BLACKSBURG – After Virginia Tech cruised to a surprisingly easy 38-7 win against Alabama in the 1998 Music City Bowl, Tech coach Frank Beamer remembers hearing words come out of former Alabama coach Mike DuBose's mouth that were stunning.
When Beamer played at Tech in the '60's, and when he was a young coach in the '70's, Alabama was one of the programs by which all other college football teams were measured. His preconceived ideas about Alabama explain why Beamer had a hard time processing DuBose's praise after the '98 bowl matchup.
"When we beat Alabama, I think their coach at the time said, 'That's the kind of team we want to be'" Beamer said. "I always kind of said growing up I always thought it was the other way around."
Now, Beamer has heard similar things this week from a Florida State program that has seemingly always had his number by winning eight of nine games against him, including the 2005 Atlantic Coast Conference championship game.
Tech, which entered the '05 game 10-1 and ranked No. 5 by the Associated Press, was the heavy favorite against a 7-4 FSU team coached by Bobby Bowden. FSU won 27-22 in what would serve as the final vestiges of the Seminoles' ACC glory days under Bowden, who led the Seminoles to 12 ACC titles and two national championships from '92-'05.
Tech would go on to win two of the next four ACC titles and an Orange Bowl, while FSU endured three 7-6 seasons in the next four years and Bowden's forced departure after last season.
As No. 12 Tech (10-2) prepares to play No. 20 FSU on Saturday in Charlotte, N.C. for another ACC championship, Beamer has been in the unusual position this week of hearing FSU coach Jimbo Fisher and his players discuss the game as an opportunity to get back on top.
"Obviously, we're trying to get ourselves back on the map and become relevant again," FSU quarterback Christian Ponder said. "To beat Florida (last weekend) and win the state of Florida (by also beating Miami) and make it to the ACC championship game, it would be big if we won it. Obviously, we want to make it to a BCS bowl and very few teams get to make that. If we do, hopefully people will start taking us a little more seriously."
Of course, Tech underwent its own transitional period after the '05 ACC championship game. Quarterback Marcus Vick, a Warwick High graduate, was booted off the team after his junior season for repeated legal and behavioral problems. Tech also underwent an assistant coaching shake-up that was unprecedented under Beamer, adding four new assistants.
As dramatic as the changes were in Blacksburg after that '05 season, Beamer was able to maintain a sense of tranquility around the program by continuing to lead Tech to 10-plus win seasons. The unrest in Tallahassee, Fla. was just starting in '05.
Even winning the ACC title in '05 was tinged with disappointment, as FSU's 8-5 record represented its worst winning percentage since going 6-5 in '81. Tech finally broke through the FSU wall in '07 with its first and only win against the Seminoles under Beamer, 40-21 in Blacksburg.
"It was crazy after that game," said Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who played as a freshman against FSU in '07, completing 10 of 15 passes for 204 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, and running for 92 yards and a touchdown. "Everyone rushed the field. I couldn't really find anyone on the team. All I saw was fans. It was just a great moment to be a part of, a good time in Tech history."
Fisher, who was brought on in '07 to be FSU's offensive coordinator and coach-in-waiting, was in charge of reviving the program after Bowden's departure. It hasn't taken Fisher long.
FSU (9-3) won the Coastal Division in Fisher's first season as coach with a 6-2 record. It defeated Miami and Florida – programs that are having down years – in the same season for the first time since '99. FSU's motivation for Saturday's title game is obvious: regain ACC supremacy and hang around for a while.
"I don't think we've exceeded (expectations)," said Fisher, who, like Beamer, would earn a $100,000 bonus for an ACC championship win. "I think this goal (to win the ACC championship) is very attainable. We felt that going into the season, but the goal that I'm most happy about is the way our kids have dealt with all the things that come with being a new program. The new schedule, the attitude has been wonderful, our practice habits have been super and our kids' ability to deal with adversity and now deal with success has been better I was hoping we could get it done this year, but sometimes it takes a couple years."