last weekend, the Hokies made a statement by traveling to Ohio State and knocking off the eighth-ranked Buckeyes 35-21. Transfer quarterback Michael Brewer threw for two touchdowns and 199 yards to lead the Virginia Tech offense.
The defensive backfield, starring Kendall Fuller, proved why it is considered by many to be one of the top units in the country. Kyshoen Jarrett had two interceptions and Donovan Riley returned another pick 63 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the game. Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett was held to just nine completions in the game.
It wasn't just the defensive backs that looked good, though. The front seven dominated the Buckeyes with an unstoppable pass rush, recording seven sacks on the evening. With Brewer doing enough offensively and the defense looking like a force to be reckoned with, optimism was restored in Blacksburg for the first time in years.
The following Sunday's AP polls had Virginia Tech ranked 17th. This ranking continues a 22-year streak of being ranked in the Top-25 at least once throughout the season. With home games against East Carolina, Georgia Tech, and Western Michigan ahead on the schedule, it looked like the Hokies were poised to go on a run and maybe even sneak into the playoff picture. Like I said before, it's funny how quickly things can change.
Saturday brought East Carolina to Blacksburg and the result was a shocking upset that halted all momentum generated the week before. ECU scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and it turned out to be too much for Virginia to overcome. With the game tied, the Pirates drove through the Hokie's defense and scored the game-winning touchdown with just over a minute to go -- sending Tech fans home devastated.
It's a disappointing way to follow up one of the most exciting victories in recent memory for Virginia Tech. Playoff hopes are now out of the picture, but there is still a lot left on the table for the Hokies. With a talented defense and an improving quarterback, if they can find a way to beat a good Georgia Tech team next week, there's no reason why they can't make a run at the ACC Coastal Division title.
The stunning loss to East Carolina is a big step backwards, but the effort to return as an elite football program pushes onward. Frank Beamer will wake up on Sunday and get back to work, with a huge game coming for the Hokies next Saturday. It'll be interesting to see how this team responds to some adversity, but I wouldn't count them out just yet.
Ted Gioia is a junior at Syracuse University with majors in Finance as well Television, Radio, and Film. Born in North Buffalo, he is an avid Bills and Sabres fan. Follow him on Twitter: @Ted_Gioia
By TED GIOIA