HANK KURZ Jr.,AP Sports Writer
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer is well aware that the No. 17 Hokies were one of the most controversial teams included in the BCS bowl lineup, and he has a ready defense of his program.
The Hokies will play No. 13 Michigan, another controversial choice, in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3 in Louisiana. The selection committee chose them over No. 8 Boise State and No. 11 Kansas State, nothing that the Virginia Tech and the Wolverines have rich traditions and larger followings.
“I don’t think we have to apologize to anyone,” Beamer said, noting that the Hokies are the winningest football team since 1995, the one team to have won at least 10 games in each of the past eight seasons and one of three planning its 19th consecutive bowl appearance.
The Hokies said the best thing they can do is ignore the critics and be ready to play.
“That’s the computer’s job. They picked us to go there,” safety Eddie Whitley said. “Fans can talk whatever they want to talk, but we’ve got to focus on Michigan and be ready.”
The Hokies, Beamer noted, also have been on the other side of the decision.
In 2001, Michael Vick’s final season as the quarterback, Virginia Tech finished the year ranked fifth in the BCS standings, but lost out on a spot in a BCS game to No. 11 Notre Dame.
Instead, they would up in the Gator Bowl, where they ironically beat Clemson, 41-20.
“I think what that says is our name has changed,” Beamer said Monday. “Several wins later, our name has changed. I think there are always other things involved with bowls. It’s not necessarily where you’re ranked. With particular bowls, there are other issues.
“But I do think it shows how people feel about Virginia Tech.”
The Hokies have traditionally brought plenty of fans to major bowl games, although the numbers appeared to be dwindling when they made it to the Orange Bowl three of the last four years. In essence, being included in the lucrative BCS lineup despite a 38-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game on Saturday night meant that they improved their spot by losing.
If nothing else, New Orleans, site of the Jan. 3 game, offers a change for fans, and a chance for the Hokies to play one of the most storied programs in college football.
“It’s a team that our fans, I know, are going to be excited to play,” Beamer said. “Most people, if you said name five teams in college football, one of them would be Michigan. It worked out great for our football program and our fans. One of the reasons we’re there is our fans. With any bowl, how many fans you bring is a question.
“The Sugar Bowl has put great confidence in us, and I know our fans are going to respond. We need to show up and show up big.”
And not just the fans, but the players, too.
The Hokies’ record in major bowls is one reason their selection was questioned. Since a 28-10 victory against Texas in the 1995 Sugar Bowl, the Hokies are 1-5 in major bowl games, including a 46-29 loss to Florida State in the 2000 national championship game.
Last season, they trailed Stanford 13-12 at halftime in the Sugar Bowl, and lost 40-12.
Another chance on the big stage was a welcome surprise, Whitley said.
“We need a marquee win. This is a game where we can put our name up there with the most prestigious teams in the country,” the senior safety said. “It would be a big win for us.”
Whitley was among the Hokies expecting to get invited to the Chick-fil-A bowl in Atlanta, and said when talk began to circulate that the Sugar Bowl was a possibility, “I was like, ‘Is this a prank? Don’t tell me we’re going to the Sugar Bowl. I don’t believe it.’”
When it proved true, it brought a new excitement to what had been a depressing Sunday.
“That brought my hopes up,” Whitley said. “Now we’ve got to go out there and win this one because I want to go out with 12 wins and be the winningest class in Virginia Tech history.”
(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)