Your Mission: Re-claim the Commonwealth

The College Football Season goes way too quickly.  Other than a handful of holdover Regular Season Games, and Conference Championship games next weekend, this is it for most of the country’s 120 plus FBS teams.  Thus we are closer to what I call our long national sports nightmare which begins just after the NCAA Tournament crowns in champion on the first Monday in April.

Because the season is basically over after this Saturday, Sunday figures to be a bloodbath with coaches getting axed at a record rate.  There are already 13 openings.  There were 14 before Minnesota elevated Tracey Claeys from Interim to full-time head coach.  As I’ve said before I have no sources and no insight into who replaces Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, but based on what I’ve read this week it’s going to be Memphis head coach Justin Fuente.  Earlier this week Yahoo sports reporter Pat Forde – who has the best sources and is the best college football reporter in my opinion – said he’d bet his mortgage on it being Fuente.  Do I think Forte’s source is Virginia Tech Athletic Director Whit Babcock, or anyone on Va. Tech’s athletic staff?  No.  But, I believe he’s gone straight to the best source and that’s Fuente’s agent. He’s represented by the Legacy Agency which has offices all over the country and represents coaches, athletes and broadcasters.  Among the agency’s clients are N.C. State coach Dave Doren – who also made a move from mid-major Northern Illinois to N.C. State -, fired Maryland coach Randy Edsall, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost who is a hot commodity this season, Utah State coach Matt Wells, and retired coaches Phillip Fulmer and Jerry Kill.  Among the agency’s represented broadcasters are Troy Aikman of Fox, Dan Hicks of NBC, and ESPN’s Steve Young.

I am certain that an offer has been made and conditionally accepted pending an in-person meeting which I expect will take place at a hotel probably in Nashville late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.  I expect Tech to announce him as their new head coach Sunday night and introduce him on Monday.  Interestingly, the last time Virginia Tech hired a head coach the offer was accepted in a Nashville hotel.  That was 1987 and that coach was Frank Beamer.  And while Beamer coached at Murray State before taking the Tech job, Fuente quarterbacked Murray State for two years after transferring from Oklahoma.   I must concede I am slightly surprised as this hire, but it’s not a big surprise.  I though the temptation to hire former West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez was great, but in the end I’m thinking that Va. Tech didn’t want to hire a 52-year old coach with NCAA baggage not to mention his uncomfortable exit from West Virginia to Michigan in which he spent his last hours on the job reportedly shredding documents from the files in the football office.  Fuente is 39 years old.  Beamer was the same age when he was hired.  I don’t expect Fuente to be there 29 years one way or the other.  That’s just because coaches don’t do that anymore and if he’s successful at Virginia Tech better jobs will come knocking.  If he’s not successful, he’ll be run out of town and Babcock will go right with him.

A note on Defensive Coordinator Bud Foster.  Despite some fans clamoring for him to get the job, he was NEVER a consideration.  Babcock has been on the job a little less than two years and every athletic director wants his own people.  Bud Foster isn’t his guy.  He’s also never been a head coach.  Bud Foster’s best chance to get the head coaching job at Virginia Tech was to go take a head coaching job somewhere else and prove that he could handle the job, something to this point he’s been unwilling to do.  Had Jim Weaver still been the A-D at Virginia Tech (and he unfortunately had to retire due to health issues and passed away earlier this year), he’d have had the job 10 minutes after Beamer retired and  just because you coordinate a first class defense doesn’t mean that you can run a program. There are countless examples of battlefield promotions gone wrong and this job is too big for Foster’s tunnel vision focus just on Defense.  Can he stick around?  I guess, but to me that would be awkward.  Fuente would be wise to keep at least one coach from Beamer’s staff and probably the best person would be former player Cornell Brown as he should be able to sell the university to recruits better than the others.  Torian Gray is also a former player and could be a possibility, but other than 1 coach Feunte would be best served by sending the rest packing and reset the program in his image with his guys. Under no circumstances should he ever consider retaining Shane Beamer.  First of all, he’s not proven himself to be a very good position coach and secondly, talk about awkward.

The mission for Feunte and his staff is simple.  They must reclaim the Commonwealth.  The best players are now going out of state and that wasn’t the case when both Virginia Tech and Virginia were players on the National scene.  In 1990 Virginia went to number 1 in the Nation with a quarterback – Shawn Moore – from Martinsville, Virginia, their best wide receiver – Herman Moore – from Danville, Virginia, Running back Terry Kirby from Tabb High School near Williamsburg, and Defensive End Chris Slade likewise from Tabb High School.  Virginia Tech played for the national title in 1999 with Michael Vick from Newport News, Virginia playing quarterback, and during their run of 10 wins seasons, their quarterback was Tyrod Taylor from Hampton.  Both schools got the best players to stay in state.  Now they don’t and that’s why this Saturday’s meeting in Charlottesville  is between 5-6 Virginia Tech and 4-7 Virginia.  No one outside of the Commonwealth cares about this game. And, on a side note it also figures to be the final game for Virginia coach Mike London.

