The notion did not compute.
So with the BCS selections set for Dec. 4 at 8 p.m., less than 24 hours after that Clemson disappointment, there was no team gathering. Some players were out to dinner. Others were hanging in their apartments and dorms.
After meeting earlier in the day to review game tape, the coaches were equally scattered. After a home-cooked meal, defensive coordinator Bud Foster was fast asleep in his favorite chair.
Foster had arrived home at 4 a.m., after the ACC defeat. Hadn’t slept a wink.
He’d met with the defensive coaching staff from noon-6 p.m., and then headed back to the house.
“As soon as I ate and I sat in my chair, I was out,” Foster said. “ I woke up and it was about quarter of 10. I was like, oh, man, I dozed off. And (my wife) said, ‘You were sleepin’ good, and oh by the way, we’re going to the Sugar Bowl.’
“I said, ‘You’re kiddin’ me.’ I was like a kid at Christmas all of a sudden. … That gave me a little more juice and motivation, so to speak. That was a very nice surprise.”
Foster and other Hokies coaches and players endured media knotheads Saturday as Tech began game-planning for the Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl against Michigan, and all seemed as surprised as Foster at the Sugar Bowl invitation.
“I’d written it off,” safety Eddie Whitley said. “I was like, we’re going to Atlanta.”
Late Sunday afternoon, word began leaking to players that the Sugar Bowl was possible.
(Coach Frank Beamer and athletic director Jim Weaver had plenty of notice but apparently did not share the good news with the masses.)
“I was like, Sugar Bowl, how are we gonna get into the Sugar Bowl?” Whitley said.
The Hokies needed a long series of dominoes to fall right – LSU winning the SEC, Oklahoma State beating Oklahoma but not making the BCS title game, TCU not finishing among the top 16 in the BCS standings – and fall they did.
“I just started screaming,” Whitley said of the moment he saw Virginia Tech-Michigan on the television screen. “We’ve got another chance to let everybody know that (ACC title) game was a fluke game. … We get another chance to prove to the nation … that we deserve to play in top games against top teams.”
Indeed, Michigan (10-2) and the Sugar Bowl offer the Hokies a far grander stage that would have Auburn (7-5) and the Chick-fil-A. Considering pedigree and ranking, Tech is better off in the Sugar than it would have been as ACC champions in the Orange Bowl against West Virginia (9-3).
Ah, the genius of the BCS.
“It doesn’t make us a bad team,” receiver Danny Coale said of the ACC title loss, “and I think it’s important to prove that to people. Because a lot of people saw the ACC game and, rightfully so, questioned us. So it’s important in another big-stage game to play a lot better.”
Questioning of the Hokies’ BCS credentials started the second they were chosen. But as Beamer points out, bowl bids never have hinged solely on one season’s performance. Pedigree, appeal and fan support matter, and there, in the eyes of the Sugar Bowl and ESPN, Tech and Michigan trumped higher-ranked Boise State and Kansas State.
“I think it kind of shows you how far Virginia Tech has come,” Beamer said.
On Jan. 3, the Hokies have a chance to counter critics.
“I hope our kids are a little ticked off by this,” Foster said. “Hopefully we can use it to our advantage from a standpoint of, we are the underdog we don’t belong.
“I’m not going to get into that a whole lot with the our kids. We’ve got a good football program, a good football team. We’re playing one of the premier programs in college football. We have a tremendous opportunity and challenge ahead of us, and that’s how we’re looking at it, a great opportunity. …
“We’ve got a chance to go do something special. That’s what we’re focusing on. Hey, we’re here. We’ve got a great program. We’ve proven that. Let’s go on and take another step.”
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