ACC championship game: Virginia Tech, Florida State have sustained excellence

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — No one believes Virginia Tech's extraordinary football consistency rates with Florida State's unrivaled dynasty.

Not Cheryl Beamer, the Marching Virginians or the Hokie Bird himself.

But with their return to the ACC championship game here Saturday, Virginia Tech and Florida State remind us how difficult long-term excellence is to sustain.


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So difficult that 11 seasons after defeating the Hokies in the national title contest, the Seminoles are looking up at them.

"They're always competing at the ACC championship level," Florida State quarterback Christian Ponder said of Tech, "and they've pretty much been to every ACC championship game. So I think they're ahead of us right now."

From 1987-2000, no program was ahead of the Seminoles. They finished among the Associated Press top five each of those 14 seasons, won two national titles — the second in 1999 after a Sugar Bowl conquest of the Hokies — and owned the ACC.

But Florida State hasn't made the final top 10 or won a major bowl since, the primary reasons the school ushered iconic coach Bobby Bowden into retirement last December.

Enter his offensive coordinator and designated successor, Jimbo Fisher, who inherited a program that was 21-19 in the ACC over the previous five years, hadn't won 10 games since 2003 and were unranked three of the past four seasons, the Seminoles' first such stretch since disco ruled in the mid-'70s.

But Florida State (9-3, 6-2 ACC) has rebounded, advancing to its first league championship game since upsetting Virginia Tech in 2005 and defeating rivals Florida and Miami in the same season for the first time since 1999.

Conversely, Virginia Tech (10-2, 8-0) is the first team to survive the ACC schedule unbeaten since the 2000 Seminoles and is the only Bowl Subdivision program to win at least 10 games each of the last seven seasons.

"I think what they did back in the day was just amazing," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said of Florida State. "I don't think you'll ever see that much dominance ever again. You know, in this league, I think there (are) too many teams, too many good coaches, too many teams getting better all the time. It's too equal.

"That's why I'm so proud of us getting through the ACC without a loss. I understand how close it is and how competitive it is and how fortunate you are when you can do something like that. But I don't believe (there) will be a dominance like that again."

Beamer saw more than he cared to of Florida State's best. His Hokies were 0-5 against the Seminoles from 1988-2000, though four of the meetings came before Tech's national emergence.

Following Saturday's contest, the Hokies will prepare for their 18th consecutive bowl, the nation's third longest behind Florida's 20 and Florida State's 29.

Ask Texas how impressive those streaks are. The Longhorns, who won the 2005 national championship and advanced to the title game last season, stumbled to 5-7 this year, ending their runs of 10-win seasons (six) and bowl invites (12).

"There's such a thin line between winning and losing and getting a little momentum and being OK next week," Beamer said. "You look at some programs in the country this year, and Texas, you know they've got good players and good coaches, but they just got on a bad roll there."

As coach-in-waiting for three years, Fisher saw Florida State endure two 7-6 seasons.

"The dynamics of teams and programs, the way the organizations are run is the key," he said. "It is so hard to get to the top, and then it's even harder to stay there because everybody's trying to bring you down. And one slip-up by somebody else doing something good or you not doing what you're supposed to do, and you could slide very easily. …

"You can never let up, and you have to keep your finger on the pulse of everything all the time. It's hard to do it over a significant amount of time. … There (are) so many teams trying to get there."

Look around the ACC. Programs such as Virginia, Clemson, North Carolina and North Carolina State have spared little or no expense in upgrading their football infrastructure, yet the most recent league title among them was the Cavaliers' in 1995.

Virginia Tech is aiming for its fourth ACC title in seven years of membership, its seventh conference championship (three in the Big East) in the last 16.

"He's done one of the best jobs in all America," Fisher said of Beamer. "It's hard. Here's what people don't understand: There's more kids playing football now than ever have before. More (college) teams spreading it out (on offense) and making it fun. More athletes are playing. It's America's game. It's America's passion.

"Everybody's got players, and everybody has the ability to beat you because they have skilled guys. That's the thing. When you have the consistent level of winning, you have to be doing a lot of little things right. What they're doing is amazing."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel, read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime, and follow him at twitter.com/DavidTeelatDP.

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