The best players in Virginia have long come from what is known as the “757”, the area code for the area covering Hampton, Newport News and Virginia Beach.  Recently, there are plenty of great players coming from the Richmond area as well.  Virginia Tech has 72 players on its roster from Virginia (although more than a fair portion are walk-ons), 19 from the “757”.  Virginia has 60 Commonwealth natives on its roster, and 18 of those are from the “757”.  Virginia Tech has 19 from the Richmond area, and Virginia has just 14.  Most telling is what last year’s recruits did in selecting schools.  I took the Roanoke Times Top 25 players from last year. The Number one ranked player in the State went to Florida State, Number 2 to Ohio State, Number 3, Oklahoma, Number 4 Tennessee, and Number 5 to Clemson.  The Highest ranked player to go to Va. Tech was number 6.  In all fairness, Tech did reel in 7 of the top 25 which bodes well for the future.  Virginia only got 2.  Florida State, Ohio State, Tennessee, Clemson, and Penn State also grabbed two players.  In the paper’s second 25 players, among the schools some of those players went to included Vanderbilt, Boston College, East Carolina, Rutgers, Cincinnati, Wisconsin, Maryland, Indiana, James Madison, Old Dominion, William and Mary, Liberty, and Wake Forest.  Neither Virginia Tech nor Virginia can continue to “whiff” on the State’s best players and Virginia Tech has to stop losing players in its own back yard.  Last year’s Number 18 ranked recruit was Chance Hall from Northside High School in Roanoke.  He signed with Tennessee despite being just 35 miles from Tech’s campus.  The year prior Coleman Thomas from Fort Chiswell also signed with Tennessee.  Again his home is about 35 miles from Blacksburg.  This Saturday when Tennessee plays Vanderbilt, Thomas will be the Vols starting Center and Hall the starting Right Tackle.  They’ll line up for Tennessee – against Virginia Tech – next September 10th.

Fuente’s job is simple.  Reclaim the Commonwealth and keep the state’s best recruits home.  He’d also be wise to recruit North Carolina more fervently that Beamer’s staff ever did.  I still contend it’s a hidden gem for high school players and it’s within driving distance of momma.  Beamer always took the approach that you had to pass too many good schools to get to Virginia Tech.  That’s a lame excuse.  Will the best of North Carolina come to Virginia Tech consistently?  Of course not.  But, with more effort you’ll get more than your fair share and that along with reclaiming your home turf should be more than enough to pull Va. Tech back from mediocre.

It’s Rivalry Week.  At least ESPN told me so.  In addition to the aforementioned Va. Tech – Virginia game for the Commonwealth Cup, which I expect Va. Tech to win, there’s also games between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State called Bedlam, The Civil War between Oregon and Oregon State, the Apple Cup between Washington and Washington State, Northwestern and Illinois playing for the Land of Lincoln Trophy, The Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State, Minnesota and Wisconsin playing for Paul Bunyan’s Ax, and of course the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn.  Those are just the games with names.  There are plenty of others like Georgia-Ga. Tech, Louisville-Kentucky and the highly anticipated annual meeting between Ohio State and Michigan.

In the midst of all of that the American Conference plays what amounts to tournament semi-finals as Navy plays Houston for the American Western Division Championship and Temple needs to beat U-Conn to win the American’s Eastern Division.  An Owls loss puts South Florida – left for dead earlier this season – in the Conference’s first championship game.

So my picks.  Akron over Kent State, I like Navy to beat Houston because I don’t think anyone can stop them, Toledo over Western Michigan, Pittsburgh over Miami, Western Kentucky over Marshall, Central Michigan over Eastern Michigan, Ga. State over Troy, Arkansas over Missouri, Washington State over Washington, Boise State over San Jose State, Oregon over Oregon State, Buffalo over U-Mass, Baylor over TCU, Tulsa over Tulane, Cincinnati over East Carolina, Georgia drops Ga. Tech to 3-9, Memphis over SMU, Kentucky over Louisville, I like Michigan to beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor.  The Buckeyes would be my favorite, but they turned on each other this week and that’s not a good sign, Florida Atlantic over Old Dominion, Indiana beats Purdue to become bowl eligible and win the Old Oaken Bucket, Maryland over Rutgers, Clemson over South Carolina, West Virginia beats Iowa State in what is becoming a Thanksgiving Weekend Tradition, Southern Miss over La. Tech for the Division Championship in Conference USA, Boston College over Syracuse, Duke pulls out of its funk by beating Wake Forest, Appalachian State over La. Lafayette, UNLV over Wyoming, Ga. Southern over South Alabama, Utah over Colorado, Middle Tennessee over UT-San Antonio, Northwestern over Illinois, Michigan State clinches the Big Ten East by beating Penn State. North Carolina over N.C. State, Alabama slaps Auburn all over the field behind running back Derrick Henry (what a stud), Wisconsin over Minnesota, UTEP over North Texas, UCLA over USC, Rice over Charlotte, BYU over Utah State, Tennessee over Vanderbilt, Kansas State ends Kansas’s season winless (who cares, Basketball is here), Arkansas State over New Mexico State, Texas State over Idaho, Temple over U-Conn, Ole Miss over Mississippi State, Florida State to beat Florida, LSU over Texas A&M, Stanford to beat Notre Dame ending the Irish’s playoff hopes, Oklahoma clinches a spot in the playoff over Oklahoma State, Colorado State over Fresno State, Arizona State over California, Air Force over New Mexico, San Diego State over Nevada, and Hawaii over La.-Monroe

The FCS Playoffs open this weekend with 8 First Round games.  Eight teams get byes including the top seed Jacksonville State whose only loss this season was an overtime loss to Auburn in week 1.  The Missouri Valley Conference has won the last 4 championships (albeit with one team North Dakota State) and leads the FCS Field with 5 teams including second seeded and last year’s runner-up Illinois State, and Third Seeded North Dakota State.  The Colonial Athletic Association has 4 teams in the field and one of those is in our featured game as 8-3 William and Mary hosts 8-3 Duquesne.  William and Mary from Williamsburg, Virginia is the second oldest college in the country – behind Harvard – founded in 1693.  They are coached by alumnus Jimmy Laycock in his 36th season with a career record of 237-173-5.  The Tribe has been as far as the semi-finals of the playoffs in 2004 and 2009.  The school is proud to claim among its alums Pittsburgh Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomblin, and produced two former head coaches that wound up pretty fair head coaches in their own right: Former Buffalo Bills coach Marv Levy, and Former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz. Not to mention the school has produced three United States Presidents in Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and John Tyler.  Duquesne is making its first appearance in the FCS Playoffs after winning the Northeast Conference.  The School is located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and among its famous alums are former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers Art Rooney and Current Owner Dan Rooney. The Dukes play their home games at 2500 seat Rooney Field on Campus.

Division II reaches the Round of 16 this weekend and for our featured game of the weekend we go to Arkadelphia, Arkansas where the 11-1 Reddies of Henderson State host the 10-2 Emporia State Hornets from Kansas.  Emporia advanced by knocking out last year’s runner-up Minnesota State Mankato 51-49 on a field goal with time running out in last week’s first round. It was the school’s first ever playoff win. Likewise, Henderson State won its first playoff game in school history last week.  Among Henderson State’s alums are FBS head coaches Charlie Strong of Texas and Gus Malzahn of Auburn.  Actor Billy Bob Thornton attended the school, but did not graduate.

They are also down to the Final 16 in Division III and our game of the week takes us to Crawfordsville, Indiana where the 11-0 Little Giants of Wabash College host the 11-0 Saints of Thomas More College from Crestview Hills, Kentucky which is suburban Cincinnati.  Thomas More advanced by beating Washington and Lee 51-21 in round one. Wabash took over Albion in a round-one game played in the snow.  No that’s November football.

NAIA hits the quarterfinals this weekend.  Top Ranked and the 11-1 Morningside Mustangs host the 11-1 Tabor Blue Jays from Kansas in a game in Sioux City, Iowa.

I would be remiss to wrap this up without mentioning the Thanksgiving Day passing of Legendary College Basketball Coach Guy V. Lewis.  Lewis put Houston University basketball on the map with the 1968 game of the Century at the Astrodome between his Houston Cougars and UCLA.  The Cougars led by future NBA star Elvin Hayes ended UCLA’s 88 game winning streak on a Saturday night in front of 52,000 people and a National Television audience.  In the early 80s he took Houston to two final fours including the 1983 team dubbed “Phi Slamma Jamma” which featured NBA stars Akeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler.  He never won a championship as his Cougars were upset by N.C. State in the 1983 championship game in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but make no mistake College Basketball wouldn’t be a viable television property these days without his vision to play the game in 1968.

Have a safe and wonderful weekend everyone…

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